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Service with a Smile

Copyright © 1995 by Raymond L. Woodcock


All Rights Reserved

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So the federal government began to create jobs. It still didn't have
any money, but it told the doubters that, if they wished, they could take
their “funny money” down to Fort Knox and exchange it for real gold.
Historical Background
Everybody believed this, and nobody wanted to carry a bunch of gold
around because it was really hard to make change when you bought
something. So everybody got used to paying for things with funny
money, and the government was able to print up a lot more funny money
Why, Sir, most schemes of political improvement are very to pay everyone with. And that's how the thing got off the ground.
laughable things. In the early years, the government went through what is known,
historically, as its “useful” period. It created jobs in which people went
) Samuel Johnson (attributed) out and built state parks, cleaned up neighborhoods, and fought in wars,
doing useful things like planting trees and killing Nazis.
If they built a park, the workers would get paid a percentage of the
estimated net gate proceeds from future use of the park. It usually worked
out to about six cents an hour (although that was when six cents was a
The federal government was created in 1934. At that time, many lot). Or if they fought in the war, the soldiers were promised a share of
people in the United States were unemployed. Being without jobs made whatever we could loot from Germany and Japan at war's end. This didn't
them greatly depressed, and that's why we call that time in our nation's work out well for the soldiers, though, because the Russians got most of
history the Great Depression. the good stuff from Germany and we didn't really take much from Japan
The federal government was created in order to make jobs for at all. Also, the government was able to cut some of its costs by sending
people, so that they would not be depressed anymore. Unfortunately, the soldiers into the heaviest battles on the day before payday; the ones who
federal government did not have the money to create jobs, so for a while got killed would obviously not answer roll call the next day, and the
nothing could be done. government would run their paychecks through the shredder (except
But then, in a study of cane workers in the sugarcane fields of where the widow was really attractive or had a good lawyer).
Kentucky in 1935, it was discovered that workers who thought they had The workers liked these useful jobs, and the next couple of
money would spend it, and that the money they spent would create more generations of Americans had to sit around listening to tales of valor and
jobs at the video stores and fast-food places where they spent it. It was glory, which don't really pay much. Everybody seems to have been happy
like magic: even though there wasn't really any money, the cane workers in those useful jobs. History does not show any attempt to unionize the
would start acting like there was; and then, next thing you know, there park workers and the soldiers. It is possible that there were union
really would be money, and all of the cane workers would be better off. representatives in the army, but, if so, they may have been especially
It was decided that this amazing “Canes Economics,” as they called likely to be sent into battle on the day before payday.
it, should be applied on a national level. According to economic theory, The problem with these useful jobs is that the workers would
if people began to feel that the good times were returning, their “invisible perform their function, the job would be done, and then they would have
gland” would kick in, and they would work harder, produce more, make nothing else to do, which tends to be depressing. The federal government
more money, and be more willing to spend it in order to satisfy their new realized that, if it wanted to avoid another Great Depression, it would
cravings.

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have to come up with new jobs. They tried starting another war, in Korea, The first one was to declare that the funny money game was over, and
but it just wasn't the same, and people had kind of lost interest in creating that, starting now, funny money would be useless. The main problem
more state parks. with this approach was that the government experts would have been
Nobody could think of anything else useful to do, so the government assassinated by people who had banked their lives' savings in funny
decided to try a new approach and create a lot of useless jobs. It was not money.
clear how this should be done. Nobody had much experience in it here in So instead, the government experts decided that funny money had
the United States. So they looked to see how other countries handled the to be taken seriously and protected from bank failures and from bank
problem. robbers like Al Capone and Buffalo Bill. After some debate, they realized
They focused especially on the big countries that had fought World that this was a golden opportunity to create a large number of useless jobs.
War II. It was decided, first of all, that our useless jobs should not be like And so, with great fanfare, they announced the creation of the Federal
the useless jobs in the French government, because it just wouldn't do for Deposit Insurance Corporation, and said that its purpose was to insure
government employees in the U.S. to be acting stuck-up and rude like people's bank accounts against robbery, bank failure, etc.
that. It was also decided that the Germans did not provide a good This Corporation, known as the FDIC, eventually opened a number
example, because their government was too scary. We couldn't use the of offices around the country. They decided that the FDIC (pronounced
Italian model of government, because at that point our Mafia was not yet “fah-dick”) would pay attention to one kind of bank, and they created
strong enough to run the whole country. We were pretty close to adopting another organization, the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation
the British model, until someone pointed out that they had darn near lost or FSLIC (pronounced “fiz-lick”) to focus on another kind of bank.
the war and, also, that nobody really understood how the British govern- Between the two of them, they created a lot of jobs.
ment worked. At first, the FDIC and FSLIC just sort of fooled around and wasted
In the end, the federal government reached a compromise between time. But eventually they discovered that they really could provide a
the Japanese model, where government employees were forced to keep valuable service, by keeping an eye on banks and making sure the banks'
their jobs for the rest of their lives, and the Russian model, where books were accurate. They hoped that, this way, they could give an early
government employees were always at risk of being taken out and shot. warning of bank trouble, so that somebody could do something before a
The American compromise was that our government employees would be bank collapsed.
allowed to keep their useless jobs for as long as they could stand them. Unfortunately, for the most part the FDIC and FSLIC were providing
Once that was settled, the only thing left was to decide which useless jobs this service for the United States, the richest country in the world, during
were needed the most. the very richest time in that country's history. Bank failures were not
While the federal government was thinking about creating jobs, it exactly a big problem. So although the idea was really great, it was kind
also had something else to worry about. The funny money situation was of pointless. I guess that was good, in a way, because if the FDIC and
becoming a problem. People were saving the stuff and putting it into FSLIC had been providing a useful service, as we know, eventually the
banks, and that was frightening, because that's what they had done before job would have been done and they would have had to shut down,
the Great Depression, when money was so valuable that nobody had any whereas this way they could keep on being useless and employing a large
of it, which is why banks had gone bust. Nobody wanted banks going number of people.
bust again. This continued for many years, and everybody was happy. Of
The government's experts basically came down to two alternatives. course, happiness is a problem, because you have to be miserable in order

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to pay attention to things, so the FDIC and FSLIC weren't always able to task of making sure that the proper politicians had been paid off and the
pay as much attention as maybe they should have. occasional loss of skilled workers to right-wing death squads.
While the FDIC and FSLIC were cruising merrily along, changes In the end, some of the poor countries that had borrowed money
were taking place in the banking world. The main thing was that banks from the American bankers had to come back, hat in hand, and say they
were getting a lot more money than they'd ever had before. were sorry but they could not repay their loans. Some of them admitted,
A lot of this new money was in the form of “Pedrodollars,” which sheepishly, that they had spent the money on silly things, like nationwide
is what the experts called the flood of money coming into the U.S. from cable TV hookups and wars against the English.
the rising middle class in Mexico. The problem for American bankers The American bankers were sympathetic with this ) after all,
was this: how could they make enough money on these new deposits to sometimes it does make sense to declare war against England ) and
pay interest, as promised, to the Mexican depositors? instead of spanking those Turdvurld borrowers, or selling their countries
The solution was to lend the money back out to someone else at a at a big annual spring-cleaning yard sale, the bankers decided to tell
higher rate. Thus, for example, the bank might be paying the Mexicans Congress about the situation.
5% on their money, but might then lend it out and collect 8% from the I know this is surprising, but Congress was willing to listen to those
borrowers. bankers, and Congress understood exactly what they were trying to say.
But who would be willing to pay so much money in interest? Congress agreed that we couldn't very well squeeze those poor countries.
Obviously, the banks had to find people who desperately needed money. Congress also felt that our bankers had to find a way of making enough
It was not easy, but after much study and research, the banking experts money to cover their losses.
discovered that the people who really needed money were those who Congress knew that our laws placed some pretty tight controls on
didn't have any. It was believed that such people would be found most our banks. For instance, banks were prohibited from owning churches,
frequently in the poor countries of the world, where opportunities were operating whorehouses, or smuggling drugs from Cuba (although the
few and living standards were crappy. situation might have been different if Cuba hadn't been a Communist
In German, these poor countries were known as the Turdvurld. In country).
English, people began to refer to them by the like-sounding phrase, “Third So Congress acted. They didn't give the banks everything they
World,” to distinguish them from the wealthy countries of the “First” and wanted, but they did allow them to engage in certain kinds of businesses
“Second” worlds, including western and eastern Europe, like Ireland and that had been prohibited earlier. Banks took this freedom and ran, and
Bulgaria. soon they were investing in everything from shopping malls to artwork.
The leaders of those Third World countries were very excited to Banks were especially fond of investing in “junk bonds.” Believe it or
learn that they could qualify for loans from the American bankers. They not, these bonds often had little value.
promptly began building factories to produce shoes and can openers and Bankers might seem crazy for investing in worthless bonds, except
automobiles, in hopes that they would eliminate a lot of old-fashioned for three things: (1) junk bonds paid a very high rate of interest, which
useful jobs in America and would make enough money to repay their provided something that bankers call a "capital cushion," which is a
loans, which would make the American bankers very happy. technical term meaning that the bonds paid a very high rate of interest;
Unfortunately, some Turdvurld countries were not yet able to make (2) the banks may have been losing money on each individual bond, but
good use of the money that the American bankers were lending them. they were making up for it in volume; and (3) when bankers lose money,
There were a number of reasons for this, including the ever-challenging it's the bank's, but when they make money, some of it becomes their own.

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This all looked pretty good to the FDIC and FSLIC. The banks had exploding space shuttles and wars in Turdvurld countries (preferably the
dug themselves out of that Pedrodollar hole, and it was back to business ones that owed us all that money). It was not pleasant to hear that,
as usual. The FDIC and FSLIC were still sleepy little places to work, with instead, the money had been frittered away on junk bonds and such.
nothing much happening. So Congress and the President huddled to discuss the situation, and
But the FDIC and FSLIC were wrong. They had set up their rules when they came out of the huddle, they announced that things were under
and procedures during America's rich time, and everybody knew how to control. The taxpayers asked what was different, and Congress and the
make it look like the good times were continuing. But the good times President announced that they were going to create a new federal agency
were passing, and a day of reckoning was coming. to deal with the problem, and that, unlike the FSLIC, this would be a
And then, one day, out of nowhere, the wave hit. It was the junk useful agency.
bonds and the other weird investments and the big salaries and maybe The taxpayers were impressed. There hadn't been many useful
some skimming off the top, all coming due at the same time. A couple of government agencies in recent years. It seemed like maybe the politicians
small banks failed. Then a big one. Then another big one. Then a bunch really did have a plan.
of them. And before you knew it, banks were dropping like flies. To be sure, if you listened really hard, you could hear a few voices
The worst-hit banks were the ones that the FSLIC guaranteed. of protest. They pointed out that this new agency would become the
Depositors went to the bank in the morning, found that its doors were world's biggest corporation, owning the assets of 750 ruined banks. These
closed, and got on the horn to the FSLIC. A couple of weeks later, the doubters were asking whether it was possible to create such a gigantic
check was in the mail, and those people were repaid for the amount of corporation, in a matter of months, without wasting a huge amount of
their bank account that the FSLIC had guaranteed. money in the process. But the politicians got what they wanted, and the
This had a couple of effects. First, the FSLIC had been designed to game was on.
make sure that savings banks wouldn't go bust, and it worked until they This new agency was called the Resolution Trust Corporation, or
went bust, at which point the FSLIC went bust too, so now Congress “RTC.” The basic idea was pretty simple. The RTC was given the power
passed a law to bury the FSLIC and forget it. to go into a bank and look at its books. If the bank looked weak, the RTC
Second, all this cost the federal government a couple hundred billion could shut it down and take it over. Or, if the bank had already fallen
dollars. This was highly troublesome, at first, because nobody had a good apart, the RTC could gather its assets, sell them off, and send the proceeds
acronym, like “CIA” or “FTC,” to refer to the whole problem. But then to the federal treasury. Everyone hoped that the RTC would make a lot
somebody said that, really, it was an OOPS situation, which was short for of money for the taxpayers from those assets.
“Operating On Public Subsidies.” So then, once the government had that The RTC was under strict orders from Congress, whose law gave
useful way of describing the thing, they were pretty much OK with it this new corporation a couple of instructions. First of all, the RTC was
because, after all, it wasn't their money either. expected to do its work without disturbing local real estate and financial
But not all of the government was OK with it. There were two small markets.
but important exceptions: Congress and the President, who suffered from Granted, this could be somewhat difficult. Imagine you're the RTC.
the severe limitation of having to please the taxpayers. You own half of Colorado Springs, most of New Mexico, and all three of
And that was going to be tough, because at this point, the taxpayers the interesting office buildings in Dallas. Now you think you would like
were not very happy. They had been expecting that Congress would to sell everything you own. And there's no rush, as long as you get it all
spend those hundreds of billions of dollars on important things, like done before the next election.

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Oh, and one other thing: you are expected to use your tremendous
land holdings to provide more lower- and middle-income housing. Just
make sure that none of this disrupts the local real estate markets.
The Basics
In other words, you're an 800-pound gorilla, and you will now
demonstrate how to get into the bathtub without causing the water to rise
above little Susie's eyeballs.
The RTC had a tough job ahead of it. To accomplish this job, the
We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and
RTC needed real estate brokers, accountants, and all kinds of other
then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting
professionals, including lawyers. These professionals needed “support
down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the
staff” people to do a bunch of typing and other tedious stuff. And that's
stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't
where I came in.
often that we laughed ) only a little kind of a low chuckle. We
had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever
happened to us at all.

) Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I was unemployed, living in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. One day,


I saw a newspaper ad for a job at the RTC.
I was sick of the usual jobhunting thing, where you send them a
résumé that makes you sound better than Jesus. I'd had enough of that.
I just wanted to be honest about myself.
On the other hand, I didn't want to be too honest, for fear that they'd
take one look and call the cops. So I compromised and sent the RTC a
sort of newsletter that told about my greatest screwups. It was four pages
long, with a picture of me on the front and a couple of jokes in the middle.
I had fun putting it together, and I guess they liked it, because they hired
me.
The RTC was like any other federal government agency. They had
divisions and departments and a lot of people pushing around paper,
taking orders from Washington. Since that's what government people do,
that's what I did. I had to belong in some department somewhere, and in
this case what happened was that they assigned me to their Legal

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Division. fellow technicians, there in the RLIS department. Those other techs all
The RTC's Legal Division didn't do any actual legal work. We just did more or less the same thing, paying law firm bills, but I was the only
sent papers out to law firms, approved those papers, assigned work to the one who did the LOC work. Each RTC office around the country had just
firms, and then paid them. one LOC person like me.
I say we hired the law firms and assigned the work. Actually, the At the start, I really only had a couple of things to do. The most
attorneys did it. There were six or seven RTC offices around the country, important thing was that, if the RTC decided to hire a new law firm, I was
including the one there in Valley Forge, and each RTC office employed supposed to put their name and address on the system.
fifty or sixty staff attorneys.
These staff attorneys were mostly just overseers. They figured out
that there was legal work to do, and then they hired law firms to do that Discovering E-mail
work. Once the work was assigned, the staff attorneys kept an eye on the
I saw right away that this job would not be very exciting unless I
firms and on how much they were charging us. Each staff attorney was
found a way to spice it up. Fortunately, the RTC had a good e-mail
responsible for as many as six hundred cases at once, so if they did their
system, and that helped.
jobs right, they were very busy people.
Maybe everybody knows what e-mail is, by now. If not, I'd describe
In addition to the staff attorneys, the Legal Division in each RTC
it like this: you sit down at your computer and type up a message to
office had maybe forty paralegals, and then a bunch of secretaries and
someone else. You press a couple of buttons, and presto! the message
technicians. The paralegals and secretaries assisted the attorneys, and the
goes to that other person's computer. They get a beep and a little note that
technicians paid the bills. I was a technician, also known as a tech for
tells them you've sent a message. Then they can read your message. You
short.
can send the same e-mail to a dozen people at once, if you want.
We techs didn't work near the attorneys. Instead, we had our own
As the months went by, the e-mail system proved to be a valuable
little department within the Legal Division. Our department was called
source of entertainment. Here's an example of how it worked. One day,
the “RLIS” department, which was short for “Resolution Trust Corpora-
the personnel manager sent everybody this e-mail:
tion Legal Information System.” You'd think the acronym should have
been RTCLIS, but I guess they wanted to save letters.
In the RLIS (pronounced “ar-liss”) department, we worked on a To: Legal Division
computer system called RLIS. This was just one of many logical aspects From: Hiram Atwill
Re: Conference Room Key
of the position. The RLIS computer system kept track of which law firms -----------------------------------
were approved to work for the RTC, how much the RTC had paid them,
etc. Will the culprit who purloined the key please return it
to the receiptionist?
My job on the RLIS system was to maintain the list of counsel.
They called it the “LOC,” which was short for “List of Counsel.” It
would have been easy to pronounce as “lock,” but we just pronounced it My friend Sharon concluded that the personnel manager had
as three separate letters, L-O-C. intended for us to start a conversation on e-mail, so she sent a message to
My LOC job was kind of unique. With new people arriving and old our good buddy Greg, with a copy to me. It looked like this:
people leaving, I always had somewhere between fifteen and eighteen

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To: Greg Arius revised as recommended. It simply will not do
Ray Woodcock for this office to be without the full panoply
From: Sharon Jirmes of grab bars and raised toilet seats.
Re: Conference Room Key
------------------------------------ GREG: Ray, I want to thank you for bringing these
issues to my attention. This Directive performs
Are you "purloining" again, Greg? the important function of continuing the defor-
estation of North America, removing trees which
are just another impediment to the safe naviga-
tion of any vehicle my wife may be operating.
That started us swapping e-mails back and forth. I won't be Turning to the specifics, I offer the following
thoughts:
reproducing the “to” and “from” baggage for every e-mail, but basically Rearranging toilet partitions to increase
the next couple of messages went like this: maneuvering space: the last thing I am thinking
about while taking a dump is maneuvering room.
On the other hand, the added elbow room will
allow a person to open a newspaper to its full
GREG: Pur-loin? I'd rather not discuss loins. width.
Installing an accessible paper cup dis-
ME: I hope you two loins a valuable lesson from dis. penser at an existing inaccessible water foun-
tain: I can see the merit of this. Instead of
SHARON: Loins & tigers & bares, oh my! making the water fountain accessible, we will
compromise and give our disabled Americans a
GREG: You know monkeys still give me the willies. cup. They'll still be thirsty, but now they
will have a paper cup as a token of their
ME: I'm OK with monkeys. It's sheep that set my thirst.
heart a-bleating. Insulating lavatory pipes under sinks to
prevent burns: I think the purpose here is to
protect those individuals who will be spending
a substantial amount of time under the sinks.
So, you see, we were able to take something that didn't mean much Rearranging tables, chairs, and other
furniture: I suspect that our blind employees
and turn it into an opportunity for mutually stimulating social entertain- (do we have any?) will fail to see the humor in
ment. Or at least it gave us something to laugh about. this. If we really want to baffle them, perhaps
Greg was always good for an e-mail conversation. One day, we should move them to a new office every few
weeks.
management sent around an Official Directive containing a lot of Installing flashing alarm lights: Where?
instructions about our restrooms. It was too much for me, and I fired off In the bathroom? What for ) to alert the public
of a really offensive odor?
another e-mail message to Greg:
SHARON: Wow, beyond the abyss of boredom! I thought you
threw that thing OUT!
ME: Greg, I wanted to make a couple of points ME: Greg, I want to thank you for your helpful
regarding the 20-page circular that has just insights.
been distributed to each of the RTC's 1,600
employees in the United States. First, we GREG: You know, they neglected a couple of other
should be proceeding with the removal of barri- points that they should have addressed in that
ers from our restrooms, as set forth at the top Directive. How about requiring those soft
of page 6. Kindly do what you can, also, to cushiony toilet seats that are not so cold in
insure that the toilet accommodations are

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winter as to freeze one's cheeks shut? Also, I treasure hunt. Unfortunately, the rules were written by a lawyer, and
think people with sensitive posterior tissue
should be accommodated with a softer buttwipe nobody could understand them, so that event was a flop.
than the standard industrial strength wipe
common to public toilets.
ME: I hear your words; I study their wisdom. I knew There were really an amazing number of things going on via e-mail.
I had raised my concerns with the right man. E-mail kept me informed, moment by moment, of the planning for the
SHARON: The man for the job alright. He should be a office's Chili Cook-Off: scheduled, rescheduled, postponed, and
senator. King of gridlock. He'll B.S. right scheduled again. And then they cancelled it, and I thought to myself,
into the 21st century, by golly.
Rats. It seemed like nothing was going my way that day. I honestly
intended to bring my own favorite recipe, which usually came in a can
We used the e-mail system many times each day, and it gave us from Hormel, called “Chili,” although I also knew there was a good
much valuable information that we needed for our jobs. Here are just a chance I would forget and wind up spongeing off everybody else instead.
few examples: E-mail also notified me and my buddies of the potluck lunch. We
brought pizzas, which we had to defend vigorously against people who
had brought these disgusting casseroles and acted like that entitled them
• Events: we all received e-mail notification of the bake sale, the to horn in on our luscious pepperoni slices.
Tupperware party, the Halloween costume-judging contest, the One day, somebody sent out an e-mail inviting everyone to stop in
Thanksgiving raffle, the decoration of the Christmas tree, the place the lobby and sample some cookies that some new cookie company was
to donate our spare cans of food for the needy, the time when the giving away. Then, a week later, they sent us an e-mail to let us know
guy would be arriving in the lobby to sell us candy, and the date that people who had eaten those cookies were coming down with
when the visiting nurse would be there to give us influenza shots. hepatitis.
And there was always the occasional lost item, where the seeker
• New Official Directives from Washington: through e-mail, we were would use e-mail to ask everybody to help find it. Thus, when one tech
notified when our headquarters prepared new information on such misplaced 32 boxes of payment documents, we were all able to look under
timely subjects as Administration of the Photocopiers and the our chairs and make sure we weren't sitting on them by mistake. The
Structure of the Official Directive System. e-mail system informed everyone that an important file had last been
checked out of the file room by someone who was no longer at the RTC.
• Important Personal Matters: e-mail would tell us of a death in the And our personnel manager sent out e-mails to notify the thieves, when
family, a sick co-worker, or the departure of a fellow employee he finally realized we were missing something, like a VCR or a mailcart.
headed for greener pastures, as well as marriages, promotions, and For some reason, it became popular to invade people's offices and
new babies. take their prized pieces of furniture, so we started getting e-mails asking
if anyone had seen anybody else walking down the corridors carrying
• Special Offers: thanks to e-mail, I could discover that a fellow furniture. There was no reward offered, however, so I think most of us
employee wanted to sell tickets to the Ice Capades for only $9, or to disregarded those e-mail messages and went back to what we were doing
the Symphony. E-mail even gave us the rules to the office party's before.

16
The e-mail system was a very simple, important aspect of life at the compare them to the rumors. An important person in RTC
management recently spoke with this reporter and said
RTC. I had no idea, when I started out, how important it would prove to "Barf, the water here tastes like sh*t, find out why."
be. Of course, the rumor is that the water contains high
amounts of fecal matter which would account for the water
tasting like sh*t. We are assured that said contamina-
tion is within government standards. But what of the
There's No Place Like the Office recent water quality test, when the results came back as
"Chunky"? For now, this reporter suggests you take the
same precautions that you would take when traveling in a
The RTC's Legal Division in Valley Forge was located in the foreign land, which includes drinking the beer instead of
basement of an old rug warehouse. We didn't see much daylight shining the water whenever possible. Until the next crisis
in. It was dank and depressing. Some of my fellow employees were emerges, this is your ace reporter Barf Gimble. Aloha.
moody, and I think it's because they weren't getting enough Vitamin D, or
whatever it is you get from sunshine.
Most of us didn't have offices. We sat in little cubicles, next to other Management told us that we didn't have to worry about ground
cubicles. You could hear everything that your neighbor was saying or pollution from next door because we got all our water through pipes from
doing in his/her cube, and they could hear everything you were doing ) a nearby town, away from the pollution area. Later on, though, manage-
which is another reason why e-mail was popular: no voices. ment sent us an e-mail admitting that the town's water-purification
This rug warehouse had some environmental problems. It was equipment had broken down, causing “an elevation in volatile water
located next door to a badly polluted Superfund cleanup site. I suspect organic contaminates.” In other words, we wouldn't die from industrial
that the RTC put its regional headquarters here because some defunct chemicals; we'd die from drinking sewage. Fortunately, management
bank had owned the building, so now the RTC owned it, and it couldn't didn't tell us about this until several months after it had happened, so we
legally be sold to anyone else because the pollution was too bad, so when wouldn't panic. That way, we could continue drinking the stuff until the
we were through with it, they were going to burn it down and pour crisis was safely resolved.
concrete over it. Ordinarily, I didn't have much of a problem with the water. I'd drink
We were all convinced that we were being poisoned every time we it out of the water fountain and I'd be fine. Every now and then I'd get a
used the water fountain. We often talked about this, and finally Greg took little dizzy from it, but nothing extreme.
it upon himself to issue a public notice to the employees of the Legal One time, the maintenance guys put a sign over the water fountain
Division: that said, “This is not a sink. Do not pour anything down this fountain.”
I thought their message might be misunderstood, so I prepared a helpful
explanation and put it right below their sign. My explanation said, “We
To: Fans of Barf fear that chemicals in the water will combine with chemicals in the
From: Greg Arius ground to produce an explosion.”
Re: What's Wrong with the Water?
-------------------------------------------- But there's more to life than pollution. And in all fairness, the
Ace investigative reporter Barf Gimble is back on the pollution could not have been that bad, since ants were able to survive
job. Wherever there is a story to be found or a coverup
to uncover, Barf will track down the facts and expose all quite nicely in my cubicle. And fleas: the RTC had fleas. Management
(including himself, but that is a SCARY thought). Of took care to make sure that the place was fumigated every now and then,
course, everyone wants to know, what's in the water and to wipe the little buggers out, but they kept coming back.
can we drink it? Let's look at the basic facts and

18
We were also able to grow grotesque molds on the things we left in
a big fridge in the cafeteria. We all stored our lunches in this fridge, but
some people forgot and left their lunches in there for weeks at a time. Office Equipment
Finally, management announced that the fridge would be cleaned out
At the RTC, I was an office worker. To do my office work, I needed
every Friday afternoon. Some of us suspected that they were taking the
office equipment. And that was a problem.
stuff from the fridges and throwing it into the stews that the cafeteria
I think there may have been a law against giving RTC employees the
began serving about that time. There were people who actually ate the
basic tools to do their jobs. Or maybe the responsible people couldn't tear
cafeteria food, but most of them got sick and died soon after.
themselves away from the office for long enough to go buy the stuff. All
The cafeteria in this basement was the only place where a guy could
I know is, we were handicapped.
kick back and relax during the working day, except that you couldn't
Justin Thyme, the guy who ran the photocopying machines down in
really goof off there because there were all these people streaming in and
his copy room, was always sending us e-mails to let us know that the fax
out for more coffee, disturbing any relaxation you might have been trying
machines or the copy machines were broken. “Pray for us,” he'd say. “A
to get. They used to have a smokers' lounge, but I don't smoke, and
specialist is being flown in from Vienna, and meanwhile we are gathering
anyway, people would go into that room wearing blue or red clothes and
around the broken machine to hold hands and chant.” It got to be a joke
come out wearing brown. If you walked into that room, you couldn't see
on the e-mail system:
anybody unless they stood up, because otherwise they were all below the
smog layer. Eventually management eliminated the smoking lounge and
made our offices smoke-free, and from that point on you could look JUSTIN: Our big copier is on the fritz again (sigh).
outdoors in winter and see our smokers, hunkered down like pigeons, Please be patient.
heads deep in their collars, waiting for spring. ME: As an individual of partial German ancestry, I
The building came complete with a north parking lot and a south must object to the description of the copier as
parking lot. Each day, the parking lots would fill up, and then people being "on the Fritz." Some of my best friends
are named Fritz, and their copiers all work
would park in the fire lanes. Then the local cops would come out and fine.
ticket them. So people stopped parking in the fire lanes and instead
GREG: Some of my cousins are named Adolph, they were
parked on the lawn. It tore up the lawn, but it was cheaper. arrested yesterday with pipe bombs. My guess is
Sometimes people would accidentally leave their car lights on when that their copiers may have been working, but
were low on toner and paper.
they came to work. The receptionist upstairs, on the main floor of the
building ) where the happy, non-Legal RTC employees spent their days,
with lots of sunshine and fresh air ) would make an announcement on the
public address system. Unfortunately, the system didn't work, and the I often got e-mails from people in other RTC offices who were
poor driver's battery would run down. After a couple years of this, they trying to fax stuff to me. “Your fax machines are the most hateful in the
realized that it wasn't working, and instead they started using e-mail to country!” they'd say. “Can't you get machinery that works? Do you guys
pass the word. have a budget problem?” All I could say was that, if we didn't have a
screwy fax machine, we wouldn't have nearly as many excuses to get out
of our seats and stroll around.
If people really started to get irritated, I'd tell them to send things by

20
U.S. mail instead of by fax. But this was not necessarily good advice. of it, maybe I did ...
First, the U.S. mail in our neighborhood required several days just to get I should not give the impression that none of our equipment worked
a letter across town. And when they did deliver it, it would go to our properly. Everyone's phone had the very nice feature of serving as an
central mail room, where it would be sorted and put into a box and intercom, if you needed that. Greg liked to pick it up and dial the number
eventually delivered to our department, where it would again be sorted of Gloria Thunrythe, a mousy little brunette. She'd be sitting there
and put into a stack and eventually opened and stamped with a big blue working quietly, and suddenly her phone would give this ghostly moan,
rubber stamp, “RECEIVED IN RLIS,” and then it would be delivered to “Gloooorrrriiiiiaaaaa,” and she'd jump up and snort, “Oh! Damn him!”
the wrong person in the department. It would sit in their “in” tray for a Mostly, we just coped with the equipment as-is. But I did a really
couple of weeks until they got to it, and then they would realize it was not bold thing, one time: I ordered phone books from the phone company.
intended for them. They would read it to see if it contained anything I was trying to get a phone number, but nobody near me had any phone
juicy, and then put it into their “out” tray. The interoffice messengers books. I asked the receptionist. She said she had a phone book, but it was
would take it back to the central mail room, where it would be sorted ... the wrong one. In our part of Pennsylvania, every town actually consisted
I'm exaggerating, of course. Most of my mail made it to me within of a dozen different townships, with crooked roads dividing everything
a week or so. The only time I could count on a letter being misdelivered up, so you almost always needed at least three different phone books to
was if it was marked “PERSONAL AND CONFIDENTIAL.” I think find the number of the Dairy Queen down the street.
maybe our mail sorters got shook up when they realized that they were The receptionist's phone book didn't have the number I needed. I
violating a dozen federal mail laws by opening and reading a confidential decided that we really ought to have the basic set of six different phone
letter. Or maybe that's why they misdelivered those letters: they just books that covered a ten-mile radius from our office. I asked around
wanted to make sure that someone else's fingerprints were on the letter some more, but it appeared that nobody in the entire building had them
before I got it. all.
The good news is, people couldn't really tell me that I was hard to This seemed ridiculous. So I called the phone company. They said
reach, because they had to reach me in order to do that. Once in a while, there would be no charge for a set of all six phone books, and I ordered
they'd think of calling someone else in the Legal Division, and then I'd get them. But they never arrived. I think they must have gotten as far as the
this e-mail telling me that someone had been calling me. They usually mail room, where somebody decided that they needed a set.
claimed that they had dialed my correct number, but that my phone would So I called the phone company again, and asked if they could deliver
just keep on ringing. I honestly don't see how this could have happened, more phone books to me. But this time, I asked them to send eight sets
because I was usually sitting right there at my desk. of six: 48 phone books in all. “Just let those mailroom guys try to steal
If you weren't at your desk, the phone would ring four times at your this package,” I thought to myself.
cube, and then the call would bounce to someone else, and they were Sure enough, the next week, a guy from the mailroom came rolling
supposed to answer it for you. But it was rigged so that all the calls a cartful of boxes down to my cube. I had my phone books!
bounced to the same person, and after a while that person would get tired Now the only question was what to do with the seven sets I didn't
of playing receptionist for everyone else in the department, and they'd just need. I offered them to a couple different people, but these were the same
let it ring until the caller gave up or died. Eventually, we all built up a people who had been getting by just fine without phone books for all this
tolerance to the sound of a ringing phone, and I bet I could have spent the time, so they politely declined.
entire day next to a ringing phone without even noticing it. Come to think I didn't want to admit that I had done a piggish thing in ordering 48

22
phone books just to give me my own little set of six. But nobody else honorable mention in the annual “Parade of Cube Christmas Decora-
wanted them! In the end, I had to sneak around the office early one tions,” but it didn't.
morning, distributing them to strategic locations where I thought they A lot of us treated our little part of the office like a home away from
might come in handy. home. Some of the women decorated their cubes with plants or poems or
I kept a set on public display right outside my cube, where anybody bits of calligraphy. Buddy Fermi, a white guy, fiftyish, who worked with
could use them. Then, by golly, it turned out that people needed them us there in the RLIS group, lined his cube's walls with little expressions
after all. They would come over to use those phone books, and they'd ask, of wit, like “Morons never run out of ways to be stupid” and “If all you
“How did you manage to get phone books?” and I'd say, “I ordered them do is sit on the fence, all you get is a line across your ass.” And Greg, the
from the phone company.” They found this very unusual. And from that funny guy on e-mail, posted this bit of insight from Thrasher, a magazine
time on, we were still short of office equipment, but at least we had phone for teenage boys:
numbers.
I shouldn't say that the people responsible for giving us our office
supplies were falling down on the job. Most of the time, I got things How to Get Laid: 10 Sure-Fire Steps
about as quickly as I needed them. For instance, within four months after
I started working for the RTC, they gave me a name tag for my cube, 1. Sport a funky name (e.g., Osgood).
2. Cruise shopping malls.
identifying it as the home of “R. Woodcock.” I had the other basics, too: 3. Be sensitive.
stapler, paper clips, and ample space in my cube to pin up pictures of 4. Get a puppy.
naked ladies ) just kidding ) and cartoons and newspaper articles. And 5. Own a car. (Everybody needs to get somewhere, so
even if you are butt ugly and you're driving, you
they gave me a desk with one big drawer, large enough to hold a nice score. Trust me, it works.)
stash of microwave popcorn, granola bars, mini cans of stew and tuna and 6. Show cash.
7. Compliment them.
tomato juice, containers of pudding and applesauce, beef jerky, raisins, 8. Be a vegetarian.
potato chips, pretzels, as well as napkins, plastic plates and forks, shoe 9. Get a cool job.
10. Have your own place.
polish, etc.
At one point, my manager ordered me to get an “In” tray, so that the
mail people would have a place to deposit papers they were bringing me.
I think the main purpose of cube decorations was to establish that,
I felt that this was a reasonable request, so I walked up to the supply room
even though the rest of the world considered you a faceless bureaucrat,
to get myself an “in” tray.
you did in fact have your own unique personality. It was like a guy at my
When I got there, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but one
college, who always carried a pillow in his backpack and whipped it out
of those big tin pails, decorated with Santa and the reindeer, like they use
before he sat down. It gave him a soft place to sit. I don't know ) maybe
at Christmas when you buy somebody five gallons of caramel corn. I
there was something wrong with his butt. But at least he was unique, and
don't know who put this into our supply room, but I wasn't complaining.
so were we.
I popped the lid off and put a sign on it that said “IN,” and from then on,
that was my “in” tray. It just seemed friendlier and more durable than the
usual black plastic thing, and it also served the useful purpose of irritating
my manager. I hoped that this would be Christmasy enough to win me an

24
to whip through the material. She said they had a ball, but it was a total
waste.
Activities Two other techs told me about being flown to California to attend a
four-day class in a program called LSI. At the end, the instructor said,
I'll be getting to the subject of what my job was actually like. But
“Oh, you're with the RTC? You won't be using this. This is just for FDIC
first, I don't want to make my work sound more important than it was, so
employees.”
I think I'd better finish giving you the big picture on my position there at
When you weren't taking classes, you could use your spare time to
the RTC.
prepare your résumé or send out jobhunting letters. I think the official
One important activity at the RTC was training. Many people used
rule was that you were supposed to do this after business hours. But a lot
up their spare time by walking down the hall to the training area to take
of people just did it during the daytime, especially if they had nothing
classes in computer-related subjects, like word processing and spread-
better to do.
sheets. You could also take “soft” courses, like the “Business Writing”
You could also participate in authorized social activities. There was
class that everyone said was good because it was taught by this guy who
a newsletter, and you could volunteer to work on that. The newsletter
would tell all about the history of the English language. Some people also
people found various things to help pass the time, like once when they
recommended the course called “Dealing with Stress.”
sent us all a questionnaire and then published these winning results:
I once took “Communicating in the Workplace.” The teacher was
about the worst communicator I ever met. You couldn't break through to
her. I wound up whispering jokes back and forth with one of my fellow Best Place to Have Lunch with Your Whole Department: The
technicians, giggling and fooling around the whole time, like high school. Wharf, San Francisco. [There were no RTC offices in
It was the first opportunity I'd had to socialize with this particular woman. San Francisco.]
It was a lot of fun, and we wound up being good friends. So, yeah, I'd Best Place to Have a Beer without Your Supervisor Seeing
have to say the class was worthwhile. You: Main File Room.
Some courses lasted for a half day. Others were full-day. Every Best Place to Flirt with Co-Workers: Anywhere.
now and then you'd get lucky and find one that ran for two days. Our staff
Best Response When Telling Someone Where You Work:
attorneys really had it good, because sometimes they'd get to attend multi- currently unemployed.
day seminars to keep them posted on the latest developments in the law,
just in case they ever got done shuffling paper and found time to do Best Phone Call from a Member of the Public: "Could you
tell me where I can get the number 63 bus?"
genuine lawyer work, which wasn't likely.
Our training didn't always take place in the office. One woman told Best Newpaper Headline about Where You Work: "Boondoggle
at RTC."
me about a time when she was working in the RTC's real estate depart-
ment. They sent her to Washington for training. When she and the rest
of the class got there from their various RTC offices all over the country,
Greg was the official Legal Division activities coordinator, so he got
they discovered that the computers weren't working. So everybody went
to send out e-mails after each softball or volleyball game played by our
out partying. Same thing the next day. Out of a three-day class at
office team, like this:
company expense, they had only the third day ) and then a lot of people
had scheduled their return flights for 1:00 PM, so the instructor really had

26
To: Legal Division got thirteen days of vacation time each year, and another thirteen days of
From: Greg Arius
Re: The RTC Liquidators, the Bad, and the Ugly sick leave. If you were sick a lot, this meant you'd be out of the office as
-------------------------------------------- much as five weeks per year.
It was the game of shame, us versus the Falcons. The
umpire, straight from an antique store, could tell if the We got all the federal holidays, of course. We were also useless on
ball was a flyspeck low and would award an automatic base the afternoon before a holiday and the morning after, and they'd let us stay
if the batter is the product of inbreeding and his home or leave early or come in late if the weather was bad or there was
mother's name is John, but said not a word about the
rampant steroid abuse by the Falcons or the poser hodad something special going on in the outside world, like when a new
female first baseman, really just a guy who likes to wear President got inaugurated. Even when you didn't have official permission,
bra and panties. Our team had five men and five women,
as the rules require; theirs had seven men and three you could get away with arriving late and leaving early because, as we
mutants. knew from Official Directive Number 2300.1, “occasional tardiness not
Obviously, this league is no place for closet anarchists, in excess of one hour may be excused.” The main thing was just to show
dangly earrings, or players with three-digit numbers on up.
their jerseys (geez!). (If all else fails, the Liquida- Sometimes we got “administrative leave.” For example, they'd give
tors remain fashion leaders in this league.) They even
prohibited the traditional tackling of the opponent's us three hours of “admin” leave in November to go vote, and another four
third baseman! hours each time we signed up to donate blood. We were also encouraged
Star mention to Bob Dignagian for a line drive which, to take a couple of hours in the middle of the afternoon and go down to
although caught, was heard to crunch several bones in the the cafeteria to attend special commemorations of “Hispanic Month” or
hand of the Falcon's shortstop. The Cheer of the Week
award was given to Laura Landardy for her rousing jeer, “Women's Month” or “Native American Month” or “Black American
"How about a hanky, you whiner?" Post-game honors go to Month” or “Asian Month,” along with workshops about AIDS, or the civil
Cindy Rist for her successful acquisition of much-needed rights movement of the '60s, or the Nazi Holocaust.
alcoholic beverages.
There were other kinds of leave, if you qualified: court leave,
Hey, we wuz just warming up! Next time for sure! This military leave, leave for childbirth or adoption or foster care or related
is your ace sports reporter Barf Gimble saying, until
next time, Aloha. child care or other parental or family obligations, and if you were really
feeling the need to goof off, you could take leave without pay.
In some RTC offices, they'd let you work nine-hour days instead of
One time, doing my civic bit, I contributed a piece to the newsletter. eight, and in return they'd give you a day off every two weeks. With
It was about driving my truck. But I used the word “schmuck” in the training and sick days and everything else, a guy could start to feel like a
piece, and the newsletter people rejected it because they felt that this word part-time worker.
would offend some people. I admit, I was insensitive to the feelings of a We had “casual days” every couple of weeks, and people were more
legitimate minority. I just had not realized we had that many schmucks laid-back on those days. Once in a while, the top dogs would declare a
at the RTC. special casual day. It might be a make-believe “Day at the Beach” or the
The newsletter and the ball teams were fun, but people also killed a opening day of the baseball season. It's not true that there's no such thing
lot of time with everyday socializing, in person or on the phone or on as a free lunch, because on these days they'd give us a free lunch in the
e-mail. I, myself, made some good friends this way. cafeteria, with turgid regurgèd delicacies like gagamaggot chicken and
For those who preferred the more direct route to avoiding work, we cream of barf soup. Then, after eating, we could hang out for another

28
hour or two if we wanted to. I couldn't find anyplace fit for sleeping inside the building. Just when I'd
Some people ordinarily kept their lunch breaks to one hour, but discover a vacant office or a place nobody used, someone would open the
many others would run errands, work out at the health club, or go running door, turn on the lights, and walk in, and there I'd be, alone, lying on the
in the nearby park. By the time these people finished getting sweaty, floor in the dark. People were pretty good at dreaming up rumors
taking a shower there in our shower room, and grabbing a bite to eat, their anyway; I didn't need to give them more ammunition like this.
lunch period was usually closer to two hours. I tried going into a stall in the men's room and propping my face on
Most weeks, we had at least one birthday party. Someone would my hands while sitting on the stool, but there's just something about a
supply a cake, or maybe we'd all contribute a dessert, in which case you bathroom that keeps me awake. I did it a couple of times, and each time
could guarantee that there'd be at least one recipe that would make you I came out looking like somebody had smacked me, from where I'd
cry. My own contribution was usually something simple and universal, propped my fists into my eye sockets. I'd wander around, yawning and
like a box of Fruit Loops. drooling, too sleepy to decide whether I could wake up and return to work
Generally, birthday parties just amounted to singing the song and or whether I should just go out to the truck and get it over with. People
cutting the cake, mid-afternoon, in the hallway near where the birthday would see me in this zombie mode and stare at me. It wasn't fun.
person sat. But if that person was really well-known, or if it was a special I was shy about my naps. I don't know. I guess I thought people
occasion like somebody important leaving the RTC, then the celebration would snicker if they knew that Superman just couldn't get by without a
would involve a more elaborate luncheon at a nearby restaurant, and forty little nappie. I also feared that some supervisor would decide that this
or fifty of us would drive over there and spend a couple of hours having gave the RTC a bad image and might forbid me to take any more naps.
a good time. I knew that smokers were allowed to go out to their cars for a smoke
I wouldn't say that these various non-work activities took the whole break. I just didn't want to have to become a smoker in order to be
day, every day. They just helped to pass the time. And they were really allowed to take a nap. So to keep anyone from suspecting what I was up
good for productivity, because the prospect of a nice, long luncheon party to, I'd always get my computer started on a long project, so that it would
would often persuade people to come to work, where otherwise they say “Please wait” and people would think I was hard at work; and then I'd
might have just taken the day off and stayed home. leave when nobody was looking, taking a short cut out through the library.
Naps in the summertime were difficult, because the truck was so
blasted hot. I had a little electric fan that I could plug into the cigarette
Naps lighter and clip onto the steering wheel, and that helped; but then
sometimes it fell over and made grinding noises and woke me up, and I
No discussion of how we spent our time at the RTC would be
was afraid that, someday, it would get tangled in my tie and choke me to
complete without a brief mention of my own personal policy on napping,
death. Eventually, I gave up and threw the fan away, so instead I just had
which is this: I've always been fond of naps.
to sit there and roast, with the windows down and wasps flying in. When
Officially, we were allowed to take a fifteen-minute break every
the temperature got above ninety degrees, it was really tough to sleep. At
morning and afternoon. I used these breaks to go out to my truck, pull my
those times, I found that the only solution was to stay up late at night, so
cowboy hat over my eyes, and quietly go to sleep. One little catnap, and
that it would be easier to fall asleep during my naptime the next day.
just like that, my head would be clear and my attitude would be a hundred
It was worse in the winter. I'd park facing the sun, and I had my
times better. I would rejoice in the lovely day and go back to my cubicle.
sleeping bag unzipped and waiting in the passenger seat. But my truck
I did not like being forced to walk out to my truck to take a nap, but

30
had been totalled five or six years earlier, and now the driver's door didn't so. And the lawyers were mostly in the range of $40-70,000, with some
close all the way. When the temperature was down near zero and there above that; several were actually earning over $100,000.
was a 20 MPH wind, I got a bad draft through that crack. So when I came I guess it's only fair to mention that we weren't all treated well.
out to the truck to take a nap in the winter, I had to move quickly, getting Every now and then, Hiram Atwill, our personnel guy, would get into a
myself all bundled in with the sleeping bag before I got too cold to sleep. rowdy mood and chisel some new employee, forcing them to take a salary
Fortunately, my cube was also freezing in the wintertime, so I could wear far below their level, just because they were desperate for a job. I later
thermal underwear all day long without overheating, and this would help heard one of these chiseled people talk about how he and his wife were
when it came time for that dash to the truck. buying a $250,000 house, and I wondered if possibly he was selling the
Even in the best of circumstances, napping is tough. You can't nap RTC's secrets to the Russians. This might explain why Russia is having
in an office building's parking lot any earlier than 8:30 AM, because all those problems.
people are still arriving for work at that point. They get out of their cars There were two kinds of government employees at the RTC. “GG”
and slam their doors, and that wakes you up, and then you can't get back employees were permanent. If the RTC closed down an office, it had to
to sleep. For the same reason, you can't really nap during the middle of offer each GG employee a job somewhere else in the government. I think
the day, from about 12 to 2, when people are coming and going for lunch. there were ways of terminating GG employees in the event of nuclear war,
Also, there aren't a whole lot of places to sleep in the cab of a pickup but otherwise these people were in for good.
truck, and the only position that really works is one that was more I wasn't a GG. I was an “LG,” which stood for “liquidation grade,”
comfortable when you were six years old. And then sometimes, despite which meant they gave me a contract of one year at a time and told me
all your best efforts, things go wrong, like when you leave the sleeping that I could get my contract renewed each year, as long as they liked me.
bag at home or when it accidentally loops around the steering wheel and As an LG, I didn't get all of the benefits that GGs got, but I still did
sets off the horn, or ties itself around your neck and half-strangles you. OK. I got insurance (health, life, vision, and dental, disability, business
At moments like this, you don't want anyone you know walking past your travel, and prescription), a retirement plan, and free counseling if I
truck, because these rumors are even worse than the other ones. became suicidal. And some other miscellaneous things thrown in.
Others may think it was weird that I took naps, but I think it was Basically, they knew how to take care of their own.
weird that we didn't all take a siesta. I'd see my co-workers walking Promotions had nothing to do with performance. For every year you
around in a daze in mid-afternoon, dropping things, printing a document stayed at the RTC, you'd advance one “step.” There were ten steps to
and then realizing that they had printed the wrong one, talking about how each grade, and the grades went from 1 to 15. So if you advanced in the
they couldn't make any sense of yesterday's 2:00 PM seminar ) I'd see this proper way, you would move from bottom to top in only 150 years.
stuff, and I'd think to myself that there was nothing wrong with them that If you wanted to increase your income more quickly, you had to ask
a good little nap wouldn't fix. for a grade promotion rather than a step promotion. If you got a grade
promotion, you could go up by several thousand dollars in a single year.
An even faster way of increasing your income was to move to a different
Salaries and Promotions job. For instance, by moving from technician to paralegal, you could leap
several grades in a single bound.
I complain about the RTC sometimes, but the fact is, we were paid
At one point, they were talking about a “Pay Reform Project,” where
reasonable salaries. Hardly anyone earned less than $20,000. Most techs
they would actually link our pay to our performance. I guess it wasn't a
were in the range of $27-34,000. The paralegals earned up to $40,000 or

32
good idea for government workers, though. They sent us one memo on tried to follow where she had told me to go, I got lost anyway.
it, and then that's the last I ever heard of it. Being in the RTC made some changes in my thinking. I'd be out for
To tell the truth, sometimes it seemed like the most incompetent a drive on the weekend, and I'd cruise past some boarded-up bank
people were actually the most likely to be promoted. If so, it may be that building, and instead of glancing at it and then moving on, I would
their minds were not cluttered with confusing trivia about how to do the actually have a conscious thought, like “Wonder which defunct bank that
job properly, and were instead able to focus on the central issue, which place belonged to?” I would go into my own bank, and suddenly I would
was to smile and go along with even the screwiest program. notice how deathly quiet the lobby was. I'd look at the faces of the tellers
If you knew how to play the game, you could get cash awards or and wonder, “Is my money safe here? What do they know that I don't?
time off for doing something intelligent. You could be named Employee Why in the world do I have my savings at an S & L?”
of the Month. You might get sent on special business trips if your
supervisor really liked you. You might even get yourself “detailed” ) that
is, sent to another RTC office for a temporary work assignment. When
you were in travel mode, you got a $34-a-day bonus (plus lodging, rented
car, and a chance to live somewhere else for a few weeks), so people
really liked those plums when they could get them, although it wasn't
really the best thing for some employees who thought they should try to
save that $34 and put it into the bank, because these people didn't eat
much when they were traveling and when they got back to Valley Forge,
sometimes they looked pretty haggard.

Being One of “Them”


Probably the most important aspect of my job at the RTC was the
simple fact that I was now a government employee. Government
employees seemed to have a special “something” about them.
Until I worked at the RTC, I had never before met a person whose
whole day would be ruined if you used their own personal coat hanger to
hang your coat in the closet. I had never had somebody ask me to give
them a receipt when I bought concert tickets and sold two of those tickets
to them, so that they could join me and my date and sit next to us.
I will tell you, right now, that you definitely don't want to ask a
government employee for directions. I did this one time, and I was there
for the next five minutes, listening while she described every step of the
way in painful detail. I mean, I could have walked there by the time she
was done. It was like reading a book of regulations. And then, when I

34
signature, the date, your supervisor's signature, comments, etc.
That's how the timesheet looked. Of course, the most important part
was where we wrote down how many hours we had worked and how
Special Duties
much sick time and vacation time we'd used up. Sick time and vacation
time were extremely important to us, and the Personnel department
responded to our concern by creating many special rules to guide us.
Here's an example of how those rules worked. Let's say it's a really
It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has
nasty winter day, and you've got a cold. Should you go to the office,
plenty of work to do.
knowing that you may need to come home early? Or should you just call
in sick and go back to sleep?
) Jerome Klapka Jerome, Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow
The answer was, Go to work and infect everyone else. Why?
Because you don't want to use up your precious sick time if you can get
a freebie. If you're in the office when they close the place down for bad
weather, you'll get “administrative leave.” But if you're home sick when
they make a bad-weather closing, you don't get any administrative leave
It wasn't all fun and games at the RTC. We had some serious
at all, and you'll lose a full eight hours of sick time ) even if they close the
paperwork to do.
office at 9:00 AM. I don't know why that was the rule, but it was.
Perhaps the most important piece of paper in the entire place was the
To make a good decision about calling in sick on a winter's day, of
timesheet that we had to turn in every two weeks. If we didn't turn one in,
course, you needed to know if management was likely to close the office
we wouldn't get paid.
for bad weather. Unfortunately, this was not simply a matter of looking
Preparing a timesheet was an art. It could easily take an hour to do
out the window and seeing that everything was coated with ice. You also
properly, if you were a complicated sort of person.
had to take into account what month of the year it was. In early winter,
The timesheet asked for your name, your usual workday (mine was
our managers would not yet be sure that winters sometimes involve bad
7:00 AM to 4:00 PM), agency number, state, town, “unit,” timekeeper
weather. They would not want to do anything new and different, because
number, pay plan, type of employment, social security number, pay period
they might get criticized. So they refused to shut the office at times when
number, and twelve other items which, as I see now from looking at one
the driving conditions were so bad that the state police barricaded the
of my old timesheets, I must never have filled in, because I have no idea
highway leading to the office, or when the electric company was on the
what they were supposed to be. Huh. I must have done it right. I got
radio, begging people to stay home because it was so cold that there
paid.
wasn't enough electricity to go around and they were having to black out
Anyway, that was all on the top part of the timesheet. The middle
portions of the state.
part required you to list a separate number for each kind of work (e.g.,
Of course, nature has a way of balancing things out. After our
vacation time was numbered 66) and a twenty-digit code indicating where
managers got criticized a couple of times for not shutting down the office
you were and who you did this work for. I never understood those codes,
when any fool could see they should have, they would decide that it was
so I always just used the same one that I had gotten from somebody else.
important to close down the office for bad weather. Then we had some
Finally, in the bottom part, you had to calculate how much new
bad weather, and they tried closing the office early and sending us all
vacation and sick time you had earned, how much you had used up, your

36
home. Nobody criticized them, so now they knew it was safe to do that. right.
So they did it again, and again they didn't get criticized. This made Unfortunately, it wasn't that simple for me. My boss ) a big, kick-
them more comfortable. They started experimenting with allowing us to your-ass black woman named Tara Streikes ) decided that I was a “detail-
take up to two hours out of the workday for our morning commute and oriented” person, and therefore she gave me the honor of being the
another two hours for our evening commute. These adjustments happened “timekeeper” for the entire RLIS group.
more often as we moved into January. By the time February rolled What this meant was that, after figuring out my own timesheet, I got
around, we would be missing at least part of a day every week, and some to turn around and double-check the timesheets for fifteen other people.
weeks had multiple days when we came in late, left early, or didn't bother As you might expect, we prepared our timesheets during the first
coming in at all, as long as there was at least a frosting of snow out there week of our two-week pay period. That's right. On Wednesday of the
somewhere. first week, you were supposed to estimate what you would be doing for
I don't want to make this sound too simple. The other factor that we the next week and a half. They needed this much advance notice to get
had to keep in mind, before deciding whether to call in sick, was that our your paycheck to you in a timely manner, twenty-two days later.
bosses would not make snap decisions about the weather. Sometimes So you'd turn your timesheet in on Wednesday. Then, if the next
they wouldn't get the news on the radio until after 9:00 AM. Most of us week and a half didn't work out as planned, you'd have to turn in an
had started our workdays by then, and some people had to drive an hour “amended” timesheet on the Monday after the pay period ended. This
or more to get to the office each morning. So we'd already be at the office meant that most people had to file two timesheets ) an original and an
before we discovered we didn't have to be there. amended one ) for every pay period.
I hate to say it, but some of my fellow employees were as goofy as Each bit of sick or vacation or “admin” leave had to be backed up by
our managers. They would faithfully get into their cars in horrible an SF-71 leave slip. We had to get our leave slips initialed by Tara and
weather and get themselves stuck in deep snow, day after day, rather than signed by her boss, a cute little blond (married) lawyer named Lucy
just hit the snooze button on their alarm clocks and wait for our bosses to Tania. We also had to have an “Overtime Leave Request” signed by Tara
make a decision. and Lucy if we wanted to work overtime during the coming two-week pay
Of course, if we guessed wrong on that snooze button thing, we period.
risked being docked for staying home and sleeping. But there were things Some people made a lot of money from overtime. If you wanted a
we could do to protect ourselves. If you suspected that they would be light work week, but still wanted to get some time-and-a-half pay, you
closing the office, you could call in and tell them that your car was stuck. could take some vacation or sick time during the week and then come in
Then you'd call back an hour later to say that the tow truck was on the on the weekend.
way. Then you'd call back an hour later to say that the tow truck was Since I was the timekeeper, I was supposed to remind everyone of
having problems. Eventually, either they'd announce a closing or else all these rules and deadlines. I also had to check every timesheet to make
your boss would sound irritated on the phone, and this would be your cue sure it was filled out in black ink and signed in blue ink; and the
to give up on the bad weather concept and go limping into the office corrections on every amended timesheet had to be made in red ink. And
where you belonged. I had to make sure all the numbers added up.
Anyway, the timesheet rules could get really complicated. But that's Some people were never able to get their timesheets to me on time,
the easy part. As long as you were preparing the timesheet for just one so I came up with a solution. I prepared a computer program that would
person ) yourself ) you had some interest in making sure it came out produce them automatically. I figured I'd just take a whole stack of

38
timesheets around, one for each person, and say, “Here's your timesheet. The most frequent ones were the meetings of the RLIS department.
Never mind what it says. Just sign it.” We'd worry about amendments Tara, our boss, called these every Monday afternoon. They lasted about
later. two hours each. They usually interfered with my midafternoon nap, so I'd
Unfortunately, Tara yanked me off the timekeeper job before I even go out to the truck and try to sleep beforehand, but sometimes I just wasn't
got really warmed up, and before I had a chance to put this scheme into ready to fall asleep yet, and that would force me to load up on caffeine in
practice. It seems that I committed a major mistake. I sent everyone's hopes of staying awake.
Overtime Leave Requests ) including Tara's ) to some unknown I might have found it easier to stay awake at those meetings if I'd
destination, and they were lost forever. Tara realized that a big chunk of been in the middle of the action. But there wasn't any action. Everybody
her paycheck was in jeopardy, and the sh-- really hit the fan. just sat there in a stupor. Besides, nobody really understood my work on
If I had intended this, it would have been a brilliant way of getting the LOC, and when I spoke up, they all just looked at me, waited until I
out of that worthless timekeeper job. Even if I hadn't intended it, it would was finished, and then whoever was talking went back to whatever they
be have been OK if I'd realized how brilliant it was, because then I could had been talking about before. Likewise, I didn't understand the things
have told my friends that I had planned it that way. The really upsetting they would talk about, so I'd mostly just sit there and space out, or write
thing was that it took me several days even to figure out what had little notes about the whole experience.
happened. By then I just looked incompetent, and I knew I would never Tara's right-hand assistant was a huge white woman named Candy
be able to add this experience to the other adventures on my résumé. Tenuff. At these meetings, Tara and Candy did most of the talking.
Candy was a real corporate tool, devoted to her job. She knew a lot more
about RLIS than Tara did, and she often functioned like a sort of junior
Meetings boss, even though she was just a tech like the rest of us. When she spoke
at our meetings, she was so relaxed and knowledgeable that, if I'd had the
When I got past all the other stuff at the RTC and got down to work,
least interest in what she was saying, I probably would have been
I often found that I couldn't get down to work because I was required to
fascinated. But I wasn't. I was just doing what patient people do, which
attend a meeting.
is to to put up with things that they probably shouldn't.
First of all, I was supposed to attend various seminars given by the
The rest of the techs were mostly female. There were three white
personnel department. These seminars showed us how to fill out our
guys and one black guy. The black guy, named Jay Gundus, was a big,
travel forms, in case we did any business travel for the RTC; how to
mellow, middle-aged dude from west Africa who had come to the U.S. in
prepare our 401(k) forms, if we qualified for the retirement plan; how to
his twenties. He had a really pleasant accent, and he decided, early on,
do personal financial planning; how to fill out the required forms to let
that he wished he had a pickup truck and a cowboy hat like me.
everyone know if we were rich and owned stock in the banks that the RTC
We'd all just sit around the conference table, at these meetings, and
was taking over; etc.
watch Tara and Candy put on their little show. One day, for instance, it
Also, there were regular company-wide meetings, and Legal
went something like this:
Division meetings, to keep us posted on various national topics, including
the latest developments in Washington regarding our future. These were
very popular, because we all knew knew that, by law, the RTC was
TARA: Out of the kindness of my heart, I will not identify the tech
required to shut down within a couple of years. Everybody was hoping
who is responsible for this error. All I can say is, the fees is
that, somehow, the law would be changed.

40
the staff attorney's responsibility to review. They don't do our they were crossword puzzles, letters to their boyfriends, etc.
math, and we don't do theirs. Or as my mother used to say, If I had gone to every RLIS meeting, I would be one of those
there are twenty different ways to skin a cat, and nineteen of statistics you hear about, like how the average person spends 1.5 years of
them don't involve cutting its ass off. their life sitting at stoplights. But fortunately for me, I would often forget
about the meetings. I don't know how this happened, but I swear, I would
CANDY: Yeah, if you go into RLIS and look under the Matter Detail honestly not remember that the meeting was going to take place. I'd go
screen, you'll see a notation that says ... [blah blah blah] to my cube, get wrapped up in some project, and then look up and wonder
where the hell everybody was. And then I'd remember, and if it wasn't too
DAWN [one of the techs]: But why should we do it that way? late, I'd go stumbling down the hall to join them, trying to find out where
they were meeting this time, knowing that Tara would nurse a grudge for
TARA: Because that's the way it is. days if I didn't.
I wasn't really sure why it was important to have two-hour RLIS
DAWN: But it doesn't make sense! meetings every week. So I sent Tara a thoughtful memorandum on the
subject. I suggested that maybe we could break up into focus groups that
TARA: Irregardless, we want to do this with a KISS ) Keep It Simple would meet as often as necessary, so that sixteen people wouldn't have to
and Stupid. We're trying to influence policy here. sit and listen while one person explained his/her special problem. I am
not certain whether Tara was thankful for my effort in writing this
memorandum, because she never said anything about it.
At that last comment, Jay the African rolled his eyes, as if to say,
“God forbid that anybody's policy should be influenced by this crew of
losers.” I saw that look, and I attempted to contact him telepathically, by The Help Desk
ESP. “Jay,” I said in my thoughts directed his way, “it's like Aliens: all
Despite the meetings and all the other distractions, at some point a
these horrible creatures, with this giant Mother beast at the center.” But
person had to settle down and work.
Jay didn't return the thought, and when I shut off my inner eye and looked
One task that Tara required of each tech (except Candy) was that,
at him again, I realized it was because he was preoccupied with the lovely
every now and then, your turn would come to put all your work aside and
chest of Hope Ferdabest, the gorgeous blond technician sitting across the
spend a week sitting at the Help Desk. Tara explained it this way in a
table from him. I sensed that I was about to fall asleep, so I stood up and
memo to us all:
went out for another Coke.
Often, during the meetings, Tara and Candy would take off on some
side issue with one other person. The rest of us would strike up conversa-
The mission of the Help Desk is to provide research assistance
tions, or just sit there in a caffeine funk. Then, after five or ten minutes,
to law firms and RTC employees. Questions from RTC
Tara would finish that little side issue, and would start yelling, “Excuse
employees should not be handled by the Help Desk, and all
me! Excuse me!” to get everyone to shut up, and then she'd start back in
requests for research assistance should be directed to me.
on whatever subject came to mind. At first, I noticed that a few people
were taking really good notes, but as the weeks went by, I discovered that

42
In other words, the person at the Help Desk was supposed to help RTC's newsletter:
people by telling them to call someone else. Word got around, and after
a while, hardly anyone called the Help Desk. Since you weren't allowed
to work on your regular duties during your week on the Help Desk, and Concerns have been raised that the RTC was not being
there was nothing else to do, that week was often devoted to goofing off, responsive to inquiries and complaints, and people were being
following the general principle that work is appropriate if you have transferred from department to department without getting
nothing better to do. answers to their questions.
It was good to have this week of leisure, because I wasn't alone in
the Help Desk room. I shared it with Ima Mensch, who always sat in
there. Ima was a big, friendly, black woman, a mom and a computer To help solve that problem, I discovered a neat trick on the Help
expert who knew a lot of different things about the RTC and could help Desk. If you kept people on hold while you tried to figure out the answer
with tough questions. Ima also had a healthy sense of reality. She was to their weird question, they'd get irritated. But if you said, “OK, give me
sort of like a therapist that you didn't have to pay for. The Help Desk your number, and I'll research it and call you back,” they'd suspect that
itself was a waste of time, but hanging out with Ima was definitely OK. you were just giving them a run-around and they'd never hear from you
Since the Help Desk had no purpose, and since this fact was clear to again. So then, as soon as they got off the line, I'd turn to Ima, tell her the
everyone who knew what they were doing, most of the calls to the Help problem, and give her the number. A few minutes later, she'd pick up the
Desk were from people who didn't know what they were doing, regarding phone and call them back. She'd still tell them that we didn't know the
problems that you couldn't possibly help them with. answer, just like I would have done, but she'd say it in a really concerned
For instance, one time I got a call from Lou Zurr of Bumtruck, and sympathetic way, and they'd be so amazed at our helpful attitude and
Pennsylvania. He said he was still waiting for a check for $68 that the our quick response time that they wouldn't even mind that we were still
RTC was supposed to send him three years earlier. He wasn't a lawyer. useless.
He was just some schmoe who thought the RTC owed him $68. I really I wasn't always real good with the Help Desk phone. It was
couldn't figure out what he was talking about, so I hemmed and hawed for complicated and it had a special message screen that would give you
a while. Eventually, he asked if we had an information center. I didn't information about what you were doing on your phone call ) information
know, so I turned around and asked Ima, and she said yeah and gave me that I'd never really realized I needed. One day, this phone rang. I looked
the phone number, so I gave it to him and he hung up. at the special message screen. It said, “Tara Streikes.” So I took the cue
Another time, I got a call from some poor jerk whose bank had and picked up the phone and said, “Tara Streikes' line.” The voice said,
failed. The bank had been handling his car loan, and he wanted to pay the “This is not Tara Streikes line.” I recognized the voice. It was Tara! I
thing off already, but he didn't know where to send his payments. The said, “Hey, you can't be on here.” I was confused. It took me a minute to
guy was practically begging for help. “I know you're very busy,” he said. realize that the phone was telling me who the call was from, not who it
“Just tell me who to call and I'll be out of your hair.” He said it in a rush, was to. I never did like that phone anyway. But at least I finally learned
like he was afraid I'd put him on hold and never come back. I asked Ima how to use it to provide one important function of the Help Desk, which
about it, and she said he'd probably have to give a pint of blood to get an was to take personal phone messages for Tara when she was away from
answer to that question. her desk.
We were all very surprised, one day, to read these words in the I confess, I usually had to take at least one sick day during my week

44
on the Help Desk. But this is not because I was playing hooky. No, sir. “Aleta knows about this project,” I assured him. I left the boxes by the
What would happen would be that I'd get so bored, there on the Help door and got out as quickly as possible.
Desk, that I'd overload on coffee, and when I got off work I'd be all An hour later, Aleta sent me an e-mail, and I responded:
wound up from all that caffeine and not interested in going home, so
instead I'd go out partying, and then I'd find myself crawling into bed at
2:00 AM, and the next morning I'd feel like I was dying, so I'd have to call ALETA: You said this was just going to be one stack of
papers. There are two boxes here!
in sick, in order to give myself a day to get back to normal. Someone else
would stand in for me on the Help Desk, and then I'd owe them a day, ME: Yeah, but if you put the one box on top of the
other, it forms just one stack.
which sometimes I'd actually repay.
For me, the main value of the Help Desk was that, when good- ALETA: I know better than to be helpful next time.
looking Hope Ferdabest was on it, I could go in there, plop down on the ME: Ah, but you don't. Helpful people are like
visitor's chair, and tell her that I had come to her because I didn't feel like that. I'll just have to lie low for a while,
working anymore and I hoped that the Help Desk could help me with that and then, later, I'll be able to sucker you
again.
problem.
Eventually, Tara realized that I was just a hopeless screwoff on the
Help Desk, and she ordered Candy to give me something to do while I That was Tuesday. I was out sick on Wednesday. When I got back
was sitting there. Candy came up to me and said, “We understand that to the Help Desk on Thursday, I got another e-mail from Aleta:
you have a good business background, and we have a project here that
needs someone with your skills.” This sounded good, so I sat up and paid
attention. ALETA: Your massive photocopying project is done.
It turned out that Candy needed someone to photocopy and file a
ME: Don't tell me it's done. As long as I have this
couple thousand documents. I groaned, and something inside of me idiot project underway, I won't get stuck with
curled up and died. another one. My week on the Help Desk ends
But she was right. I was able to use my business skills in this task. tomorrow. Do me a favor and tell me again,
tomorrow at 2 PM, that it's done. At that
I went down to the copy room. “I hear you guys do copying,” I said to point, I'll race right down and retrieve it from
Aleta Lait, the woman who worked in there, as she stood at the copy you.
machine.
“Yeah, if you can leave it for at least two or three days,” she said, in
a voice that a person would hesitate to use on a child molester. “Really?” Unfortunately, I did not manage to finish filing all of those thou-
I asked, my eyes lighting up. When she saw my reaction, her face went sands of photocopies before the end of that particular week on the Help
white, and she looked like she'd swallowed poison. Before she could Desk. This meant that I had to leave part of the project for whoever was
change her mind, I said, “I'll bring the papers down right away,” and on the Help Desk the next week, so that they'd have to clean up after me
dashed over to the warehouse to borrow a cart. instead of starting a brand-new hokey make-work task. I regretted it, but
When I got back to the copy room with my two big boxes of I also noticed, next time I was on the Help Desk, that Candy didn't give
documents, Aleta wasn't there, but her co-worker, Justin Thyme, was. me another story about how they needed my business skills to do a filing

46
job. talked about in that meeting. It was called the “UIC” project. “UIC,” I
learned, was short for “Unpaid Invoice Confirmation.”
What it meant was this: several years earlier, law firms were
The UIC Project sending their bills or invoices to the RTC, but the RTC didn't have the
time to examine those bills.
The Help Desk wasn't my job. Most of the distractions from my job
Yes, the RTC could have forced the firms to wait until we could
just lasted for a few hours, or maybe a day or two. Other than the Help
make sure that they were charging us the proper amount and that we
Desk, they didn't last for a whole week.
hadn't already paid them for this work. But if we had done that, the firms
But there was one big exception to that rule. Tara looked around for
would have had to wait a long time. So instead, we sent them a “UIC”
something really squirrelly for me to do, and after hunting around long
form. On this form, they had to promise that their bill was correct, and
enough, she found a job for me that made the Help Desk look like small
they had to confirm that the bill had not yet been paid. Once we got the
potatoes.
form, we'd send them a check.
I was sitting in an RLIS meeting, thinking about vacation in
The UIC program lasted a couple of years. The total amount paid to
Colorado, when I heard Tara say these words:
law firms under this program was about $330 million. It was too much
money to ignore. So now the time had arrived, and we were going to go
back and check up on those old bills, to make sure that the law firms
... a project that requires attention to detail. There will
hadn't lied to us.
be a lot of computer work, so the project requires someone
Of course, we couldn't very well do this if we didn't have the bills.
with good computer skills.
Unfortunately, we seemed to have misplaced some of them. About $132
million worth. According to rumor, someone in the Washington
headquarters had thrown them out by accident.
By this time, I knew that “attention to detail” was a code phrase
Nobody wanted to admit that they had thrown out $132 million
meaning “Ray Woodcock.” I didn't know where she was going with this,
worth of bills, so instead Washington told each field office to go through
but I was getting nervous, and I started to listen to her. She continued:
its files and see if those old bills had somehow gotten mixed in with other
“The computer work will involve database manipulation, and
papers. We always had three or four “temporary” workers hanging
possibly some programming. The person in charge of this project will
around, and now Tara assigned this job to them. They spent a long time
probably have to be in touch with Washington on a regular basis.”
at it, and when they were done, they hadn't found much. Tara told
Ima Mensch, always looking to broaden her computer skills, spoke
Washington, and they told her to look again. Tara told the temps to look
up. “I'd like to get involved in this project,” she said.
again, and they did.
“We may need your assistance at some point,” Tara said, “but right
Since that exercise didn't turn up many of the missing bills, the next
now I have already decided who is going to be my ‘volunteer.’” I
idea was to write to law firms and ask them to send us copies of those
groaned, and I was right. She picked me. It was a masterful stroke by
bills.
Tara: in one stroke, she made my fellow technicians sound like morons,
We knew which law firms to write to, and how much the bills were,
and made me responsible for something that, I knew, could only be a
because we had kept records of what we'd paid. But then it turned out that
ghastly task.
those records were incomplete, so nobody was really sure. But Washing-
In the following days, I began working on the project that Tara had

48
ton prepared letters and sent them to the ones they were sure about, and Maybe somebody was paying more than they should have. As far as I
the law firms started sending us copies. could tell, nobody knew for sure.
Some did, anyway. Other firms had split up, so it was difficult to There was one other number that didn't add up. Washington had
track down the responsible parties. Some firms sent us the wrong said that only $130 million worth of bills had been shredded. But now,
invoices. Some pretended not to understand our letter. Some refused to according to this list that D.C. had just sent us, our office alone was
comply unless we paid them for all this trouble. Some simply ignored us. responsible for $65 million of the entire country's missing bills. So either
One firm, really clever, said, “We are eager to supply the paper you have our office was a huge sinkhole ) which is probably true ) or the problem
requested, but to find those invoices, we would need to know the name of of the missing bills was a lot larger than Washington was admitting.
the attorney handling the matter, our file number, the type of transaction Whatever. I only knew that the UIC project had officially begun.
...” Washington had sent letters to the law firms, telling us to send us the bills
This posed a tough question. Were we going to sue the firms that that somebody had thrown out, and the firms began sending us copies of
didn't cooperate? Think about it. You ask a law firm to send you copies their old bills. Washington also sent us some boxes of papers. The next
of its old bills. They say they can't find them. You tell them that they'd question facing me, as Chief of the UIC project, was what to do with all
better find them, or else you'll sue them. They say they shredded those this stuff.
bills by accident. You remind them that they had promised to keep copies Tara said she didn't want to put all these papers into file folders, like
for future review. They say, “We know. We're sorry.” You sue them. a person would ordinarily do. Her reasoning was that it would be too easy
On the day of trial, they suddenly discover that they have those bills after for someone to come in and take a folder and forget to return it.
all. The trial is called off. You take the papers back to your office and go So instead, she told me to order nice red three-ring binders, and to
through them, only to discover that they have given you the wrong ones, punch three holes in each of these tens of thousands of sheets of paper,
or they're incomplete ... and put them into those binders. I told Tara that, if someone wanted to
I remind you, we were going to all this trouble to figure out whether take papers from us, they could take them out of a binder about as easily
we had overpaid law firms years before. We had to do it now because, as they could take them out of a filing cabinet. But it was no use. Tara
back then, nobody wanted to make the law firms wait a long time for us loved those binders ) she had some in her office ) and she insisted that
to review their bills. I order the binders and start punching.
The really sad thing is that they had to wait anyway. According to So I ordered binders and started thinking about this hole-punching
a list I got from Washington, 91% of the bills paid under the UIC assignment. I wanted to take those mountains of paper to a printing shop,
approach were not paid within thirty days, 40% were still unpaid after where they might have a big paper drill and could drill holes through
ninety days, and several hundred of them still weren't paid after a year. hundreds of sheets at once. But I couldn't find a local printing shop that
The average delay was just over one hundred days. had a drill like that, and it didn't sound like Tara would approve the
That list from Washington contained some funny information. It expense anyway, so it was going to be a strictly manual job.
looked like many of the checks that we sent to law firms, under this All I had was a miniature three-hole punch that would punch about
“speedy” UIC approach, were for a lot more than the bills that the law five sheets at a time, max. I asked the supply guy to get me a heavy-duty
firms had sent us. The difference, by my calculations, was about $50 one, but he kept forgetting, so eventually I just ripped one off from the
million. I don't know. Maybe there were other bills that not only got copy room.
shredded but never even got recorded on the computers in Washington. Before I could start punching the paper, I had to staple all the

50
relevant papers together: the bill, and any other papers that accompanied come up with a helpful new idea, wish her luck, and then leave. I made
it. But I didn't staple things if it would make a thick wad of papers that sure to give Tara regular progress reports, so that it would look like
wouldn't fit into the punch. Unfortunately, some papers were already Dawana and I were a good team, so maybe Tara would leave us alone.
stapled in thick wads like that. So I had to take these papers apart, punch At the start, I had stacked up all of the papers we had received. It
them, and then restaple them. looked like we had enough to fill about 20 binders. Just to be safe, I
I put on my radio headphones and started punching and stapling, ordered 25. I could have ordered more, but these binders were really top-
singing to myself there in my cube, irritating my neighbors. I was glad quality, and big, and they were so darned expensive ) $40 each ) that I
that the people in Washington had already punched some of the papers preferred to try to get by with the minimum, if I could.
that they had sent me, but then I saw that they had punched them on the So Dawana punched papers and put them into binders. The law
right edge of the paper, rather than the left edge, so that either I'd have to firms in her first binder, Binder No. 1, had names that started with the
repunch them or put them into the binder upside down. I can't remember letter A. The firms in Binder No. 25 started with Y and Z. We had a
which way I handled that problem. whole binder for each other letter of the alphabet.
It was really boring work, and my mind wandered. I found out that Unfortunately, more papers kept coming in from the law firms.
I'm not very good at punching holes. I thought I was, but now I know Eventually, the “A” binder filled up, and Dawana had to move some of
better. I was getting blisters and scratches and paper cuts all over the the “A” papers to the “B” binder; but that filled the “B” binder, so she had
place. to move some to the “C” binder, etc. File cabinets allow for expansion
After punching maybe five thousand sheets, I discovered that the like this; binders don't.
holes in that three-hole punch were out of line. I had just assumed that the So we had to order more binders, and Dawana had to reshuffle all
people in the copy room had it set properly before I stole it from them. those papers, so that now she had an “A” binder, and an “A-B” binder,
So I adjusted the thing and started punching again. After another and a “B-C” binder, etc. Another couple of weeks went by, and she kept
five thousand sheets, I found that the problem was not with the copy room doing her best to move papers from one binder to the next, to make the
people, but with the punch itself. It would punch correctly for a while, but most of each one, but ultimately there was no way around it: we needed
then the holes would move. So now I had ten thousand sheets of mis- more binders.
punched paper. We'd either have to force-fit them into the binders or re- By the time we were done, we had nearly 50 binders, at a cost of
punch them, leaving holes in the shape of a figure-8 on each sheet of about $2,000. I took a picture of them, there in the room where Dawana
paper, with the good hole next to the bad one. I thought that maybe I sat, just to remind me of how nice they looked, all filled with their papers.
would tell Tara that I had done it this way on purpose, because I assumed A person might wonder what all this activity had to do with
we would be using four-ring binders; but then I rejected that idea because anything. So let's get back to the story. The reason for collecting these
I feared she might actually like it. old bills into these binders was that somebody at the RTC was going to go
I was really frustrated, so I went and complained to Tara that this through them and figure out if, under the UIC program, the RTC had
was too much work. Much to my surprise, she was sympathetic, and she overpaid a law firm or had been cheated by a firm that didn't do the work
told me that Dawana Dewitt, one of our temps, would be available to it claimed to do.
assist me. Putting my business skills to work, I promptly took the whole Then again, reviewing invoices is a full-time job. The Legal
thing down to Dawana's desk and reassigned it to her, and from then on Division would have had to assign a whole battery of attorneys to work
I served as Dawana's supervisor. I would stop in, ask how she was doing, on this project for months, if they wanted to do a real review of all those

52
old bills. And nobody was planning that kind of project. They were the Accounting department had to produce the actual check and send it to
going to assign just one or two attorneys to the job, and they were saying the law firm. Our duties were divided this way because management
that they wanted to wrap it up quickly. figured that it would be very difficult for three people ) especially three
In order to stay on schedule, they were going to have to make some RTC employees ) to cooperate well enough to cheat the government and
compromises, and that's what they did. First, it was decided that attorneys send checks where they didn't belong.
would not review any bills for less than $5,000. So any law firms that But do you suppose there was a way around the system? Let's look
were clever enough to cheat us in small bites were going to get away with at the first of those three steps. I could have invented a phony law firm.
it. Second, the reviewing attorney would be expected only to decide Using that phony firm's name, I could have opened a bank account and
whether the bill looked reasonable. Of course, the reviewing attorney rented a P.O. box. I could then have put that phony name and address on
might know nothing about the actual project that the law firm had been the RLIS system.
working on, so it would probably be hard for that attorney to say that the Thus, that first step would be easy. But I'd get stopped at the second
bill wasn't reasonable. With compromises like these, an impossible task step. My LOC job was one-of-a-kind. I couldn't do the work that the
could become easy. other RLIS techs were doing, and they couldn't do my work. The system
No attorneys had been appointed yet to work on this UIC project, so wouldn't let them. We each used our own passwords to get into the
there was no way of knowing how the actual attorneys would want the system, and it knew what we were and weren't allowed to do.
papers to be arranged. So what Dawana and I were doing might well turn So the RLIS system didn't allow other techs to put law firms' names
out to be not the least bit helpful. It was all a little crazy, but I guess it and addresses on the system, and it also didn't allow me to approve bills.
gave us something to do. (Incidentally, this meant that I couldn't pitch in and help my fellow
technicians catch up on their bill-paying work, if they were overloaded
and I was not. I always did regret that aspect of my job.)
Security: The Accounting Department Then again, it wouldn't have been hard for me to pretend to be
someone else. There were ways of obtaining other techs' passwords. For
As I say, I worked in the department that paid law firm bills. With
instance, some techs actually kept their passwords written down by their
all these hundreds of millions of dollars floating around, you might think
desks. So I could have gone into RLIS and set up a phony law firm, and
that I, hungry RLIS technician, could be tempted to send a few checks to
could then have used someone else's password to approve a payment to
my personal Post Office box. I wouldn't really need much ) just a few
that phony firm. (Another possibility was just to wait until some other
thousand here and there would have made me a much happier employee.
tech approved payment to a real law firm, and then go in and change the
The people who set up the RLIS system feared this kind of tempta-
name and address to which that payment would go.)
tion, and they built in safeguards to make sure that nobody could get away
I would still face a roadblock at the Accounting department, though.
with it. There were a lot of safeguards at the RTC. These safeguards
They kept their own separate list of law firms' names and addresses. So
were very useful for confusing everyone, so that a shrewd operator could
even if they got a real-life payment instruction from the RLIS department,
get away with bloody murder.
they might refuse to make the payment if the law firm's name and address
In my own job, the safeguards were set up so that it took three
on their records didn't match the name and address on the payment
people to produce a check to a law firm. I was the first in the process: I
instruction.
had to put the firm's name and address onto the RLIS system. Then
But that didn't matter either. By a great stroke of luck, my boss Tara
another tech had to approve a bill from the law firm. Finally, someone in

54
liked to give me silly little duties, so she gave me the job of telling sure he received my faxes. He said that the best solution was to send him
Accounting every time we changed a law firm's name or address on RLIS. an e-mail to tell him that a fax was coming.
So now, if I said that a firm's name or address had changed, Accounting I started doing this. But he was not always at his desk when I sent
took my word for it and made the change on their system too. him an e-mail. So my e-mail would arrive, my fax would arrive, he would
I don't think it ever dawned on Tara that, by assigning that little task return to his desk, he would read the e-mail, he would go to the fax
to me, she had made it much easier for me to become a wealthy man and machine, the fax would be gone, and he would e-mail me to tell me that
spend the rest of my life on the beaches of Brazil, surrounded by beautiful I would have to send the fax again. To avoid this problem, I started
women ) not that I was interested in that sort of thing. calling him to see if he was at his desk, and then, if he was, I'd send him
an e-mail to tell him that a fax was coming.
So I reached this crisis point in my life, where I could either run When Esso actually got my forms, he sent them to someone else in
away with a lot of money or else stay in my job as an RLIS tech. I the Accounting department there in Washington, and that person would
decided I needed a challenging, interesting life, and therefore I stayed. eventually make the changes on their system, and then our checks would
It was one thing to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the go to the right addresses for the law firms.
system. It was far more difficult to get Accounting to do the plain, But sometimes the Accounting people would forget to make a
everyday things that I needed them to do. change that I had requested, which meant that the checks would keep
When I first started out, I asked the Accounting guy in our office going to the wrong place. At other times, they would go ahead and make
how I was supposed to tell the Accounting department to make name and the change, but then, for some reason, they'd decide to mark the firm
address changes on their system. He didn't know. I asked around on down as being inactive, and then no more checks would be issued to the
e-mail, and eventually Anita Bier, the tech who handled the LOC work law firm, even if we still owed them a fortune.
(like me) in the Kansas City office, sent me a form to use for this purpose. Really, I should not make it sound like it would have been too easy
She said I had to fax it to Accounting headquarters in Washington. for me to defeat the RTC's internal controls and send a large check to a
I showed Anita's form to the Accounting guy in our office, and he make-believe law firm. The intended controls would not have stopped
was impressed. “Where did you get this?” he asked. I looked at the fine me, but you could never tell when you might be stopped by one of these
print. It said, “RTC Accounting Department, Washington D.C.” I told everyday screwups in the RTC's usual way of doing things.
him it came from his own department. He said he had never seen one
before. Eventually, the Accounting department figured out the picture that
So anyway, I had the right form. Now, what to do with it? I was just telling you, and realized that it would be pretty easy to defeat
I eventually found out that I was supposed to prepare one of these their anti-theft procedures. One day, they announced new procedures,
forms every time a law firm changed its name or address. I'd make the designed to give them more control.
change on RLIS, but then I had to use this form to tell the Accounting Under the new procedures, they would no longer take my word for
people in Washington to make the same change on their system. it when I said that a law firm's name or address had changed. From now
So from then on, I faxed these forms to a guy in Washington named on, I would have to give them proof of the change. What proof? They
Esso Welle. But Esso was not easy to work with. He claimed that the said that they would have to see a copy of the payment instructions,
faxes would vanish from the fax machine, down the hall from his desk, produced by the RLIS computer system.
within moments after I sent them. I asked him what I could do to make Those instructions would carry the same name and address informa-

56
tion that I typed into RLIS. So this step wouldn't really have any effect into that space on RLIS.
on my own personal ability to steal money from the RTC. But this way, I decided that I'd better follow a systematic approach when I was
the Accounting department would have additional documentation to show dreaming up those fake IDs. So I adopted a precise system for selecting
exactly what had gone wrong, once I took the money and ran. them. According to my system, each ID had to be the name of a dog. So
There was a very good reason why Accounting wanted to see those one firm's ID became “FRISKY,” and another became “ROVER,” and a
payment instructions from the RLIS department. They wanted to prove third one's ID became “SPOT.”
that the crook was clever enough to fool the RLIS department too. That This worked very well. The payment instructions started printing
way, if there was a big ripoff, the Accounting people wouldn't look stupid. again, and Accounting was happy, and the law firms got their money, and
It was a very good idea, except that there was no guarantee that the I imagine that, somewhere out there, the federal government's computers
payment instructions actually came from RLIS, since they were always now include FRISKY, ROVER, and SPOT on their lists of approved law
printed on a plain sheet of paper that you could produce with any word firm ID codes.
processor.
Now, before anyone concludes that this was really stupid, I want to We kept having these goofy problems with Accounting, so Tara
explain how the new rules actually served as a very sophisticated theft- arranged for me and Jay, the African, to attend a training class on how to
detection device. use the Accounting department's system. I think she felt this was
It goes like this. Under these new rules, RLIS was no longer able to important to make sure that I would always be highly trained in the best
make payments, because we were in a Catch-22: the RLIS system way to defeat the Accounting department's internal controls, in case I ever
wouldn't produce payment instructions for Accounting without an ID ran short of personal cash and needed to have them send me a check.
number from the Accounting system, and now the Accounting people This training class was done by video teleconference. At that point,
were saying that they wouldn't produce that ID number without the RLIS this technology was pretty experimental, and we'd never seen anything
payment instructions. like it before, which meant that this was a lot more entertaining than
So it was no longer possible to produce genuine payment instruc- sitting in our cubes, doing our jobs.
tions. Therefore, if Accounting had received any payment instructions At this training, Jay and I were seated at a table. We each had a
from the RLIS department, they would have known right away that they computer. We were in front of a video camera, and we were watching
were phony instructions, and they would have nabbed the person who sent two TV sets. One TV showed us how we looked on the video camera, in
those phony instructions to them. case the system switched to us and displayed our image to the other
This was a great approach for catching thieves, except that (a) they participants around the country. The other TV set was the actual training.
didn't catch any and (b) it kept us from paying law firms, which is It showed the instructor, or a person in some other RTC office who was
supposedly what we did for a living. So people started screaming and law asking a question, or whoever else was making the most noise at that
firms threatened to sue, and we knew that something had to be done. moment.
In the nick of time, I came up with a solution. I discovered that the I can't say that Jay and I learned much about the Accounting
RLIS system didn't need real ID numbers from Accounting. In fact, it department's system from this course. Jay didn't need it at all ) neither of
didn't even need numbers. I could type a fake ID ) anything at all ) into us knew why Tara had ordered him to attend ) and I got what I needed
a certain space on RLIS, and the ol' payment instructions would start from the first five or ten minutes of class. After that, we were bored. I
rolling out, just like they were supposed to. So I started putting fake IDs told Jay that we should find a Richard Nixon poster and point the camera

58
at that instead of at us, so that we could leave the room, but neither of us again, they didn't seem to think it was odd that they were there either,
could think of anyone in the office who would have a poster of Richard whereas I thought it was odd that any of us were there.
Nixon. So instead, Jay spaced out, and I spent the rest of the two hours You see, the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a document.
experimenting with how much noise I had to make ) coughing, clearing They were attempting to put together an instruction book for law firms,
my throat, sliding my chair ) in order to get the video camera's noise and they wanted to go over some of the wording.
sensors to switch away from the instructor and focus on us. Now, I admit that there are times when you have to meet in person
to discuss a document. Like when those guys all got together to sign the
Declaration of Independence ) I think it was really good that they met in
The National Management Meeting person, rather than just sending letters back and forth. But this was not
the Declaration of Independence. This was just a dozen small-time
Managers were a very basic part of what the RTC was all about, and
managers, trying to come up with a guide book that nobody would read
I don't think we can really talk intelligently about the RTC without
anyway.
knowing a little about how our managers operated.
Myself, I thought that the government probably could have saved the
One time, my managers decided that they didn't want to bother
$10,000 that it cost to get us all there for this meeting ) not to mention the
attending a meeting, at the Dallas RTC office, of RLIS managers from
five or ten other meetings that came before and after this one, for the same
around the country. But they didn't want to look like they didn't care what
purpose ) and that these managers could have come up with a pretty
went on at that meeting. So they decided to send me to represent them.
decent guide book if someone had forced them to exchange rough drafts
It was a strange idea. I just worked in my own little area. I really
and comments by fax, U.S. mail, Federal Express, and the telephone.
didn't have any idea what kinds of things the managers might be
Then again, I wasn't a manager, and I knew they probably wouldn't
concerned with. I didn't even want to know. I just wanted to collect my
appreciate my views. So I participated in this meeting in the most
paycheck and go home.
meaningful way I knew, which was to remain absolutely silent and take
But the day came, and I flew to Dallas, and suddenly I found myself
notes for my diary.
at a 9:00 AM meeting with a dozen RTC managers from all over the
The meeting lasted two days. After the first day, we all went out for
country, in a building called “Bloom FCA!” I don't know what it meant,
dinner. It wasn't my kind of dinner conversation. The main topic was
but that was the name of the building.
how much we had spent for this or that. I hadn't been spending much
I seemed to be the only newcomer in the group, so they all intro-
recently, so I didn't have much to say. But really, that was OK. It was
duced themselves to me and chatted with each other. One of them said
still better than the dinner I had with eight vegetarian friends one time,
that she had taken a nonstop flight that cost a thousand dollars. The
where we talked about how many different dishes you can make with soy
alternative would have cost only $300, but it involved a two-hour layover
curd.
and she just hated layovers. Another manager said she would rather have
Anyway, it was a good meal, me and these managers, and after
been at her condo in the mountains than at this meeting. A guy said, “My
giving the waiter a five percent tip, we took off for another place and had
wife doesn't know where I am,” and one of the women replied, “You're
drinks. I could see that these managers were living the good life, and I
just trying to scare me out of getting married.” They all laughed, and then
was happy for them. And when I was finished feeling happy I was for
another woman said, “Oh, there's no reason to be afraid of marriage. I've
them, I went back to my hotel room. I didn't feel like going to sleep, so
been married three times, and each time it worked out just fine.”
I shut off the lights, opened the window, and looked out at the rain.
None of them seemed to think it was odd that I was there. Then

60
The second day, while I was sitting there in the conference room, I the whole thing would freeze up and you'd have to call a toll-free 800
prepared a memo that I would later send to all of them. My memo said number for help. This would connect you to a computer company in
that I thought they should hire a court reporter to take notes at their Texas, where they could go into RLIS ) after all, it was a nationwide
meetings, so that someone could read their own words back to them. That system ) and shut you down and start you over.
way, my memo said, they wouldn't have to spend so much time trying to I was the only LOC tech in my office. There were six other RTC
remember what they had already decided. When I sent that memo, one offices around the country, and each one had an LOC tech working on
guy said he appreciated my suggestion. All the others ignored me. I hope RLIS. We were in touch with each other by e-mail, and we attempted to
they weren't mad. I was just trying to help. do things the same way, but sometimes that just wasn't possible.
They didn't finish their guide book at the Dallas meeting, so they set To tell the truth, we disagreed on many basic procedures about how
a date for another meeting, a month later. The people from Dallas looked to use RLIS. Really, we couldn't even agree on how to alphabetize the
a little harried, because they were on call there in their office while names of law firms on the system. I told a guy from one of the other RTC
attempting to participate in the meeting. Because of this, the group offices that “The Law Firm of William Jones” should be alphabetized
decided to have future meetings away from all RTC offices, so that they under “J” as “Jones, William, Law Firm of.” He disagreed. He said that
would all be in travel status, which would mean they would all qualify for would be like entering the Ford Motor Company as “Company, Ford
a hotel room and a $34 daily expense allowance. Me, I returned to my Motor.” I can't remember if he had “The Law Firm of William Jones”
home office, gave my managers a report on what had happened, and went under T, or L, or F, or W, but I know it wasn't under J.
back to work. The philosophical arguments got worse when we started talking
about what RLIS was supposed to accomplish, exactly. RLIS was
supposed to tell you which firms were RTC-approved, but at least half of
RLIS, mon amour the firms on the system were not RTC-approved.
RLIS contained information about legal “matters,” which was our
The RLIS computer system was the thing that held us all together.
word for lawsuits or cases that lawyers were handling for us. RLIS
And before we go any further, I think I should say a few words about it,
showed how much had been budgeted for each matter that a law firm was
just to let you know what kind of beast we were dealing with.
working on. But we were so far behind, putting bills into the system, that
I'm sure that the computer programmers who created RLIS spent a
nobody knew how much of the budget had already been spent. RLIS
lot of time at it. I bet it wasn't easy, either. I mean, they were working for
couldn't even tell us how much we were paying to law firms, because
the government, which probably changed its mind twenty times on what
some things were being paid through entirely separate systems and private
it wanted.
agreements.
At one point, headquarters in Washington let us know that they
People wanted many things from the Legal Division's computer
wanted to hear everyone's recommendations on how to improve the RLIS
system, and RLIS just couldn't meet the need. Every now and then, the
system. I took advantage of this opportunity by preparing a brief
computer people in Washington would make some improvements in
seventeen-page list of suggestions. RLIS really did have its shortcomings.
RLIS, but they were usually too little, too late.
I don't know who was to blame for the problems we had with the
There was really no alternative: people in the field offices began to
RLIS system. But I have to say that, for a computer program of the
design their own computer systems, to do the things that RLIS couldn't
1990s, RLIS was pretty bad. Some keys would do things that you didn't
do. Some people programmed their own, and others let the computer
expect; other keys would do nothing at all; and if you hit the wrong key,

62
departments do the programming for them. These renegade systems to Anita, the LOC tech in Kansas City, and to Sally Vayshon, a tech who
spread like weeds. Everybody had their own system, and they didn't was doing the test in the Denver office:
necessarily like to share their secrets with anyone else. One time, I heard
that the people in the California office had developed an interesting
program. I asked them to send me a copy. They said they couldn't ME: This will take forever. We will be dug out by
archaeologists of a distant future civilization,
because it was confidential. They called it “privileged office software.” who will find us sitting at our terminals,
My own RTC co-workers! waiting for the screen to change.
Lots of times, a person would get his/her own personalized program SALLY: Yeah. It's testing, it's testing, it's testing
and start using it, and pretty soon there would be only one or two people my patience. You hit [Enter] and wait two
in the whole organization who knew how it worked. Then they'd discover minutes for it to do the next thing.
that it had garbled all of their data, or they'd get tired of using it, or they'd ANITA: It seems odd that we're all having to go through
leave the RTC, and the data would be lost. Often, the main function of exactly the same test steps. Either ten of us
will have the same problem, or nobody will at
our computers was to organize the world in ways that no one else would all.
ever be able to understand.

Anita's comment gave me an idea. If we were all doing the same


Advanced Testing: The New RLIS System thing, I could just let everyone else enter their data into the system. Then,
RLIS had its problems, and our managers and programmers were if this test version worked like regular old RLIS, I could print out what
forever attempting to fix them. This meant that we were often getting they had done and just copy it.
new “versions” or “revisions” of the RLIS program. I tried printing the information that Anita had already put into the
One time, they announced that they would be testing an important system out there in K.C., and it worked. All I had to do now was to wait
new version of RLIS. They lined up testers at every RTC office across for her to finish figuring it out, and then I'd print the whole thing at once.
the country. Since I was such a big complainer about RLIS's shortcom- It would take me only a couple hours to do what she was going to spend
ings, they nominated me, along with one of my fellow workers there in all week doing.
the RLIS department, a guy named Noel Oakentender, to be the testers in It looked like I was going to have a lot of spare time during this
our office. Noel had a reputation for screwing things up, so I don't know week of testing. So I decided to spend a few hours running my own kind
why they chose him, but they did. Maybe they figured that if their new of test. I went through all the nooks and crannies of the new version of
version of RLIS could be screwed up, he'd be the man to do it. Anyway, RLIS, typing numbers where they expected letters, typing things that were
they said that the test would take a week. too long for the spaces provided, etc. Anything that I could think of doing
In this test, we were working at our computers, looking at a make- that was not what they expected, I did.
believe version of RLIS. Our job, as testers, was to go through a bunch Sure enough, out of all those people testing the new system, I was
of steps and see if this make-believe version worked right. If it did, then the only one who was able to really foul it up. I sent my notes to the
the programmers and managers would feel confident that they had honcho in D.C. who was running the test. He sent a very thankful note to
successfully improved RLIS. Tara, telling her how important it was to find the bugs in this system, and
Unfortunately, the test version was really slow. I got on the e-mail how much of a difference my participation had made. I felt so good, I

64
took the rest of the day off. They didn't give me a cash incentive award winter. Somebody told a story about how a bunch of managers had spent
or anything, though. a fun week in Santa Fe one time, and then had gotten reported to the
Meanwhile, my fellow tester Noel was confused. He spent a whole authorities for ripping off the taxpayers. I don't know if Tara's New
afternoon typing the wrong information into the test system. He sent me Orleans trip was a ripoff. Maybe the RTC thought it had something in
a question by e-mail, but I pretended to misunderstand it. And then he common with the town known as the Big Easy.
called in sick one day that week, so I sent him an e-mail which he'd see
as soon as he got into the office the next day:
Basic RLIS Training

ME: Noel, they called from Washington just now, After I had been using RLIS for about a year, Tara decided that I
wanting to know what you did to the test system. should take a class in how to use RLIS. So she signed me up for the basic
They were saying that you had done something to RLIS training class. The class was being given in Dallas, at the offices of
freeze the system so that none of the people
taking the test could enter data today. They've the company that had created RLIS.
all been waiting for you to get back to work. I'm not sure why Tara wanted me to go to this training. We had
Get in touch with me as soon as you're back in
the office. noticed that she seemed eager to send us to classes whenever possible.
Maybe there was some weird rule for managers, where they got brownie
points for having a highly educated work force, even though half of our
The rest of the test week passed, and on Friday, I went back to the classes were hokum.
testing. I printed out the stuff that other people had entered, and entered I wasn't in any special rush to get back to Dallas. I don't like sitting
it myself. At that moment, I was probably the only one using the test in classes, I get sick on airplanes, and I didn't want to spend a day in a
system, and without the burden of all those other testers, it ran a lot faster. class that concentrated on bill-paying and therefore had nothing to do with
Within a couple of hours, I had entered the stuff that they had taken days my LOC work.
to figure out. On the other hand, I was in good company. They were going to send
And then, tired of the whole thing, I packed up my papers and me off with Gloria Thunrythe, the mousy little brunette who Greg liked
shipped them off to the honcho in D.C. The computer people down there to tease, and another guy named Len Daneer. Len was only twenty-two,
in Washington kept sending me e-mails about other things that we should but he had a really fun, friendly, mature style. There would also be some
do in the testing process. This surprised me, because I thought the test friends there from other RTC offices around the country. And, what the
was supposed to be finished by the end of the week. Besides, it seemed heck: I'd be getting that $34-per-day bonus for my expenses.
like I had already done whatever they were talking about. I didn't know Len and I went as a team, which was great, because he was eager to
what else they wanted from me, so I ignored them. make sure that everything was done right, which meant that he took care
And that was the end of the test of the next version of RLIS, except of reserving our flights, our hotel rooms, and our rental car. He was also
that, two months later, Tara left the office to spend a week testing that planning to drive his car from the office to the airport, and said I could
same new version of RLIS. Or maybe it was a different new version. I ride with him. This was about as close to a government-sponsored
don't know. vacation as I could get. All I had to do was lean back, hand someone my
I understand that Tara's testing week took place in New Orleans, government-guaranteed American Express card when they asked for it,
where no RTC offices were located. I guess it was a fun place to go in the and relax.

66
They scheduled us to attend class on a Thursday. We were officially system. I was thinking, Yeah, so what? I hated classes about as much as
allowed to leave the office at noon on Wednesday, so we hung around ) I hated meetings, and the idea of sharing an eight-hour class with this Girl
dressed casually, ready to travel ) until about 11:30, and then hit the road. Scout, while some yo-yo instructor told me all kinds of information that
The Embassy Suites hotel in Dallas had already been booked up by I hadn't needed so far and would probably never need again ... well, I was
the time Len made his reservations, which was a drag, because that's in a foul humor, maybe a little hung over.
where Gloria and most of the other trainees were staying. So when we got Just to irritate me, the computers we were using, in this training
to Dallas, Len and I dumped our bags at the Sheraton, and then drove over room, were about forty years old. They had all these funky keys that did
to the Embassy, where I exchanged handshakes and hugs with my friends weird things. They were hard to read and hard to use. The screens were
from other regions. Then we took off for the West End and had a great so dim that I could actually see reflections in them, including the
dinner. reflection of Ellie Gantz in the back of the room. Frankly, her reflection
Wanda Gogh, my LOC counterpart in the Dallas office, had wanted was a lot more interesting than anything else I saw on my computer screen
to join us, but she couldn't because she got a part in a beer commercial that day.
they were filming somewhere in Dallas that evening. She gave me At the midmorning break, I compared notes with Len. He said he
directions to a country music dance hall named Stampede, though, and was dying from boredom. That was all the encouragement I needed. I
when we walked in, all these husky cowboys and their big-haired cowgirls went out and took a nap in the car. When I got back, they had just
were bouncing up and down in their cow duds, dancing to rap music! I resumed the class, and I felt like a new man.
showed the RLIS people my version of a triple-step, done in sneakers with At lunch, Gloria was bitching mightily about what a giant waste it
a sore foot. They were impressed, and then we drank a beer or two and was to fly us all the way down here, at a cost of at least $800 each, plus
stood there staring at the good-looking locals. two days' lost work, plus whatever this computer company charged to put
Len and I dropped Gloria off at the Embassy and went back to the on the training class ) all so that we could sit here and space out.
Sheraton. Len said he wanted to hit the sack. I was still pumped up, We had a little time to kill, there in the classroom, so I tried to strike
though, so I took his free drink coupon and mine and went down to the up a conversation with Ellie Gantz. She didn't seem all that interested in
hotel bar, where I hung out with a couple of traveling salesmen for chit-chat. I decided to turn to business. She didn't seem interested in
another hour or two. talking about that either. Finally, I just said, “So why did they decide to
The next morning, Len and I had to drive around for a while before have the class all the way down here in Dallas?” She gestured to the room
we found the training site. But we did, finally. I think we were even on and said, “As you see, this is where the equipment is.” I turned and
time. We took our seats. There were twelve students in the class, plus the looked again at the retarded computers we were using. “Oh,” was all I
instructor and Ellie Gantz, a very attractive manager from D.C., who sat said.
in the back of the room in case anyone had a question that was too tough Class resumed. I took another nap during the afternoon break.
for the instructor. Finally, thank God, five o'clock came. Class dismissed!
We went around the room and introduced ourselves and explained Len and I went back to the Sheraton and cleaned up. You know, a
why we were there. Len and Gloria were pretty casual about it. One guy can really get dirty in them classrooms. Then we went over to the
woman seemed really excited about the idea of getting RLIS training, Embassy Suites to join the others.
though. She eagerly volunteered the information that she was authorized The Embassy was having happy hour, and drinks were complimen-
to make changes on RLIS and was also an authorized user of the RDQ tary for the hotel's guests. Len said he'd take care of getting us some free

68
beers. I said I'd be glad to pay, but I think he saw it as a test of his
manhood.
So Mr. Cool walked over to the guy at the beer cart and asked for The Detriment of the Benefits
two beers and started blabbing about how he really did stay in that hotel
There was just one small problem with the fun and games in Dallas.
but had just forgotten to bring his room key with him to prove it. The guy
To get our expenses reimbursed, we would have to sacrifice our firstborn
said he couldn't give him any. Len was crushed. He came back and sat
children.
down.
The RTC had a form called a “travel voucher.” There were very
I got up and walked over and asked, “How much is the beer?” The
specific rules on how to fill out this form. If you filled it out right, you'd
guy at the cart said, “Oh, there's no charge.” I said, “Great! In that case,
get a check, and then you could afford to pay off your American Express
I'll take two!” He poured them for me. I walked back over and gave one
bill and pocket that $34-a-day bonus. If you filled it out wrong, the
to Len. He just looked at me.
Travel department would bounce it back and let you try again.
My turn to be a turkey came when we went out to dinner. We went
Gloria and Len and I filled out our travel vouchers and submitted
to a really pricey Italian restaurant. This is the kind of mistake you make
them to the Travel department. Two weeks later, Gloria's bounced
when you're hungry. When the bill arrived, it blew me away, and I
because she had forgotten to put a “5” in one of the boxes on the form.
demanded to see the manager. The others acted like they wanted to crawl
Mine bounced because I forgot to include the time of my flight, and also
under the table. But I stood my ground and got maybe a dollar trimmed
didn't explain how I got from the office to the airport. I could understand
off the bill. They really had overcharged for the soup. You see, it was the
their concern: they might have thought that I had to walk those fifteen
principle of the thing.
miles. I sent the forms in again, but this time they bounced them because
The next day, we took an 8:10 AM flight from Dallas. There was
I had signed them in black ink rather than blue ink. I'm not kidding.
something wrong with the air on the plane, so the cabin got really hot.
I had made a different mistake when preparing the travel voucher for
The captain had to make two passes before landing in Philly. When we
my earlier trip to Dallas, to attend that two-day management meeting I
got out, it was raining, and then Len's driving made me carsick. We didn't
was telling you about earlier. I wrote a line that told about my flight to
get back to the office until about 2:00 PM. I was in a pretty useless mood.
Dallas, and then, on the next line, I wrote that I had taxi expense, and then
So for the rest of the afternoon, I basically just strolled around, telling
I put down my hotel expense. The problem, that time, was that I didn't
stories about the trip. Then I went home, dressed up, and went back to the
indicate what the taxi expense was for. Again, I can't quarrel with the
local dance place, where the Legal Division was having an office party.
reasoning of our Travel department: for all they knew, I hitchhiked from
I was glad that Len and I had the opportunity to take this trip
the airport to the hotel (costing the government nothing) and then took a
together, because it was my last chance to get to know him. Within two
taxi out for a night on the town (not reimbursable). They just wanted to
weeks, he had a job offer from another RTC field office, and he was gone.
be sure that I wasn't committing fraud, waste, or mismanagement in
So I guess I shouldn't criticize that training class for being something that
asking them to include that $4 taxi ride in my $750 bill.
he'd forget, because the way things turned out, it didn't really matter if he
Eventually, I learned how to master the Travel department's lingo.
forgot it or not.
If you were temporarily working at another RTC office, and were driving
your own car and staying in the Hilton, here's what you'd write:

70
TA to TQ, 8 MI. in POV @ $0.28/MI. 2.24
PD 34.00
TQ: HILTON 85.00
Summary: Special Duties
In The Last Temptation of Christ, author Kazantzakis has St. Paul
What this means is that you drove eight miles in your Personally telling Jesus, “I'm glad I met you, because now I see that I don't even need
Owned Vehicle, from your Temporary Assignment to your Temporary you for the kind of Jesus I'm telling people about.” I don't know if this
Quarters, and that you qualified for a $34 Per Diem and you spent $85 on was an accurate description of St. Paul, but it sure summarizes the state
your Temporary Quarters that day. See? Easy. of affairs surrounding my job there at the RTC: maybe someday I would
So anyway, by the time we were through fooling around with actually get down to the work they had hired me for, but most of the time
different colors of ink and putting all the right numbers in the right places, it didn't matter what the job was, because there were so many other things
it took them about three months to reimburse me for my travel expenses. that simply had to be done first.
The people at American Express were screaming bloody murder, but I
was determined that I was not going to be left holding the bag for a trip
that I hadn't wanted to take in the first place. Finally, American Express
suspended my card, which meant that I would not be able to take any
more trips for the RTC; I reported this to a bunch of managers; they put
some pressure on the Travel department; and I got my check.
It seems like I was having a lot of these experiences all at once.
When I got back from the second trip to Dallas, I went to the hospital to
see how come my foot had been so sore when I was dancing. Turns out
it was broke. I don't know how I broke it. It just happened.
It was only a hairline fracture, and the doctor wasn't inclined to put
it in a cast. But I figured this would be good for some special treatment
around the office, so I asked if they could at least give me some broken-
foot bandaging. I figured maybe I'd go shoeless on that foot a couple days
a week for a while, giving me an excuse to wear tennies.
The bad news is that, as I was sitting in the hospital, I discovered I
had no health insurance. The insurance people said they couldn't verify
that I was employed, and that they only covered people who were
employed. I wound up having to make a bunch of calls to the Personnel
department at work, crying and moaning about how I needed treatment on
my foot. They finally said it was all straightened out, but it wasn't. I was
still getting bills a year later for the stuff they said they'd cover.

72
to finish its job and go out of business ) sell the assets, get rid of the
lawsuits, everything ) in just six years. “It is kind of big,” Congress
admitted, as they created the world's largest corporation, “but the good
My Job
news is, it won't last long.”
They did it this way because they thought that the American public
didn't want any more government agencies. What they failed to realize
was that the unemployment rate was down and there were no Great
The fact is, that civilization requires slaves. The Greeks
Depressions taking place, and therefore the public didn't need any more
were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly,
useless government agencies to create jobs at that particular time.
horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation
If Congress had understood the situation, there wouldn't have been
become almost impossible.
all this talk about abolishing the RTC after just six years. We didn't
abolish the Army after they wrapped up World War II. We don't tell the
) Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism
Post Office to finish delivering all the letters and then say, “OK, that's it,
you're done.” Every now and then, you get another war or another letter,
and then it's a lot easier to blow the dust off the old mail buggy, parked
out in the barn, than it is to arrange the financing for a brand new one.
I think they should have put it to a vote. The question on the ballot
We could easily start over at this point, and agree that my job at the
would look something like this:
RTC just had to involve more than taking classes, goofing off, and
punching holes in thousands of sheets of paper.
In fact, that's not a bad idea. What do you say we come at this thing
ARE YOU OK WITH THE IDEA THAT THE RTC'S BIG
again? We'll go back to where I left off when I was telling you about the
RUSH WILL COST YOU AN EXTRA HUNDRED BILLION
FDIC and the creation of the RTC. Only this time, we'll ignore all the
DOLLARS? YES_____ NO_____
trivial stuff that managed to fill the day there at the office, and instead
we'll go to the question of what, officially, I was hired to do.
But there wasn't any vote, and so, as soon as the RTC was created,
The RTC's Mission the games began. The RTC found itself in the middle of an adventure,
like what happens to me when I go to the flea market to sell stuff. I drive
When Congress created the RTC, there was political hell to pay. up, get out of the truck, and start to take my items off the back, but before
Nobody wanted to look like they were creating Big Government. The I can even decide on my prices, the early-bird bargain hunters are buying
American public expected the government to guarantee hundreds of things right out from under me. I get excited. It looks like everything is
billions of dollars' worth of lost deposits, but I guess that seemed like going to go. I sell half my wares in the first fifteen minutes ... and then
something that a small government should be able to do. the good stuff is gone, and the bargain hunters vanish, leaving me to sit
Congress had a problem here, and Congress came up with a solution. there alone for the next five hours, wondering how I'll ever unload all the
They passed a law to create the RTC, but that law also required the RTC sorry crap I've got left.

74
For the RTC, it was like a Gold Rush in reverse. People bought descriptions. This is not ideal work for heroes and others who prefer
wonderful properties from the RTC for next to nothing. Very significant action rather than talk.
lawsuits got screwed up, neglected, or settled for a song. The RTC was So at some point, the fires die down and the heroes go away, to be
like a dumb kid with lots of money, wandering down the back alley, just replaced by nerds who like to muck around in the details. These people
waiting to be nailed. play with the minor stuff, day after day. And eventually, they come up
Congress did create the RTC to serve a purpose. It just wasn't the with plans and explanations.
right purpose. Unfortunately for everyone, the RTC's purpose wasn't to They will explain that the problem occurred because someone failed
reform the American banking system, or to recover the money that had to pay attention to the details. We should not be surprised to hear detail-
been stolen or wasted at all those banks. It couldn't be, because that oriented people say that the problem was in the details. If the heroes and
would have required more attention than the average dumb kid can action-oriented people had stuck around, they would have said that the
muster. problem occurred because somebody failed to take action. Like anything
The purpose of the RTC was just to make the banking problem go else, it all depends on your perspective.
away. If the best way to do that was to wander down the back alley with
a stupid grin, waving wads of cash, then so be it.
Getting the Details Straight
Change of Modes The problem with details is that there's no end to them. Scientists
know this. They study details; but they choose which ones they're going
The RTC accomplished its purpose pretty quickly. After a few short to study, and they ignore all the others.
years, much of the wealth was gone, the crisis was over, and a different In the working world, when detail-oriented people get involved in
mood had taken hold. a project, they don't always do it like a scientist would. Instead, some-
The top dogs realized that maybe things had gotten a little out of times they try to study everything.
hand. So they cut back on the habit of dumping assets and dropping Here's an example. Let's say you get hired to help a business
lawsuits. They said, “Let's get a good price for the rest of the things we organize itself. When you walk in, you see that they've got their bills and
sell.” And they adopted a new motto, which was “RTC ) Resolving The receipts scattered all over the place. You find letters from the customers
Crisis, Restoring The Confidence.” stacked up in the bathroom. It's a mess.
This change was what normally happens after an emergency. You So you do the logical thing and set up a filing cabinet. And although
begin with your basic desperate situation, where everybody is running it takes some time to file all those papers and keep them organized, it's
around screaming, or throwing kids into the life rafts, or holding off a much better than letting them lie around.
dozen invaders singlehandedly. If you're going to die, this is a great time Then you leave the company, and the owner hires someone else to
to do it; studies show that, on average, the funerals of heroes are 89% take care of the files. Let's say this new employee really likes to have an
larger than those of non-heroes. organized set of files. He/she may go back into your filing cabinet and
But then the crisis ends, and there are lots of questions. How did this rearrange the papers in each file. Sure, you had all the papers for Johnson
crisis happen? Can we prevent it from happening again? Construction Company in one file; but now this new employee sorts out
To find the answers, someone may have to sit down and spend a lot those papers, putting the letters on the left side of the folder, and all the
of time doing calculations, sifting through the evidence, and writing up other papers on the right side.

76
It doesn't have to stop there. The file clerk might go out and buy thing of making the crisis go away. Let's say it was a real purpose,
fancy five-part file folders. Now, for each customer, the filing clerk can something you could believe in, like this: we will make every reasonable
clip the letters in the first part of the folder, and the contracts in the second effort to create savings for the taxpayers.
part, and the invoices in the third part, and so on. With that mission, we wouldn't have been doing goofy, expensive
The clerk can also put stuff on the computer, and organize it there things. For instance, we wouldn't have paid $330 million to law firms,
too. The computer can hold as much information as a person cares to put under that UIC project, without even knowing if they had done the work
on, so this process can continue for quite a while. we were paying for.
But since we didn't have that kind of mission, we were pretty much
just trying to kill a few years. We were like file clerks who have been told
Knowing When to Quit that we can arrange the file room whatever way we want, taking all the
time we need; and then, when we're finished, nobody will really pay much
That's one way to handle details. You organize them; then you
attention to what we've done.
decide that you need to organize them some more; and then some more;
and you keep it up until you run out of time or money.
But this is the tail wagging the dog. If you don't allow enough time Creating a Team
and money for the filing project, the company will suffer when people
can't locate the papers they need. On the other hand, if you allow too The RLIS unit, where I worked, was an accounting operation. We
much, you may waste time and money on a never-ending effort to make paid law firm bills.
the files absolutely perfect. And it was big. There was an RLIS unit in each of the seven RTC
The better approach is to decide what you need to do, and then do it. offices across the country, and each RLIS unit had fifteen to eighteen
You take a trial run, look at a few files, stick your toe in the water; then, technicians, all dealing with large amounts of money.
if you think you can handle it, you jump in. You only get one jump, so Ordinarily, an accounting operation is run by a professional
you make it count. accountant. Lawyers run law firms; doctors run medical clinics; and
The RTC's Legal Division didn't make that first jump count. They accountants run accounting departments.
did something, and then they wound up having to go back and do it again. Law firms and medical clinics often hire office managers, like Tara,
Like the UIC project that I was telling you about before ) they paid out to take care of the personnel issues, make sure the printers are running,
all that money in previous years, believing that they could go back any old and complain if the janitor doesn't clean the bathroom. But if your office
time and figure it all out again; but when that day came, the files were a manager isn't skilled in the profession, you don't let them tell others how
little crazy, and nobody wanted to devote a dozen lawyers to the study of to do the actual professional work of law or medicine or accounting.
all that ancient history. Tara was no professional accountant. Neither were any of the
technicians. Most of us had taken some accounting courses, but there was
no one who would make sure that things were being done properly by the
You Got to Have Vision rules of the accounting profession.
If the people who created the RLIS unit had been thinking like the
It would have been different, at the RTC, if we'd had a genuine
people who create law firms and accounting firms, they would have said
mission in mind before we started. Let's say the goal was not this hokey
to themselves, “Now, who is going to be responsible for what gets done

78
here? Whose head will roll if it gets messed up?” letter P.
They weren't thinking that way, though. Instead, they were thinking I guess we never got to the point of comparing P firms against one
in terms of functions. They said to themselves, “OK, let's see. We've got another, to see which one was better or less expensive, because we were
the law firms doing the work, and they'll want to get paid. So I guess too busy comparing them against non-P firms. See, we could also put
we'll need a department that processes their bills and pays them.” firms into “blank” status, or “F” status, or “I” status, or “R” status, or “T”
So what we had, there in the RLIS unit, was a function: pay bills. status.
It needed a manager, and they chose Tara. And like her fellow managers I told somebody at headquarters, in Washington, that we didn't need
at other RLIS units around the country, she took her one big bill-paying all these statuses. But Washington disagreed, and instead of getting rid
function and broke it down into many smaller functions: entering data, of a couple of them, they added some more.
putting papers into the files, etc. Then she assigned those functions to the So here's how it worked. Are you ready for some alphabet soup? If
techs. a law firm was handling legal matters for us, I'd put them in P status,
This all sounds very nice, but it doesn't have much to do with unless they had been approved by the FDIC, in which case I'd put them
handling accounting work properly. Even if Tara's baseball team had into F status, although I usually just put them into P status anyway
someone covering every base, there's still no substitute for having a coach because we had been told that we were going to stop using F status. But
who actually knows how to play the game. one kind of firm didn't go into P or F status; instead, they went into “I”
status. Then, if the firm in P or F or I status did something bad, I would
put them into R status, or maybe T status, unless the problem was that
My Place in This Picture they had let their agreement with us expire, in which case I'd put them into
E status; but the exception to the exception was that, if they had certain
Tara was setting up her baseball team, and when I came along, she
kinds of conflicts of interest, someone in Washington would change them
put me out in left field. Somebody had to fulfill the function of keeping
to C status; but if it was an “I” firm, it was never supposed to go into E
an organized list of law firms on RLIS, and that was me.
status, although it could go into C status, or otherwise into R or T status,
My basic job, like I say, was just to type information about law firms
unless it qualified for P status.
into the RLIS computer system. I'd type in their name, their address, and
There's more ) much more ) but maybe that's enough for now.
a few other things.
The purpose of all these different statuses was to assist our staff
attorneys. They needed to be able to go into the RLIS computer system
Law Firm Status and look at the information for a law firm and know if it was OK for them
to refer legal work to the firm.
One thing I had to enter into RLIS, and change every now and then, One helpful thing about RLIS was that it had a place for putting
was the firm's “status.” This required me to go to the place where RLIS comments about a law firm. Sometimes our staff attorneys would actually
asked for the status, and type a single letter. read those comments. For example, the comment for a law firm might say
If the firm was in good standing, I would enter a “P,” for Perform- this:
ing. This meant that our staff lawyers could go ahead and assign legal
work to the firm. There wasn't any rating system, in terms of how
expensive this firm was or if they were any good. There was just this one FIRM HAS BEEN SUED BY RTC FOR FRAUD. WASH-

80
INGTON HAS ORDERED THAT NO FURTHER BUSINESS restriction.
SHOULD BE GIVEN TO THIS FIRM. DO NOT ASSIGN When the staff attorneys realized that they could get around my R or
ANY NEW WORK TO THIS FIRM!!! T statuses in this easy way, some of them took full advantage of it.
They'd refer work to any firm they wished, even if it was in R or T status.
Then, later on, the bill would come in, and the firm would get paid.
But the staff attorney might not be sure if these words meant that it Management decided that this was kind of sloppy, so they created
was not OK to assign new work to this firm. Fortunately, the attorney something called a Legal Services Committee. This Committee was given
would then be able to look at my helpful little notation, “R.” This would the power to approve or disapprove the work that the RTC's in-house staff
tell the attorney that, at present, a new referral to this firm would probably attorneys were referring to law firms. No longer would law firms be
not be a good idea. given work if they were in an unapproved status.
This did not work for the attorneys who were not up on the latest But some of the staff attorneys just ignored the Committee and kept
jargon about all my different statuses, however. I had this exchange of sending work to whatever law firm they preferred, like before. The work
e-mails with one attorney: would get assigned, the firm would do it, they'd send us the bill, and the
firm would get paid. Hundreds of work assignments went out to law
firms this way.
ATTORNEY: Why can't I refer work to this firm? Management screamed and cried when it discovered this was
ME: Because they're in R status. happening, and eventually they got the staff attorneys in line and, at long
last, most referrals were finally being voted on by the Committee. Then
ATTORNEY: What on earth is R status?
the Committee discovered that, sometimes, there were good reasons why
ME: Restricted status. They need to be in P status. those naughty staff attorneys were sending work to unapproved firms. So
I know: "What on earth is P status?" But I'm now the Committee started doing the same thing. The bill would come in
getting ahead of you ...
and the firm would get paid. The only difference was that now the tech
who paid the bill would have another piece of paper, which said that the
Sometimes, unfortunately, our in-house staff attorneys would go Committee had approved this referral to an unapproved firm.
ahead and refer legal work to a firm that was in the wrong status. Nobody To give you a rough idea of just how important the Committee was,
would hear anything more about it for a long time. Then, one day, months let me say this: I had access to the records of what they decided about
or even years later, the firm would finish the work, send us a bill, and ask referring work to law firms. Of the first 1,100 referrals that the Commit-
to be paid. tee voted on, they rejected a total of: eleven! That's one percent. And of
Our policy in this case was clear, and we were expected to follow it those eleven, most were approved later, after some problem got fixed.
to the letter. Our policy was this: the firm's status makes no difference. But just because the Committee approved almost everything doesn't
We would always pay for work that was already done by law firms, even mean that it had an easy job. Until I joined the RTC, I had thought that
if we were suing them or if they had cheated us blind on another deal. the letters “CMA” meant the Country Music Awards down in Nashville.
So if the firm was in Restricted or Terminated status, and all they But now I was discovering that CMA was an MPA (Multi-Purpose
wanted was to get paid for work they had already done, my instructions Acronym), and its more important meaning, at the RTC, was the
were to “lift the restriction”: that is, we had to pretend that there was no Hollandaise Principle, also known as Cover My Asparagus.

82
In other words, the Committee had a lot of work to do if it was going system. The woman she hired to run the system had no computer
to protect itself. It required our staff attorneys to jump through eighteen experience, which made her sort of useless, but this woman explained that
hoops and stand on their heads before the Committee would approve what she was valuable anyway because she was a good friend of Barry
the attorney wanted. This way, nobody could come back later and say Amenama, Lucy's boss. Since this new woman didn't know how to run
that the Committee wasn't doing its job. the computer, Lucy assigned another person from OCM to help her. That
I'm not kidding. The Committee had a three-page, single-spaced list person wasn't able to help out and keep up with her regular work at the
of things that had to be done before it would approve a referral to a law same time, so she neglected her regular work, so Lucy assigned yet
firm. We're talking Referral Request Forms, Byrd Act Certifications, another person from OCM to help her.
Decisional Memos, Engagement Letters signed in duplicate, and more. None of them were really very good with computers, so in the end
The Committee's meetings would go on for hours, and people would get Tara wound up calling me and telling me to go help them out because I
angry and come out fuming. It could take weeks for them to agree on didn't have anything better to do. This was true, and for many months
something. after that, I was able to go over to that new woman's cube and teach the
The best thing about the Committee was that it kept a half-dozen same things to her again and again.
fog-headed RTC lawyers busy with trivia. Otherwise they might have
been out and about, pestering the technicians and paralegals who were
trying to get some actual work done. Performing Firms Made Easy
The Committee included a couple of people from the “Outside
Maybe nobody followed the rules. But, strictly speaking, the rules
Counsel Management” department, or OCM. This department was
said that the only firms that were qualified to get new legal work from us
headed by Lucy Tania, who also had the additional responsibility of being
were the firms in Performing status.
Tara's boss and, ultimately, responsible for the RLIS department as well.
This P-status thing was a big deal. Not just any firm could become
One of the OCM people on the Committee was Lucy's right-hand
a Performing firm for the Resolution Trust Corporation. A law firm got
deputy, a lawyer named Ann Thrax. Ann was the fearful type who
onto our P list only after passing a rigorous examination, including
couldn't let anything change anywhere without being totally on top of it.
making sure that they could spell their name properly. We believed that,
After about six months, she realized that the Committee was useless and
if you've got to hire a lawyer, you ought to hire the right one for the job.
that law firms were getting paid no matter what status they were in. So
There were two methods for the RTC to find good lawyers. One was
she ordered me not to lift the restriction anymore unless I had written
to pick up the phone, call the FDIC, and ask them to send us a copy of
approval from her. So now, if a tech wanted me to lift the restriction,
their list of thousands of law firms that had done good work for them over
they'd have to wait a couple of weeks until Ann got around to providing
the past fifty years. The other method was to hire an entire department
written approval, giving the tech another valuable piece of paper. Ann
full of people who would work full-time on helping the RTC to put
never told the firms no, so it was the same as before. This way, Lucy
together its own brand-new list of good law firms, which the RTC would
said, we had more control over the process.
be using for at least another two or three years before Congress shut the
Meanwhile, the Committee kept on chugging along, and after a
place down. The RTC decided to take the second approach. But then, if
while, it was hard for anyone to remember what they had approved or not,
a law firm came to us and showed us a copy of the Legal Services
so Lucy decided that we needed a computer system to track the Commit-
Agreement they had signed with the FDIC, Lucy's OCM department
tee's decisions. So she hired someone to set up and run that computer
would also honor that FDIC Agreement anyway, just as she would have

84
done if she hadn't employed those ten people to help her. would threaten to sue for reverse discrimination, and then Lucy would
We didn't want unskilled lawyers to be handling the kinds of sign up one or two “majority” (i.e., non-minority) firms, just to make it
complex problems facing the RTC, like when we had to sell a house or look good.
close a business. Yes, any old lawyer could have handled these problems, Now, if Lucy almost always accepted the MWOLF firms, and almost
but we preferred someone who had experience in such things. always rejected the white male firms, you would think the decision
Then again, nobody in our office actually kept track of what our law process would be pretty simple. But just in case, she hired several full-
firms were experienced in. The law firm would tell us that it was very time lawyers to make sure.
experienced in handling foreclosures, and we would say, “Oh, that's nice,” First, there was the MWOLF coordinator, a lady named Bella
and we'd put that information into the file, and that would be the last Donahue, who everybody said was real militant about protecting the rights
anybody would hear about it. We had a ton of files, and they were all of blacks. Black or white, my only complaint about her was that she was
disorganized, so nobody really knew what was in them. a lawyer.
Instead of using the files, if one of our staff attorneys needed a law Then there was Sy Anide, the conflicts guy. “Conflicts” is the study,
firm that could handle foreclosures, the attorney would just get on the in law, of situations when two principles are in conflict with one another.
phone and start calling around, asking law firms, “Hey, do you guys That's how it got its name. Sy was the man who would make sure that a
handle foreclosures?” Then, if the law firm didn't want to make any more law firm was not trying to represent us and the bad guys at the same time.
money, they would say, “No, we don't really do that sort of thing.” To find out, Sy would send them a letter, asking whether they were
The process began when a law firm informed us that they wanted to representing the bad guys. They would write back and say no, and then
work for us. Lucy's secretary in OCM, a woman named Hanna Fiedsmie, Sy would tell Lucy that the firm was OK.
would send the law firm an application package. They'd fill it out and So when these OCM lawyers were done telling Lucy if they had any
send it back, and Hanna would take it in to Lucy. problems with a law firm, she would decide whether to sign them up and
Most of the time, Lucy would ignore it. There was one exception, put them on our P list. If the answer was yes, the firm would sign a Legal
however. That was if the firm was an MWOLF. Services Agreement. Hanna would put a copy in our files and send a copy
MWOLF (pronounced “em-wolf”) was short for “Minority- or to the firm, and nobody would remember to tell me, so the firm wouldn't
Woman-Owned Law Firm.” If you had a law firm, and its controlling be on the RLIS system, and the bills would come in and someone would
partners were black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or female, then complain that I wasn't doing my job, so I'd go dig out the paper file and
Lucy would whip out the pen and sign you right up. People knew this, enter the information onto the system, and then the firm would get paid.
and they were forever pretending to be minorities so that they could get And really, that's about all there was to it.
some drippings from the gravy train. One lawyer said he was a member
of a disadvantaged minority, being Jewish. Another guy wrote that he,
himself, was not a minority, but his wife was a woman, and she was also Warren
one-quarter Indian, and he had a friend who was African-American, and
I'd like to tell you about an RTC employee named Warren Pease.
furthermore he associated with many Hispanic people. I don't know if
This isn't really a good time to tell you about him, but that's because there
Lucy's OCM department considered that good enough or not.
will never be a good time to tell you about him. So I'll tell you about him
This MWOLF thing wasn't Lucy's idea. The directions came straight
now.
from Washington. Every now and then, a law firm owned by white males
Warren was exceptionally good at playing the game, there at the

86
RTC. He was a right-wing fanatic, probably a member of the K.K.K., the walk, and sometimes the gay men would flirt with him. One time, after
type who subscribed to Soldier of Fortune magazine and liked to talk that happened, he told Mia that he went home and studied himself in the
about guns a lot. One time, he loaned me his manual on how to torture mirror, trying to figure out why “homos” would think he was “that type.”
people to extract information. He had some funny racial theories, and yet Then he went out with a couple of buddies to a strip joint, to reassure
he also liked that black ghetto song, “Cop Killer.” Warren hated the himself that he was still OK.
government and he despised welfare, but here he was in a government job, I think that's probably all I really needed to tell you about Warren at
and he sure knew how to avoid work and make the system work for him. this point.
Warren's supervisor loved him, and Warren took full advantage of
that. First, he complained that he was experiencing personal difficulties
and wasn't able to do the work of two men anymore. So they rearranged Inherited and Minority-Owned Firms
the workload, and he wound up with practically nothing to do. So then he
Believe it or not, I've already told you most of the stuff you'd need
had free time, and he wandered around giving computer advice to others.
to understand my job. But I hope to tell a few jokes later in this book, and
He gave me advice one time, and darn near ruined what I was working on.
you'll be much more likely to laugh if you understand them. So I think I'd
But with all that free time, he managed to do something halfway
better describe a few more things about my work there at the RTC.
intelligent with a spreadsheet, so they gave him a cash incentive award.
Our staff attorneys weren't supposed to assign any work to law firms
Then they named him Employee of the Month, which meant he got a day
that weren't Performing, in P status. I already told you about the one
off and a free lunch. Whenever someone from his group had to be sent
exception, which was that they would make an exception only when
somewhere fun on RTC business, he wound up being the one chosen.
someone felt like it.
Warren was the kind of guy who sold a retarded old computer to his
The other exception was that, in a way, some law firms were already
best friend, who didn't know much about computers and then had to put
doing RTC work before the RTC even existed. See, the RTC took over
hundreds of dollars more into it before it worked right. One time, Warren
dead banks. Those banks were now bankrupt, which meant that they had
called the office and spoke with Mia Friend, a paralegal who was sweet
bankruptcy lawyers handling their affairs. We couldn't very well go in
to everyone. He told her that he had just gotten into a car accident and
and tell those bankruptcy lawyers to get out ) not until we knew what
was all shook up and therefore wasn't coming in. But then he called her
they were doing. So we let them continue whatever they were doing until
back a little later and said that the accident had actually happened the
we could figure out what it was, which might be never. Once we figured
previous evening, coming home from an RTC business trip. She
that out, we could decide whether to just forget about it and let them carry
reminded him that he had just told her the accident happened that
on, or to fire them and give the work to someone else. We called these
morning. He stuttered and said, “Oh, yeah, that's what I meant.” We
law firms “Inherited” firms, because we had inherited them from the dead
figured that, if Mia hadn't stopped him, he would have filed a claim
bank, and we put them into “I” (for Inherited) status on RLIS.
against the government for his accident expenses incurred while traveling
The RTC's official policy toward these Inherited firms was simple:
on company business.
get rid of them. There were several reasons for this. First, these law firms
Warren had a girlfriend who was devoted to him. But he always
were experienced in banking law and in the actual situation facing our
talked about her like she was dirt, and every now and then he'd come
banks, and therefore were not appropriate for the RTC. Second, some of
bragging to me or Mia about his latest affair with some other woman.
these law firms had given bad advice to the banks' managers, or had
Still, we all secretly wondered about him. He had a slight lisp and a funny
helped those managers to skim money from the banks, and now that those

88
managers had been fired, there was no more need for this kind of were Inherited ) that is, that they had been working on this case for the
expertise. Third, the bankers liked to hire lawyers who would play golf bank before the RTC even arrived on the scene. Nobody could prove that
with them at the country club, which meant that most of these firms were this was untrue. So the white lawyers would do the work and they'd get
full of white males, so the Committee wasn't eager to assign new legal paid.
matters to them. All in all, the MWOLF thing was kind of interesting. A guy could
To get rid of these Inherited law firms, Lucy's OCM group adopted spend a lot of time just keeping track of the latest angles, rooting for the
a cunning strategy: they did nothing. Here's how it worked. The white guys or the black guys, wondering who was going to come out
Inherited firms would be in “I” status on RLIS, and that's where they'd ahead, and going around the office, soliciting opinions from militant
stay. Then an RTC staff attorney would decide to sneak a case through whites like Warren Pease and militant blacks like Bella Donahue.
to one of those unapproved Inherited firms, or maybe the Committee
would throw them a bone. This would make the firm greedy ) we knew
they were lawyers, see, and we were pretty sure that they'd act like this ) The Ninety-Day Rule
and sure enough, a little while later, they'd work up their courage, raise
According to the rules, the firms that we inherited from dead banks
their hand, and say, “Excuse me, but may we please become an approved
were only supposed to stay in “I” (Inherited) status for ninety days, and
firm?”
then I was supposed to put them into Terminated status. In theory, this
And that's all it took. Once the white male firm spoke up, Lucy
would have two effects. First, the firm would probably not get any new
would suddenly be in the embarrassing position of having to do some-
work assignments once they were in T status. Second, Terminated firms
thing, and her instructions were clear: no work to white male firms unless
weren't supposed to be handling any work at all. That is, someone was
absolutely necessary. Next thing you know, not only would she reject
supposed to go in there, see what work they were already doing, and
their application to get on the P list, but she'd tell Ann Thrax to yank their
reassign those matters to some other law firm.
work and give it to an MWOLF.
When I asked around, people didn't seem to know why there had to
So it was really a lot wiser for those white male law firms that used
be a ninety-day rule in the first place. Somebody said it was invented by
to work for the bank to just stay calm, collect what scraps they could, and
Willy Wackett, the big shot in D.C. I was curious, so I e-mailed Willy's
let the minority- and women-owned firms get the new assignments. This
secretary to ask about it. She'd never heard of the ninety-day rule. She
was better for the taxpayers too, since they would not have to pay the
dug into her old papers and finally found an e-mail that Willy had sent to
legal fees of experienced law firms. And it helped the poor people of
the old Phoenix office years ago. In that old e-mail, he said something
America, because now the children of black and Hispanic upper-middle-
about taking care of some things within ninety days. So as far as anybody
class lawyers could have swimming pools like the white lawyers' kids did.
could tell, this was why RTC people across the nation were supposed to
The white male firms that we had inherited from the dead banks
yank active legal matters away from skilled law firms, within ninety days,
were all on a list called the “Inherited list.” The main benefit of the
and give those matters to other firms that knew nothing about them.
Inherited firm list was that it did not exist.
Still, a rule's a rule, and the question facing me was, how do we keep
What I'm saying is that, half the time, when the RTC took over a
track of when a firm's ninety-day period began?
dead bank, nobody thought of writing down which firms were working for
Everybody agreed that we should keep track of the ninety days by
the banks at that point. So now, if all else failed, an RTC staff attorney
making some kind of note on the RLIS system. But there was no place on
who wanted to assign a case to a white male firm could claim that they
RLIS for the specific purpose of writing down when the ninety-day period

90
would expire. So we had to come up with some other solution. point, were a few dozen law firms that didn't even exist but had been
My own view was that we should put our comments into the area, on entered onto RLIS by some typographical error, and weird companies that
RLIS, called “Comments.” There was another space on RLIS, called shouldn't be on our computer because they weren't law firms, and other
“Agreement Expiration Date,” but since Inherited firms had no agreement stuff like that. I sent it to Lucy, but she ignored this list too.
with us, there was no agreement expiration date, so I felt we should leave Frustrated, I went into Tara's office to tell her of my problem.
that space blank for Inherited firms. “Tara,” I said, “I wonder if you agree with my philosophy on something.”
Unfortunately, my fellow LOC techs around the country couldn't “What's your philosophy?” she asked
stand the idea of leaving the “Agreement Expiration Date” space blank. “My philosophy is that sometimes a person accomplishes more by
They just had to put something into it. But they couldn't decide what. So just going ahead and doing what he wants to do. You might say it's easier
they put the date when the law firm had first gone onto the system, or to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.”
when it was supposed to come off the system, or whatever their boss told She started to say something, and then her phone rang. She picked
them to put. They just had to put some date or other in that space. it up, listened for a moment, and then said, “I have someone in my office,
Eventually, some of the LOC techs started putting January 1 in that but he was just leaving.” She glared at me, and I left.
space. Why January 1? Because everyone knew that no government I gave it a couple of hours, and she didn't ask me to come back and
employees would ever be at work at the RTC on New Year's Day, so it finish our discussion. So I finally said to hell with it, and I went into
would be easy to tell that this date was bogus. RLIS and terminated 360 law firms, moving them from “I” status into T
That took care of the empty Agreement Expiration Date field, but it status. Then I reported my results to Anita, my counterpart in Kansas
didn't really get us any closer to knowing how to handle the ninety-day City, with an e-mail:
rule.
Taking the bull by the horns, I sent Lucy a memo, with a list of
nearly two hundred Inherited firms, in our Northeastern region, that had Did you ever see that movie, "An American Werewolf
in London"? There are two scenes I'd like to call to
been on the system more than ninety days. (I sent it to Tara's boss Lucy, your attention:
rather than to my immediate supervisor Tara, because every now and then
1. Having spent the night eating people, our hero
Tara would mention that she preferred not to get involved with the retires to the zoo and sleeps it off.
technical details of my job. I tried to honor that request whenever
possible.) This scene reminds us that it can be extremely
satisfying to munch 360 inherited firms. I, personally,
My memo to Lucy said that I was prepared to change these two am ready for a nap.
hundred firms to Terminated status, as the ninety-day rule commanded me
2. Later that day, our hero, who has special
to do. insight because he's a werewolf, gets invited to an
But Lucy ignored my list of two hundred Inherited firms. I thought abandoned movie theater, where he has to apologize to the
undead people he ate.
maybe she didn't want me putting all those Inherited firms into Termi-
nated status, so I pared down the list, cutting out the ones that I thought This scene tells us that there will inevitably be
might be her favorites. I sent her this new, revised list of maybe a the follow-up e-mails, in which people ask why 360 firms
are now Terminated. That moist, plopping noise is the
hundred firms, but she ignored that too. sound of the s--- hitting the fan. Stay tuned. It's
So I cut down the list some more. The only ones left on it, at this going to be a long week.

92
to handle a million-dollar case, the least we could do would be to expect
them to read our little two-page Agreement and figure out for themselves
I was sure that Ann Thrax, Lucy's fearful deputy, would freak out that they needed to renew the thing before it expired.
when she discovered that 360 firms had been Terminated. But nothing But Lucy's OCM department didn't see it that way. They felt it was
happened! I'm not sure Ann even noticed. unreasonable to put law firms into Expired status until the RTC had gone
This was a truly exceptional experience, this period of silence, and to the trouble of sending the firm a couple of reminder notices and giving
I realized that I had discovered the Speed Bump Principle of government: them several months to get their paperwork to us, so that we could renew
it hurts if you go slow, but if you floor it, sometimes you just sail right on their Agreements.
through. Sometimes. Unfortunately, OCM wasn't very good at sending out these
I don't know. Maybe I had done something that they were all hoping reminders. In fact, they almost never did anything about renewing
I would do but couldn't tell me to do. Or maybe nobody really cared Agreements. They just let them expire. The firms didn't say anything
about Terminated status because it made even less of a difference than I about it; the person who had my job before me didn't say anything about
assumed it would. it; and for a couple of years, everybody was happy.
Maybe it was my responsibility to bring this 360-firm list to the Then I came along and discovered the rule about putting expired
attention of Ann Thrax. Looking back on it, I suspect that the main firms into Expired status. Applying the Speed Bump Principle of
purpose of all these rules was to give me and Ann something to talk about. government, I went into RLIS one day and changed fifty firms into E
Even though she was a dweeb, she could be attractive at times, and she status. I felt good about this, and when I was finished, I went out for a
meant well. Every now and then we'd get started in a good, long nap and a two-hour lunch break.
discussion about the philosophy of RLIS and which status we should put But not everybody appreciated what I had done. My list of fifty
a firm in, and at those times I'd tell her how nice her perfume smelled, or expired firms included some of the most important law firms working for
I'd find myself down on hands and knees in the middle of the hallway, us. Suddenly staff attorneys were not supposed to refer matters to these
spreading out papers next to her, pointing to this problem or that. It was firms anymore. This was intolerable, and the three attorneys on the RTC's
like one of those projects they had you do in a class in high school, where staff who actually followed the rules squawked to Barry Amenama,
it seems goofy at the time but you look back on it fondly, or maybe the Lucy's boss.
other way around. Barry told me to put those firms back into P status. I said they were
expired. He said, “Not for long,” and he sent them all an Extension
Agreement which said that their expiration dates, whatever they were,
Renewing Agreements were extended for a couple of months, until July 15, and that they would
be in Performing status until then. So I put the firms back into P status
When our Agreements with P-status law firms expired, I was
and waited for July 15.
supposed to take the firms out of P status on RLIS and put them into
This was supposed to give Lucy's OCM group enough time to send
Expired status, and our staff attorneys weren't supposed to refer any more
letters to all those expired firms, warning them of dire consequences if
work to them.
they did not immediately apply for a renewed Agreement. OCM rose to
The Agreements said that they would expire after two years. The
the challenge: they prepared a letter. But the next step was more
people signing those Agreements were lawyers. The Agreements were
difficult: they had to figure out where to send it. Ann Thrax was irritated
only two pages long. You'd think that, if we were going to hire a law firm

94
with me because of the amount of work I was creating for her, so she got comments to Ann, who took them to Lucy, who took them to the
even by obtaining a list of expired firms, not from me, but from Tara's Committee; and in virtually every case, after spending hours debating all
huge sidekick, Candy Tenuff. Unfortunately, Candy didn't understand the those comments, the Committee went ahead and said that those firms'
situation and gave her the wrong list. Agreements could be renewed for another two years.
Still, they managed to hit at least some of the expiring firms, and by
July 15, Ann and her assistant, Rhonda Gauntlett, had received a large
amount of paper from expired law firms, and they had given it to Lucy, Rates
and Lucy had taken it to the Committee, which proceeded to argue about
It didn't take a whole lot of effort for me to change the status of a
it. I got on the e-mail and reminded everybody that it was July 15 and that
law firm on RLIS. It was just one letter: P or I or T or whatever.
I was now entitled to put those firms back into E status. Nobody said
I had one other duty, though, and this one took a lot more work. I
anything, except that Tara, my boss, told me to be careful because she
was the guy who had to put, onto the RLIS system, the information that
didn't want Ann and Rhonda running back down to her office, complain-
the law firms gave us about their lawyers and paralegals.
ing about how I was out of control again. I didn't want everyone to be
As part of their applications, law firms would tell us which of their
mad at me at the same time, so I decided to let it slide for a while.
people would be working on RTC stuff. What I had to put on the system
Meanwhile, Rhonda and Hanna, Lucy's secretary, and I all agreed
was the name of the lawyer or paralegal, their minority status and sex, and
that this had been a mess and that it shouldn't happen again. We figured
how much the firm planned to charge us for this person's time. On RLIS,
that, on average, it took three months for OCM and the Committee to
the rate list for a law firm would look like this:
process the paperwork for a renewal. So I told them that from now on,
every month, I would give them a list of law firms whose Agreements
would be expiring within the next three months. FIRM NAME: TYKDIS JEB & SHEUVIT
I gave them that list, complete with mailing addresses, in a computer
NAME RATE MINORITY MALE/FEMALE
format called Paradox. But they didn't know how to use Paradox, so I SMITH, ANN WESSON 135.00 W F
converted it to WordPerfect. And then there was some other hang-up. I HUDAS, E. TINKYIZ 145.00 A M
forget what it was. I think maybe Hanna was afraid to actually send out
the renewal letters. For whatever reason, we sent out renewal letters just
twice before our little arrangement broke down. This sample shows only two names, but on our RLIS rate list, law
I sent Lucy some e-mails to tell her that we were having problems, firms could have three, or twenty, or two hundred lawyers and paralegals.
but she ignored them. Four months later, she asked me how we were Our staff attorneys and bill-paying techs used this rate list to make
doing, and I gave her a list of 133 law firms who hadn't yet been told that sure the firm wasn't overcharging us. Using this example from the firm
their Agreements had already expired or would be expiring soon. of Tykdis Jeb & Sheuvit, if we got a bill that said E. Tinkyiz Hudas had
But at least we got the thing started. And eventually, the people in devoted ten hours to a project, the most we would pay for his time would
OCM did succeed in developing a working method for handling firms be $1,450.
whose Agreements had expired. It went like this: Lucy assigned the job When we first approved a law firm, Ann Thrax would negotiate rates
to Ann, Ann assigned it to Rhonda, Rhonda gathered any comments that with them. The firm was not supposed to charge us more than they'd
RTC staff attorneys may have had about the firms and took those charge anyone else but, hey, rules were made to be broken.

96
Ann negotiated rates with our approved, P-list firms. She didn't there were no obvious errors.
bother negotiating rates with the Inherited firms, the ones that were Now, a typical law firm bill had two parts: fees and expenses. Fees
working for the banks before the RTC came on the scene. The reason was were the amounts that the lawyers charged us for their time. Expenses
that you can't very well tell a firm how much you'll pay them when you included things like travel or mileage expense, photocopies, phone calls,
haven't even figured out what they're doing. So when it came to I-status hotel bills, etc.
firms, my rate list just contained whatever they wanted to charge us for In most cases, the fees would be the big part of a bill. It's what you'd
their time. That is, the firms that the RTC approved got paid less than the expect. Even if the lawyer had to buy an airline ticket to do RTC work,
unapproved ones. the expense for that day would only be a couple hundred dollars, while a
ten- or twelve-hour day at $200-250 per hour could run into the thou-
sands.
The Eagle Eye: Checking the Rates Even though the fees were the big ticket, Tara made sure that the
RLIS unit concentrated on expenses. And I mean concentrated. As far
Like I say, I had to type those rates into the system so that our staff
as she was concerned, nobody was going to get away with charging us for
attorneys and technicians could make sure we weren't overpaying. So you
an extra phone call or an unnecessary taxi ride.
might ask: was anybody actually making sure of that?
And photocopies ) what a major issue! The central question, you
I don't know if you've ever hired a lawyer. I have. You go in and
see, was whether a law firm was allowed to charge us more than eight
talk to the lawyer, you come out and go home, and at the end of the
cents per copy. We must have discussed this fifteen times, at meeting
month, you receive a bill for $200. You get on the phone and complain
after meeting, until finally Tara came up with a solution. She instructed
that all you did was ask a couple of questions, and the lawyer says you are
all the techs to take the law firm's photocopying bill and divide it by eight.
welcome to find another attorney if you can't pay for his/her time.
If it came out even, then we would know that the firm was charging us the
Altogether, the RTC had maybe a quarter-million legal matters on
right amount: eight cents per copy. The techs told the law firms that this
the RLIS system. Tens of thousands of those matters were active, and we
was our procedure, and so now, if the firms wanted to rip us off for
got bills for them every month. Nobody was going to get on the phone
photocopies, they had to make sure to charge us an amount that was
and complain each time a law firm overcharged us by $200. It was not
evenly divisible by eight.
humanly possible.
In fact, nobody was even going to notice most of the times when a
firm overcharged us by $200. The RLIS techs didn't even send bills to our Please, I'd Rather Screw It Up Myself
staff attorneys, for their review, if the bills were under $5,000. Besides,
the staff attorneys were trying to keep track of hundreds of cases, and As I've mentioned, the RTC had only one LOC tech, like me, in each
therefore they were not always eager to spend their hours checking law of its seven offices nationwide. It was a complicated little job, and to a
firms' bills and then arguing with the firms about them. Frankly, some of large extent we LOC techs were making it up as we went along.
the staff attorneys just didn't like to work all that hard, which is probably I had to smile, one time, when one of the managers from Kansas
why they came to the RTC in the first place. City said that we needed a manual to tell everybody how our LOC job was
My fellow RLIS technicians helped by reviewing some of the bills supposed to work. This lady said that she would write that manual, and
themselves. But the technicians didn't have any idea what kind of legal that she'd be able to get it done in one day.
work was being done, so they could only check the math and make sure Four months later, she finished this manual and sent a copy to Tara.

98
Tara didn't understand my job, so she sent this manual to me and asked name.
what I thought of it. Ten minutes later, I sent Tara an e-mail: 2. As a female, is she being used by more than one firm,
to make each of them look like MWOLFs? (Some lawyers had their
own firms and also worked at other firms.) If so, is she charging the
ME: I've looked at this thing. I feel like rewrit- same rates at each firm? Has Lucy's group approved these arrange-
ing it. What do you say?
ments?
3. Does the firm have her listed at any of their offices in
Tara didn't say anything, so after a while, I sent her another e-mail: other cities? If so, are they charging more for her work done
through this office than they charge at those other offices?
4. Her present rate is $135 an hour, but was she at a lower
ME: I mean, I ***REALLY*** feel like rewriting this rate previously? RLIS didn't allow us to keep more than one rate on
thing. the system at a time, so the new rate would wipe out the old one, and
if any old bills came in, we would now pay her new $135 rate rather
than the old rate ) say, $125 ) that was supposed to be used for
A couple of weeks went by, and eventually Tara looked at it herself, those old bills.
and she said, “Now I see why you wanted to write your own version of the 5. Do we even know that she's an attorney? RLIS didn't
manual.” At their next nationwide management meeting, the managers have any place to indicate whether the person was a lawyer,
talked about the version that this woman had produced, and they decided paralegal, secretary, or clerk. If a lawyer, RLIS didn't indicate how
that the issue needed more study. And that was the last time I heard many years of experience they had. There were a lot of typographi-
anybody talk about writing a manual about the LOC. cal errors on RLIS, and for all I knew from looking at the rate list,
When the RTC created my LOC job, they created a masterpiece. It Ann Wesson Smith could be a clerk whose rate was supposed to be
was a job that required very little work, and yet the longer you did it, the $35, not $135.
more complicated it got.
Here's an example. I was just telling you about the rate list on RLIS. Since it was impossible to check up on all these things, we didn't
On page 111, I gave an example that showed how the list actually looked. bother, and God only knows what the law firms got away with.
It had two people, and one of them was named Ann Wesson Smith. In my Still, there were instances when a problem was too obvious to miss.
example, Ms. Smith was a white female who was approved to charge us One time, when I was putting new names on a law firm's rate list, I saw
up to $135 an hour. I got that information just by copying it from a sheet a familiar name. The name was “Ian Eurier.”
of paper that someone in Lucy's OCM group sent me. A simple job, I put down my paperwork and went down the hall to an office with
right? the name “Ian Eurier” on the door. I leaned in.
Wrong. I want to tell you what questions come to my mind when I “Ian,” I said, “are you here?” He swore that he was. I said, “Well,
look at that example for Ann Wesson Smith: then you're going to have to contact the law firm that you used to work
for, before you came to the RTC.” “Why?” he asked. I said, “Because
1. Is Wesson her maiden name? If so, she may also not only do they have you on their new Agreement, but they've raised
appear on the rate list for this firm, or another one, under the Wesson your rate. Apparently you're worth more to them now that you're gone.”

100
He called the firm and persuaded them that this was one battle they would hundred law firms on RLIS that had no rates at all. In other words, every
not win. Washington got wind of this situation, and they required Ian to cent that we had paid to those law firms must have been paid without
send them a memo stating that he was no longer at his old firm and was anyone checking to see if they were charging too much for their attorneys
now an RTC employee instead. and paralegals.
Ultimately, my fellow LOC techs and I could put the rates on the Also, there were a couple thousand entries that were misspelled or
system, but once they were in there, nobody was checking them for weird or didn't make any sense. For instance, a person couldn't help
accuracy. Nobody knew what RLIS contained, in its thousands of rate suspecting that names like “SMTH, JOHN” and “@#$%!” were spelled
lists across the country. I, and the other six LOC technicians nationwide, wrong. And were we really sure we wanted to pay for work done by
were telling hundreds of RTC employees how to spend millions of dollars people with names like “Any Attorney” or “Corporate Records”?
in legal fees. We were doing it on our own, on a computer system from Lucy had told me that our policy was not to let lawyers charge more
the Stone Age. And our bosses were concentrating on the eight-cent rule than $200 an hour. This was one of the things I wanted to check
for photocopies. specifically. Contrary to Lucy's assurances, I found that there were more
than three thousand lawyers on RLIS who were listed at more than $200
an hour, and a thousand of those were in the northeastern U.S., which was
The Rates Memo the region that Lucy's own OCM group was responsible for. In a few
cases, RLIS allowed lawyers to charge as much as $1,400 per hour.
Eventually, guilt and curiosity got the better of me, and I decided
I wrote up all this stuff in my memo, and then tried to think of what
that I should take a closer look at those RLIS rate lists. I was curious
to do with it. I knew, from experience, that Lucy and Tara would just
what RLIS said about the tens of thousands of lawyers and paralegals who
ignore memos from me. But I had done a lot of work, and I wanted others
were approved to work for the RTC across the country. Of course, I was
to see what I had discovered. So I decided to send copies to my LOC
working in just one RTC office, and I really had no business looking at
buddies at each RTC office in the country.
data for the whole nation. But nobody else was doing it, and it seemed
My friends got the memos and passed them to their supervisors. A
like somebody should, so I went ahead.
couple of those bosses told me that they thought this memo was just
The project made me a little nervous. When we examined RLIS data
fantastic. Lucy and Tara eventually got wind of it and asked me if they
on our individual computers, the computer people in Washington could
could please have a copy too. Sure, I said, and gave them one.
tell what we were doing. I was imagining someone at headquarters in
Lucy took one look and told me not to distribute this sort of thing
D.C., glancing at a computer screen and saying, “Who is this Woodcock
around the country anymore without her permission. I didn't plan to do
guy and why is he downloading data for the entire United States?”
anything else like this, so I said that was fine with me. I wasn't sure she
It was even more noticeable than usual because the computer hadn't
was happy with me for writing and distributing this memo, so I made sure
finished pulling all the data together when I went home that evening, so
to explain that I would have been glad to give her a copy in the first place,
I had to leave my computer running overnight. But fortunately, nobody
if I had thought she'd be interested.
in D.C. seemed to notice or care. And the next morning, I had all this
great data waiting for me there on my computer.
I started to play around with the data. I did some calculations, and Conflicts
when I was done, I wrote up a memo about what I had found.
For one thing, my memo said, it was strange that there were seven Suppose you want to hire a law firm to represent your interests in a

102
million-dollar case. Would you hire a firm if: coordinators used these reports from Washington to line their cats' litter
boxes at home, and the LOC techs in those offices would not know that
they were supposed to make a comment on RLIS.
• The firm is suing you? Theoretically, the conflicts coordinators were supposed to take cases
• The firm is refusing to hand over $400,000 belonging to you? away from “conflicted” firms and give those cases to other firms. But that
• One of the firm's leading attorneys milked a bank ) one that you didn't happen very often, even if the firm was in serious trouble. For
now own ) and got away with it? instance, here's the comment that RLIS contained for one conflicted firm:

Chances are that you would not. And this shows why decisions THIS FIRM IS IN DEFAULT ON DEBTS OWED TO THE
about such things are best left in the hands of experts, who are not RTC. NO PAYMENTS HAVE BEEN MADE FOR TWO
confused by emotional reactions like you would be. YEARS. A SUCCESSFUL WORK-OUT IS CONSIDERED
At the RTC, we had experts in Washington to handle decisions on UNLIKELY. THIS FIRM IS ALSO THE SUBJECT OF A
conflicts of interest. Our experts actually did deal with firms who had CRIMINAL REFERRAL BY THE INVESTIGATIONS
behaved like the three examples I just gave you, and in each instance, our DEPARTMENT.
experts decided that it was OK for the firm to continue to represent the
RTC in other legal matters. (A year or two later, I saw where the RTC
finally did sue the firm that kept the $400,000. I don't know if the Even with that note, this firm was allowed to keep right on handling
conflicts experts in Washington reconsidered their decision at that time.) cases for us. I guess we all hoped they were doing a good job.
I was interested in conflicts because I was responsible for a little There was one other complication: some firms had many offices.
space in RLIS that asked whether the law firm had any conflict-of-interest Our view was that, if one office had a problem, all offices had a problem,
problems. RTC staff attorneys all over the U.S. were looking at that space so I would go into RLIS and make the same conflict note for all offices of
to see if there was a problem that should keep them from referring legal that firm.
work to this particular firm. But one firm got around this by giving each of its offices a different
The first step was for the experts in Washington to decide whether name, even though there was one lawyer who controlled them all. Then
there was a conflicts problem. Then, if they decided that there was a each office signed a separate Agreement with the RTC. So when one
problem, the next step was to do something about it. office of this firm tried to make extra money by representing some bank
One possibility was that the experts would give specific instructions ripoff artists against the RTC, it didn't have any effect on our willingness
to me, and the other LOC techs around the country, so that we would to refer work to the other offices of that firm.
know what kind of comment to make on RLIS. I heard that this firm was also very good at getting work from us.
But the conflicts experts didn't do that. Instead, they would send According to my sources, when one of our male attorneys wanted to meet
many pages of explanations to the “conflicts coordinators” in each field with someone from the firm, the firm sent out this very attractive woman,
office. (Sy Anide was the coordinator in Lucy's OCM group.) In some wearing a dress cut up to here and down to there. During their confer-
offices, those coordinators would jump right to it and tell the LOC techs ence, she frequently had to bend over in various directions to pick up
what kind of comment to put on RLIS. In other offices, the conflicts documents and then hand them to him across the table. I'm not sure how

104
much this helped the firm. I guess it didn't hurt. What the heck ) all's fair The point is, it was a mountain of paper. And I, in my own little
in law and war. way, was adding to it.
I didn't need a hundred thousand paper files, though. In my area, I
needed just one file for each law firm on RLIS. I was responsible for
The Paper Files maintaining the data on about nine hundred law firms, so I figured there
had to be about nine hundred files for me someplace in our office.
In my job, I typed stuff into the computer, copying it from pieces of
One day early in my RTC career, I decided it was time to find those
paper. Then I put those papers into the files. In this way, I became a part
files. I went hunting, but all I could find was two file cabinets, over near
of a very big paper empire.
Rhonda Gauntlett's cube, in Lucy's OCM area. These cabinets contained
I remind you, the RTC had taken control of 750 banks. The RTC
only about 470 files. This meant I was missing about 430 files.
took those banks' files along with everything else. This meant that the
I asked around, but nobody knew where those 430 files might be.
RTC had a lot of files.
I looked all over the place and found nothing. It seemed like we had no
To give you an idea of how many files we had, I should tell you
documentation for half of the firms that I was responsible for on RLIS.
about one e-mail message I received. This message involved just our
But then I got a brilliant idea. I went into the file room and asked Ed
office alone, not the other six RTC regional offices.
Settera, the guy in charge, if he had any law firm files. He checked his list
According to this e-mail message, our filing people were going to
and then took me down to the far end of one of his shelves. And there, by
start moving some of our files to a warehouse. How many files? The
golly, were about twenty boxes labelled “Law Firm Files.” It was
e-mail said they'd be moving 1,100 cubic feet of files, which is the amount
amazing! The files were actually in the file room! As far as Ed could
that you could cram into a storage space ten feet wide, ten feet long, and
remember, I was the first person who had ever asked to see them.
eleven feet high. A space that size would hold about 450 file drawers'
Now, you might wonder what in the world our files were doing in
worth of files. They were going to move that many files every day for six
the file room. The answer is that we didn't put them there. They came
months.
from the Atlanta RTC office, which used to be responsible for the law
Of course, the paper that we got from the banks was only part of the
firms in our region. Atlanta existed first, and then, when our office was
picture. The RTC had been in business for several years by the time I
created, Atlanta sent us our paper files. The file room people got hold of
arrived on the scene, and during those years, the RTC's employees had
them before Lucy or anyone else saw them, and put them into their own
been busily cranking out their own papers to add to the pile.
space, there in the file room.
The RTC employed 1,600 people. The RLIS departments across the
It was nice of Atlanta to send us those files. It was a lot nicer than
country accounted for only about ten percent of those people. I don't
the Denver office had been. When the California office was created out
know if the other ninety percent used as much paper as we did; but we, in
of the Denver region, the managers in Denver refused to send California
the RLIS units, were using a lot.
the paper files for the law firms located in California. Instead, the Denver
In the RLIS units, the bill-paying technicians would set up a new file
people made copies of those 1,500 files and sent California the copies.
each time another legal matter was assigned to a law firm. This required
The filing cabinets filled almost a whole wall, so it must have been a lot
many tens of thousands of manila folders in the RLIS units across the
of copying. I bet those Denver people felt foolish when their office was
country. One time, I calculated that these files would have made a stack
closed down and everything was shipped to California anyway, a couple
a half-mile high. Or maybe it was a mile and a half. I can't remember,
of years later.
exactly, but it was a pretty impressive calculation.

106
Fortunately, Atlanta wasn't like that. Not only did they send us boss, and Lucy went to Tara, my boss, and Tara talked to me about the
twenty boxes of files right away, but they sent them by rush delivery, situation. I told Tara what a mess it all was and how I was willing to
Federal Express. This way, we could spend a fortune on shipping, to plunge in there and fix it up, since Rhonda didn't seem to have any idea
make sure the boxes got into the file room and started collecting dust right of what to do. Tara said she was sympathetic, and she reminded me that
away. these things take time. She promised that, if Lucy raised the subject
Now that I had found the Atlanta boxes, I opened them and again, she would make sure Lucy knew the full story.
discovered that those Atlanta people had done a silly thing. Every time But then, the next day, Tara sent me an e-mail, with copies to Lucy
a firm went into a different status, they created another file for it. So the and Rhonda. Here was the e-mail:
same firm might have an “I” status file, and an “R” status file, and a “P”
status file, and a “T” status file. There were as many as four files, in these
Atlanta boxes, for a single law firm. TARA: Ray, I have spoken with Rhonda G. She has
indicated that she has developed a strategy for
During the years when those Atlanta file boxes were gathering dust organizing the files. Since her plan has
back in a corner of our file room, Rhonda Gauntlett had been busy. Every already been developed, I suggest that you
redirect your energies in other directions
time she got papers for a law firm, she made up a file for them. She was unless she specifically requests your help.
the one who had created the 470 files that were sitting in the two filing
cabinets near her cube.
Therefore, for each law firm I worked with, I had the following I saw right away that there was only one thing I could do, so I wrote
possibilities: this response to Rhonda:

1. Rhonda had created one or more files for the firm, but Atlanta
had not. ME: Rhonda, Tara tells me that you've got a plan for
2. Atlanta had created one or more files for the firm, but Rhonda combining the paper files, and she has asked me
to concentrate on other matters. So this
had not. project is all yours! Good luck.
3. Both Rhonda and Atlanta had created files for the firm.
4. Neither Rhonda nor Atlanta had created files for the firm.
I'm not sure this was what Rhonda expected. I think maybe she
The decision facing me was either to forget about the whole thing wanted to supervise the job, not do it. I don't know if you've ever read
and leave the files alone, or else to combine them all. If I combined them, Tom Sawyer, but I felt like this was the part where I had made fence-
I figured I might actually be able to find the paper to answer a question, painting seem like so much fun that now everybody else was begging for
if someone came to me and wanted to know something about some law a chance to do my work for me.
firm. Poor Rhonda. Now that she had full responsibility for organizing all
For a while, I didn't have to worry about this decision. The more I those files, another RTC office in our region closed down, giving us
poked around, the more Rhonda became afraid that I was going to learn fifteen more boxes of law firm files that would have to be combined with
too much about the workings of the place, and then people would listen the twenty boxes from Atlanta and the two filing cabinets.
to my ideas instead of hers. So she complained about me to Lucy, her Rhonda and I weren't enemies. I just had to keep an eye on her,

108
because I never knew what mood she'd be in. So every now and then, in files and I didn't.
a friendly moment, she'd mention that she was looking forward to getting Eventually, she got tired of all this, and she asked Lucy to ask Tara
started on the filing project. She said she needed the overtime income to to ask me if I would help out. Lucy asked Tara, and Tara asked me, and
pay some bills. I told Tara that I would be glad to help, as long as I could put all those law
But the weeks went by, and those boxes of files were still sitting firm names on a computerized list and use that. Tara passed this idea to
outside Lucy's office and everywhere else, and nothing was getting done. Lucy, and Lucy passed it to Rhonda.
Finally, Lucy hired a temp worker to assist Rhonda. He was a law Rhonda sent me an e-mail, with copies to Lucy and Tara, telling me
student, on his summer break. He came in on a Monday, and moved a that she was still waiting for my help on the files. She sent it Certified,
bunch of file boxes, with Rhonda giving instructions. On Tuesday, he which was a way of sending e-mails that would let you prove that the
called in sick, complaining of a sore back. On Wednesday, we heard that other person had received it. I guess she wanted to have a solid case
he was filing a Workers' Compensation claim. And that's the last we ever against me, in case she needed to convict me of something.
heard of him. I assume he spent the rest of the summer by the pool. See? So we were back to square one, except that now I had permission to
Who says a legal education has to be a waste of time? go ahead and combine all those files myself. I did this, and now we
Anyway, Rhonda was still stuck with all those files. Lucy hired finally had all our information about our law firms in one place, alphabeti-
another temp, and then another. I was thinking that there were a lot of cally, from A to Z.
good temp workers our there in the world, but we must have done As an afterthought, I should mention that there was yet another
something to offend the temp agency we were working with, because they filing cabinet. Rhonda kept it under lock and key, and she refused to let
kept sending us these crosseyed, mixed-up fools. But at least they didn't me into it until Lucy finally ordered her to do so.
send us any more law students. I soon saw why. This cabinet held a variety of interesting materials.
In the end, Rhonda spent a Saturday combining the files herself. I For example, there were fat files that had been assembled to explain
came in the next Monday and discovered what her concept of “combining whether the RTC should sign an Agreement with a particular law firm )
the files” meant. She had taken the Atlanta files out of boxes and put which was great, except that we already had an Agreement with that firm.
them into filing cabinets. So now, instead of opening four different file There were a lot of things like that. It was a truly remarkable filing
boxes to get all of the Atlanta files for a single firm, you could just open cabinet.
four different file drawers. I think she spent a total of four hours, at time- I did think about combining those files with all the others. But then
and-a-half pay, on this master stroke. I decided there was no reason to upset Rhonda's whole world. So instead
Of course, Rhonda and I weren't the only ones who used the paper I shut the cabinet and gave her back the key, and that was the last time I
files. But now people were getting confused over which files to use. bothered her about that cabinet.
They came to me, and I told them they would have to ask Rhonda. So
now she had this additional duty of helping people to find things, every
time they were looking for some piddling piece of paper.
I knew that Rhonda found this tiresome, because I started getting
irritated e-mails from her, reminding me that she was a paralegal, not a
file clerk. Paralegals were higher on the pay scale than technicians like
me, and she didn't appreciate the idea that she had to pull things out of the

110
again, with all the BULL.
Ordinary citizens get angry at BULL because (a) when this stream
of awareness takes them close to the shores of reality, it makes bad
Golden Days
decisions about important real-world issues, and (b) when it carries them
out into the middle of the river, it wastes their time on pointless trivia. In
extreme cases, some people threaten and even kill bureaucrats because
they are so frustrated with BULL.
When bad men combine, the good must associate; else
What those frustrated people fail to realize is that the stream of
they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contempt-
governmental concepts ) BULL ) is only half the picture. When you ride
ible struggle.
a river, you may be out in the middle or standing on the riverbanks. But
either way, there's another important question: What can you see?
) Edmund Burke, Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents
I may be way out in the middle, out of touch with reality; but if I can
see the riverbank and can tell where the river is going, I might still be
further ahead than the guy whose idea of being rooted and grounded, there
on the riverbank, is to have his head buried in the sand.
We ordinary bureaucrats at the RTC didn't get to make the river flow
People in the bureaucracy float along in a river of ideas and actions.
where we wanted. We couldn't make the river run slower or faster. But
Some of these ideas and actions are unnecessary. Some are even
at least we could stay human and normal, keep our eyes open, and try to
ridiculous. For me, at the RTC, the river carried Inherited firms and the
look ahead. In fact, the faster the river flowed and the more BULL we
UIC project and those files from Atlanta that had sat in the filing room all
had to deal with, the more we needed that kind of perspective. It helped,
those years.
at times, to have a sense of humor and some good friends to pass the time
This river carries bureaucrats wherever it wishes. Sometimes, in this
with.
river, I found myself very close to the riverbanks and solid ground,
I'm telling you about these things for a reason. I don't think that any
dealing with things that made an actual difference in the real world.
review of life in the bureaucracy would be complete without a look at
But at other times, I'd be way out in the middle of the bureaucratic
such things, and that's what I turn to now.
stream, far out of touch. And not just me, but also my fellow bureaucrats,
like those lawyers who spent all those hours on the Committee, arguing
about things that made no difference at all. The Senator's Lunch Club
You might describe this river as the never-ending stream of
Bureaucratic Unwritten Laws and Limitations, or BULL for short. This It usually takes a while to get to know anyone at a new job. But it
stream flows continuously. Somewhere around the world, at all times of wasn't like that for me at the RTC. By 9:30 AM on my first day, I already
day or night, there is a bureaucrat sitting at a desk or lying in bed, had a visitor. A cheerful guy with a clipboard came walking up and said,
dreaming or thinking about BULL. And even if there were no one “Excuse me, sir, I was told that this cubicle contained a good-looking
keeping the thing alive in their heads, there would still be all those woman. Would you happen to know where she sits?”
mountains of paper, all those records on RLIS, and when the bureaucrats I glanced up from my desk and said, “Uh, no. Sorry. I just started
came back to work the next day, they would quickly become familiar, this job today. You sure it was a woman you were looking for?”

112
He looked at his clipboard and said, “Huh! It appears that I was “Well,” he said, stroking his chin, “I could tell you, but then I'd have
reading this wrong. We are looking for a good-looking-woman chaser. to kill you.”
Looks like I found the right person. Now, if you'll just sign here.” “Then keep me in the dark. All I really want is lunch.”
He handed me his clipboard, like the United Parcel people do when “We'll be in touch.”
they're delivering a package. I looked down at the clipboard. It held a Greg was as good as his word. At 12:30, he was back at my cube,
cartoon drawing of a nerdy guy wearing big glasses, looking like a saying, “Come on, dude! Everybody's starving!”
professor. Next to him were the words, “An expert is someone from out I followed him out to the parking lot. It was a bright, cold day at the
of town.” beginning of April. We joined up with three women and piled into a car.
I looked up at the guy and grinned. “You accusing me of being from Greg did introductions: he was sitting in front with the driver, Mia
out of town?” I asked. Friend. I was in back, sandwiched between women named Shelby Dunn
“Just delivering the message, sir,” he said innocently. and Gloria Thunrythe.
“Glad you did,” I replied. I offered my hand and said, “I'm Ray “Where are we going?” Mia asked. Greg was quick with an answer.
Woodcock.” “We're going to Tony's! Pizza! Pizza!” This went down without protest,
“And I'm Greg Arius,” he said, giving me a good handshake. I like the others all knew the plan. I wasn't complaining. Pizza sounded
couldn't know, of course, that I'd be getting so many funny e-mails from great.
this guy in the months to come. “What do y'all do?” I asked the group, as we drove off.
But he wasted no time in being a character. He leaned over and “We're paralegals,” Shelby said. She was on my right, and her big
whispered, “There's a select group of us here who sometimes gather in diamond ring was immediately obvious to me. “You're in RLIS, aren't
secret at lunchtime. They asked me to make contact with you. I'm the you?”
Director of Covert Operations.” He handed me a business card. It said, “Yeah,” I said. “Tara says I'll be responsible for maintaining a list
“Greg Arius. Director of Covert Operations and Ladies' Swimwear of law firms.”
Consultant.” “Well, if you're in RLIS, we'll probably be seeing a lot of you,”
“Greg,” I said, “this is one group I'm going to want to be in on in Shelby said.
every way possible.” “Abandon all hope, ye who enter data,” Greg said. They laughed.
“Well, about lunch. If you play your cards right, I might be able to I said, “I think I'll be working a lot with the Outside Counsel
wangle an invitation for you.” Management department.”
“I'd be delighted,” I said. “It sounds like an adventure.” “Lucy's OCM group,” Greg said. “Let's see. That would be Rhonda
“One other thing,” he muttered. “It is important that this group's Gauntlett, Hanna Fiedsmie, Phil LeRupp. Good people.”
activities not be allowed to compromise my public persona.” Mia said, “Funny how you remember only the good ones, Greg.
“What public persona is that?” Those are all paralegals. How about the lawyers he's going to work with
He handed me another business card. It said “Greg Arius, United in OCM?”
States Senator and Ladies' Swimwear Consultant.” “True,” Greg agreed. “Ann Thrax can be hard to stomach some-
I felt a little silly playing along with this goofball, but I said, “How times. And Bella Donahue, and Sy Anide.” He shuddered.
do you manage to be Senator without anyone knowing that you're also Shelby said, very nicely, “Well, I hope you enjoy your job here. I'm
involved in Covert Operations?” sure you'll have a bright future ahead of you.”

114
“He'd better,” Greg said. “He sure doesn't have one behind him.” “Why's that?” I asked.
We got to Tony's Pizza. It was in the town of Audubon, named after She said, “We paralegals work for the attorneys. We help them refer
John Audubon, the guy who painted birds. We strolled in and scoped out legal matters to law firms. Then we send the paperwork to the RLIS
the menu. department. They put the information on the system, and after that,
Gloria, who had said nothing before, said, “Maybe I'll have ratatou- they're all set up to pay the bills when the law firms do the work.”
ille.” “OK,” I said.
Greg said, “To me, ratatouille always sounded like a cross between She said, “But it seems like Tara doesn't know anything outside of
a drumbeat and a sneeze. I think I'll stick with the basic pepperoni pizza.” RLIS. A lot of our job involves dealing with you technicians in the RLIS
“Do they even have ratatouille?” Mia asked. “I thought they just had unit, and that seems to get harder every day.”
the usual pizza-parlor type of menu.” Shelby added, “We hear that, in the RLIS meetings, they single out
“I thought I saw ratatouille the last time I was here,” Gloria replied. a paralegal and spend ten or twenty minutes ganging up, complaining
Shelby said, “I wish they had a wine list. It'd be nice ... maybe a about everything that paralegal has ever done wrong.”
little soave.” “That sounds pretty poisonous,” I agreed. “Do they pick on any one
“Very suave,” Greg agreed. “Unfortunately, we are limited to the paralegal more than the others?”
options of Snapple and Coke.” We ordered and sat down. He looked Gloria burst out, “Geez. I think we've all had our turn of being
across the table at me, as we sat there in our booth. “So, Ray, what's a tarred and feathered.”
guy like you doing in the RLIS department?” Mia laughed, “Greg more than most, I'd bet.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. Greg said, “There seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of my role
“I mean, have you heard anything about our RLIS department?” as Activities Coordinator.”
“Not really.” “As what?” I asked.
He looked at Shelby, sitting next to me on our side of the booth. “I am the primary contact person for the Legal Division on the
“Should we tell him?” Activities Committee.”
“I'm sure he'll be fine,” Shelby said unconvincingly. “That sounds like fun.”
“Why?” I asked. “What's the deal?” “It is. But the RLIS group doesn't seem to like it.”
She said, “Greg gets a little rowdy when he's hungry.” Shelby said, “Greg really does organize some fun stuff.”
“OK,” I said, “but is there something I should know?” “We all do our best,” Greg said. “We paralegals are the hunters and
“Actually, not much is known about the Valley Forge RLIS unit,” gatherers of data, which we bring back to the tenders of the RLIS fire each
Greg said. “Scouting missions have been sent out, but no one has ever day, and blah blah blah, quack quack quack. Hey, Ray,” he said,
returned to tell the tale.” changing gears, “I don't suppose you'd be interested in blowing off the job
I asked, “What ) RLIS marches to a different drummer?” on Friday and going skiing? I've got free passes. You'd have to drive,
He said, “RLIS is a juggernaut. It's an octopus, a weed. It keeps though, because the wife has the car.”
piling more work on everyone. Trajections indicate that it will swallow “Right now, I think I just want to settle in. Besides, I don't believe
up the entire RTC within six months.” in spring skiing. I'm convinced that's when people get most of their knee
Mia said, kindly, “What Greg means is that Tara Streikes can be injuries.”
difficult to work with.” “Aw, slushy snow makes for softer landings.”

116
“Besides,” I said, “I don't really want to drive that far.” your very own microwave-safe ceramic collector's
mug, cheaper than a beer stein and just as
“Well ) ,” he said, acting frustrated. “I'll drive if you let me use impressive to the opposite sex as you confi-
your car! Geez, do you always whine like this? I can't wait to hear your dently drink your beverage, and versatile enough
to be used as a planter, pencil holder, bailing
excuses when we have the annual bungee-a-thon.” cup for your canoe, cremation urn for a departed
“Bungee-a-thon?” pet, a hammer (well, not really, damn those
“Oh, yes,” he said, “it's a rite of initiation for new employees. Our truth-in-advertising laws) ) get yours today!
motto is, No fear, no worries, and no wimps.” GREG: The RTC Volleyball Team needs a mascot. We have
Mia rolled her eyes. I didn't know what to say. Greg was looking the following suggestions so far: a dancing
banker, a broker who does back flips, or a rat.
over my shoulder toward the pizza counter. “I see something coming,” I personally favor the vermin because they are
he said. much like the RTC, considering how they survive
by raiding the nests of other animals for
“Whatever it is,” I replied, “let's kill it and eat it. I'm starving.” goodies, they cannot be exterminated (except by
The pizza landed on our table. Greg sang, “When the pie hits the Congress), and they are constantly in search of
plate, like a big slab of slate, that's a pizza!” new trash heaps to call their home. Anyone who
cares to volunteer to be our mascot, with the
We all dug in. The conversation slowed down somewhat as we appropriate costume, be there at practice
stuffed our faces. There were many other things I wanted to say and ask, tomorrow night and we'll vote.
but I figured there would be time. Besides, I knew that if I did too much GREG: Last weekend's Whitewater Rafting Adventure was
talking, I wouldn't get my own good share of the pizza. a total blast. After our introductory lecture
by Gary the Fascist Kayaker, with instructions
So we ate and chatted a little more and then left. When we got back on how not to hit each other over the head with
to the office, they all wished me luck, and Greg walked me back to my our paddles, three rafts full of RTC sailors set
cube. I felt like I had just gotten the accelerated introduction to the fun forth on the high seas. First was the Pocono
Valdez, commanded by Noel Oakentender, who
people. promptly dumped his crew in the cold river.
Second was the SS Minnow II, whose captain,
yours truly, Greg Arius, was most admired for
That was my first day on the job, but it wasn't my last lunch with his very impressive booties and windbreaker and
Greg. There was a reason why they had named him our Activities for the aerodynamic sweep of his tied-back hair.
Third was the HMS Invincible, commanded by
Coordinator. I don't know how much work he got done, but it seems like Warren Pease, who began his rule of terror by
every week ) and especially in the summertime ) there was another stalking and sinking the Pocono Valdez not once,
e-mail announcement like these: but twice. Commander Pease also prevented
mutiny by "accidentally" running through the
roughest part of the rapids, causing his second-
in-command, Dick Mobie, to fall overboard ) and
GREG: RTC Collector's Edition Mugs are now available incidentally leaving himself as the only male on
) only $5 each! Act before QVC buys our com- board with a boatload of women. All the heavy
plete supply and starts selling them for twice fighters were dead by lunch, after which a truce
the price! Perhaps you are a new employee or was negotiated and the remainder of the trip was
maybe you have already bought a mug and you know made in peace. Reporting from the RTC, where
how coool they are. You might be asking your- the rule is, Sink and swim!
self, "How can I obtain such an accessory to
cooolness and thus elevate myself to an elite GREG: For Tuesday's Naked Frisbee lunch in the park,
class?" The answer is simple: $5 will buy you the Barbecue Steering Committee and the Frisbee

118
Subcommittee have met and the following resolu- Doug.
tions were passed. Jim is bringing the charcoal
and other accessories for the grill group. One option at lunchtime was to go “walking around the industrial
Rhett is bringing things from the meat group, park with a bunch of dweebs,” as Warren Pease described the crowd who
like wieners and cowmeat to char. Connie is
bringing the bread group on which we'll place didn't go running but instead just went for a stroll outside the office
things from the meat group after they are done building. But this crew of runners was too proud for that. Instead, we
on the grill group. She is also bringing her piled into Doug's Jeep and other vehicles and went over to a path through
family and some type of entertainment, probably
adult movies. Ritu is bringing the fruit and the woods next to a big river.
vegetable group. I am bringing plates, condoms, The runners' group included a half-dozen guys and two or three
and lawn darts. We need volunteers to provide
a few other items ... women, and they taught me the meaning of pain. But it was good pain,
like people would ordinarily have to pay for. With them, I ran my fastest
* * * * * four miles ever on that beautiful path, one perfect autumn day, giving
thanks to St. Geronimo for helping me to move like a bat out of hell.
There just couldn't have been a better reminder that there was more to life
Running than RLIS forms and Inherited firms.
After running, the guys would all assemble in the shower room, and
I think it was possible, at the RTC, to get yourself into just one little we'd be talking back and forth about running conditions and what kinds
group and let those people be your friends forever. That's not how it of running shoes we liked best, and about some upcoming ten-kilometer
worked for me, though. Sometimes I hung out with Greg's lunchtime race. According to tradition, the guy who ran the fastest time got into the
crew; sometimes I'd socialize with people from the RLIS group; and for shower first, and it was great to get that honor myself, once or twice, if
a while, I was a runner with the lunchtime runners. only because I didn't like to sit around and stink.
There were some serious runners there: Joe, who ran marathons, and I was getting a great runner's high from all this exercise. Eventually,
Jim, built like a Greek god, and Doug, the guy who gave us all the signal I had to admit that my daze was lasting all afternoon. After showering,
that it was time to go running, with e-mails like this: I'd go back to my cube, where I'd sit with a stupid grin on my face, like I'd
been smoking dope, my feet so beat that I needed a toe truck. A couple
of times I had to go out and take these really long naps to snap out of it.
DOUG: 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; You add that to the two-hour lunch break I was using already to run and
All mimsy were the borogoves, eat, and it got to where I was finding it hard to cook up screwy new
And the mome raths outgrabe.
important things to do, there in my ridiculous job that nobody understood.
Assemble, all you slithy toves, and let's I felt a little guilty about this, so I finally went back to running by
go off to gyre and gimble. It doesn't get myself in the morning, before work. So then, for the rest of my time at
any more brillig than this.
the RTC, the running guys were asking me when I was going to join them
again, telling me what a good time I was missing at lunch, and I knew
These guys ran every workday of the year, including one winter day they were right.
when the office was closed for bad weather. “Neither snow nor sleet nor
gloom of night keeps these couriers from their appointed rounds,” quoth

120
GREG: Ah, no, we sang a slightly different version of
that tune:
E-mail as a Reality Device Take me out to the auction
The RTC's selling land
As we coped with our work at the RTC, the stream of reality ran Buy me a condo or vacant mall
I don't care if swamps cover it all
through our lives in entertaining ways. It was especially helpful to be able
to jump into the flow of chit-chat on e-mail, like this string of messages ME: And that didn't stop the rain?
that we tossed back and forth over a period of several days, one summer: GREG: Sadly, no. The gods were mad, and it poured.
We then engaged in a discussion of the purpose
of the RTC and of our existence here. Peter
Doutt asked if we were just making life easier
GREG: I took a philosophy course in college. One day, for the truly rich people of the country. I
my professor told us about alternative reali- responded with the most helpful thing I could
ties. He said there are things that exist, think of:
things that don't exist, and things that exist
only in non-existent worlds. Being a simple man Arty Farty had a party
who lived a simple life, I pondered this nugget Everyone was there
of wisdom and then muttered, "Huh?" The prof, Tutti Fruity blew a beauty
seeing my difficulty, expounded: "In baseball, And everyone went out for air
sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and
sometimes it rains." Peter replied that the RTC was hopeless and he
just didn't care anymore. It is noted that he
ME: You're saying that the softball game got rained was probably the last person who did.
out last night?
ME: What I want to know is, now that it's Official
GREG: Yeah. Secretaries Week, how come all the women around
here are getting taken out to lunch and I, who
ME: I have that problem sometimes. do the work of two secretaries, am getting
nothing?
GREG: The real reason for the rain was that, when we
got out to the ball diamond and started the MIA FRIEND: Have you thought about wearing ladies'
game, some moron angered the gods of weather by clothing?
yelling "Bee Gees!" Even the most reasonable
gods have to draw the line somewhere. ME: Oh, yeah, I think about it a lot. But anyway,
I was wondering why nobody takes me out for
ME: I trust you tried to counteract the Bee Gee evil lunch.
by singing a more reasonable song, like this one
maybe: MIA: I meant, maybe they would, if you looked like a
secretary.
Take me out to the restaurant
Take me out for some chow ME: Oh. Well, I doubt it. You may not have known
Buy me a steak and some flapperjacks this, but Tara and Lucy are female. I think
I don't care if I barf or get gas they find me more tempting just the way I am.
And some root, root beer and some ice cream
You can't stay thin in this game SHARON JIRMES: Maybe they aren't hungry for a ribeye
'Cause it's one, two, three meals an hour steak. Have you told them lately how much you
That's what feeds my brain! enjoy a good salad for lunch?

122
ME: Yecch. NOEL OAKENTENDER [my fellow tech, the constant screwup]:
I should have gone to see the Yogi before
MIA: I think it's probably the legs. cooking my popcorn in the cafeteria this morn-
ing. I ran the microwave for four minutes and
ME: What? the bag was still only half cooked. Took it
out, sniffed it, put it back in for another two
MIA: Maybe you'd get taken out like a secretary, like minutes. Took it out. Still only half cooked,
me, if you had legs like mine. but now the contents were burned to a crisp.
Threw it away and bought another bag. Same
ME: I've had legs like yours before. They just thing all over again. Fifteen minutes of
weren't on you. cooking and nothing to show for it, and now the
cafeteria smells like someone set off a smoke
MIA: Oh MY! I think I may be blushing ... Yes, I bomb. This is like the time when I got stood up
definitely am blushing. by the same blind date twice in the same eve-
ning.
ME: Just because I don't have nice legs doesn't mean
I don't have FEELINGS. This all seems terribly SHARON: That really happened? That's terrible! What
sexist. did you do?
GREG: Meanwhile, I went to the mountain last night. NOEL: I gave up and bought an egg sandwich. Now I'm
nauseous. I wanted popcorn.
ME: You went where?
SHARON: No, I mean, what did you do, the time when you
GREG: I wondered what's happening with our ball team. got stood up twice in the same evening?
In search of answers, I went to the top of Mount
Liquidator yesterday to visit with Yogi NOEL: Well, I didn't call her again, I'll tell you
Youknowwhatimean. The first step of any such that much.
pilgrimmage to uncover universal truths usually
requires the seeker to strip themselves of MIA: I don't blame you one bit. You don't deserve
material items. However, I decided to keep some treatment like that. You always seem to treat
material items, especially my clothes, because women kindly.
girls and I hope guys don't swoon at the sight
of my backside like they might over Mel Gib- GREG: A gallant soul, he.
son's, and also because of the desire to main-
tain a PG rating on this e-mail and because it's SHARON: Ha. Gallantry is mostly just an excuse for men
cold in the mountains. to show up where otherwise they might not be
appreciated.
ME: Yeah? So what did you find?
ME: You know, Noel, there are people who say you
GREG: On top of the mountain the Yogi told me of the don't fit in well here. I don't agree, but they
Tao of softball, how the two parts of the ball say you're kind of a misfit.
(representing yin and yang, id and ego, good and
evil, right and left, frick and frack, etc.) are GREG: In an insane world, the only people who don't
joined by one continuous seam to form the fit are the sane ones.
perfect object, the sphere which has no end and
no beginning and is in constant rebirth. The SHARON: They say Noel should be ashamed for not fitting
softball field itself begins at the dish of in at this loony bin? Are you kidding?
nothing and extends to the infinity of the
outfield. MIA: Anyway, you guys shouldn't be picking on Noel.
We all love him. He's a nice guy.

124
ME: I hope not. Nice people make me nervous. NOEL: That's right. If you had a gun, that would make
you an outlaw.
MIA: Oh, there are some really good, nice people
here. Like Smiley, down the hall. Everybody WARREN: That's not what that slogan means.
likes him.
NOEL: Yes, it is.
ME: Except me. It's too much for me. He sees me in
the hall and says, "Hi hi." Not just hi, or SHARON: Would you two knock it off?
hello, but hi hi, like I'm his baby daughter.
And those e-mails from him! "Merry Greetings," GREG: For the weenie roast, the Activities Committee
he says. And "How is your world today?" Grrr! offers this advice:
I should just say, "My world sucks today." What to bring: old sneakers, bathing suit
(and may I say a word on behalf of my Swimsuit
MIA: I think he's sweet. Consulting business), change of clothes, sun-
block or a hat.
ME: I know. He's a good guy at heart, despite being What not to bring: alcohol, drugs, jew-
so nice. He can't help it. But I prefer Matt elry, expensive cameras, pets, automatic weap-
Hadder, who walks down the hall talking to ons, all-terrain vehicles, RLIS forms.
himself. At least that seems like appropriate
professional behavior. ME: I'm not sure I'm going to the weenie roast.
Twelve bucks is too much for a weenie.
NOEL: I talk to myself sometimes too.
SHARON: It's not just weenies. It's chicken and corn
ME: Atta boy. and potatoes. Cheap! Typical male!

GREG: I asked Matt if he did acid with Timothy Leary ME: What can I say? I'm no weenie-lover.
during his Harvard days. He just sort of
chuckled. Now that's not a denial in my book. SHARON: You're no weenie, all right. You're the wurst.
Do we need more evidence, or should we just go
ahead and run the story in the newsletter? ME: I just know they're going to have casseroles out
there.
ME: To me, Matt looks like the physicist in "Repo
Man." SHARON: Casseroles, yeah, OK. So what's the matter with
casseroles?
WARREN PEASE: Anybody else bringing automatic weapons to
the office picnic? ME: I grew up in the Midwest. I got sick of casse-
roles.
GREG: I think the park has a rule against automatic
weapons. SHARON: What does the Midwest have to do with casse-
roles?
WARREN: No weapons? Geez. I suppose they don't allow
explosives either? ME: A Midwesterner is a person who knows how to make
casseroles for everything from breakfast to
SHARON: This is a weenie roast, not a war. Just bring dessert.
your weenie.
GLORIA THUNRYTHE: The weenie roast is not just about
NOEL: Yeah, no guns. Guns should be outlawed. food. It's twelve bucks for a good time.

WARREN: If guns were outlawed, then only outlaws would ME: Now, that's different. What kind of good time
have guns. are we talking about here?

126
GLORIA: Boo! Hiss! discussed the Lazarus case, and decided against
doing any more resurrections of the dead. The
GREG: It's not just him. The whole RLIS unit is practice has been in disfavor ever since.
boycotting the weenie roast.
NOEL: Hey, I didn't know the Bible had such cool
ME: Yeah, I guess we're a strange bunch. stories.

MIA: That's all right, Ray. I still think you're a MIA: That's not the real story! Greg, tell him
good person, despite what everyone else says. you're making it up.

ME: Sorry. I'm in a funk. I'm sitting here on the ME: You know, Greg, now that you mention it, I do
Help Desk this week. I always feel a little have a sort of religious story of my own to
weird when this happens. tell. This morning, I was kneeling on the flat
part of my roof at home, over the kitchen,
MIA: The Help Desk? And you have time to fool around praying for guidance. And then, at the very
on the e-mail? Aren't you supposed to be at crack of dawn, as the sun's first rays hit me,
work now? I looked up, and there it was. It was the face
of Elvis, the King, smiling down at me from
ME: That's what I ask myself every day, after I've somewhere over Conshohocken. I lost all track
been here an hour or two. of time. It seems like I was there forever,
gazing at him. Finally, almost apologetically,
MIA: No, I mean, haven't you got some new filing he faded away. His smile was the last to go.
assignment from Tara and Candy? But he lives, and with this knowledge I carry
on. He touched me, and I'll never be the same.
SHARON: Yeah. Surely there's something to do in the I was so inspired, I went downstairs and had a
RLIS unit today that requires at least a mas- nanna sandwich and decided not to trim my
ter's degree in mail sorting, or other useful sideburns.
business skills, like the last time you were on
the Help Desk. That last assignment was God- GREG: During moments of constipation, I see Elvis and
awful. I'd have wept. am reminded of the gentle benefits of a diet
with fiber.
GREG: Or maybe at least you could give Bible lessons
in there. MIA: You guys ...

ME: Bible lessons? Me give Bible lessons? SHARON: I'll write the article for the National En-
quirer. If anyone has any additional sugges-
GREG: Like this. You know the story of Lazarus in the tions as to what Ray might have seen and experi-
Bible? enced in this miraculous moment, send them to
me.
ME: Lazarus? Yeah. He's the guy Jesus raised from
the dead. GREG: The Enquirer should be informed that Elvis told
Ray about being molested by Michael Jackson as
GREG: Well, the rest of the story is that, once he was a child.
back to life, he declared, "Ah ) this is the
life!" and that's where that phrase originated. GLORIA: I think you should turn your rooftop into a
He went on to found a gambling and prostitution shrine, maybe charge admission.
ring in Jerusalem from which he amassed a
tremendous fortune during the remainder of his MIA: I guess it's a relief to know that you're just
long re-life. In A.D. 40, not long after Jesus crazy, and not dangerous.
had left the scene, the disciples assembled,

128
ME: You're just jealous because I saw Elvis and you SHARON: Whether they're real or not, they're schmucks.
didn't.
GLORIA: I don't know what's the matter with Sal. He's
GREG: Hey, anybody interested in pizza for lunch? acting really weird.

MIA: I'm game. WARREN: He was acting like that last week too, but then
somebody hit him over the head with a bat, and
GREG: Game? Wild game? Hey, I'm so hungry ... he straightened right out.

MIA: I'm blushing again. ME: How did he even get that job? It doesn't seem
like he's qualified to be anyone's boss.
ME: Better stick with the original plan. Order the
pizza. My money is on its way down to you. GREG: The basic rule in life is that the one with the
greatest ability to make himself miserable wins.
GREG: The pizza hath been ordered. The emissary hath Sal is very good at being miserable. Therefore,
been dispatched. The crow flieth west. he's a boss.

MIA: East. Pizza Hut is east. Tell the crow to fly NOEL: Hey, does anybody know what's the matter with
east. that phone next to my cubicle? It rings, so I
walk over and pick it up, but all I get is this
ME: Next time, we'll get Mexican food with café olé. whistling in my ear.
NOEL: Gloria, what's with Sal Manella? He looks WARREN: That's not a phone, numbnuts, it's a fax. Leave
really grim today. it alone.

GLORIA: Oh, tell me about it! He almost bit my head off ME: Maybe Sal is having a midlife crisis. Sometimes
when he came in. lawyers discover that they have spent their
youth messing around with trivia and paperwork,
NOEL: Maybe it's just the full moon. and it's a great shock to them.

SHARON: That, or he's hung over. MIA: That's what my parents say too. They say youth
is wasted on the young.
NOEL: He drinks a lot, right? I heard he has
schlerosis of the liver. WARREN: When people say that, what they mean is that
they only had the nerve to really live when they
WARREN: It's cirrhosis, not schlerosis. were young, or maybe not even then.

NOEL: That's what I meant. Multiple cirrhosis. The GLORIA: Sal's kind of scary sometimes. The other day,
liver and the colon, passing on in women some- he was supposed to be at a meeting. He thought
times to the semicolon and the period. they had all agreed to meet in his office. So
he sat there, getting madder and madder, until
WARREN: Are you serious? finally somebody came and escorted him down to
the conference room, where everybody else was
GREG: Maybe Sal is just unhappy. Even cowboys get the waiting. He was so mad, I was afraid he might
blues. come out and attack me.

NOEL: What cowboys? ME: Maybe he's just nuts.

GREG: There aren't REALLY any cowboys, but it helps us WARREN: In this world, there are worse things than being
feel better to BELIEVE there are cowboys. nuts. Being like everyone else, for instance.

130
ME: Or depressed. Maybe he's going through a period Now go forth into the boocoocy and resolve the
of psychological depression. They say that, if crisis, restore the confidence, and kill many
you're depressed, you lose your interest in your trees for documentation.
job, family, and even sex. Response: Blessed be the crisis, death to the
trees.
GLORIA: He's definitely not going through a depression,
then. WARREN: My nine-millimeter rod and my bodyguard staff,
they comfort me.
NOEL: Maybe he should just get out and meet some
people. SHARON: Greg, I didn't know you were such a religious
man. First the story of Lazarus, and now this
WARREN: He doesn't know how to deal with people. He's responsive reading.
a lawyer, remember.
GREG: I speak only of the oneness of all things, all
NOEL: Or he could join a social club. I did, re- things together forming reality. I speak to you
cently. of the universe as a whole.

MIA: Well, that's nice! Which club did you join? WARREN: What do you think of the rectum as a whole?
NOEL: The Dumb Friends League. SHARON: Hey, no trash allowed online! Keep it clean,
fella.
MIA: Oh, Dumb Friends is really nice. Have you
adopted an animal yet? WARREN: I guess I'm not much of a philosopher.
NOEL: An animal? No. Why would I? GLORIA: When I was little, I felt a kind of oneness with
my cat. It was like she and I were thinking the
MIA: Well, Dumb Friends is ... uh ... same thoughts.
WARREN: Never mind, Noel. Mia made an erroneous assump- ME: I'm like that with sheep sometimes.
tion.
MIA: I call my cat a bureaucat because he likes to
NOEL: You're not supposed to do that. Remember what climb up on the dresser.
they say: if you make an assumption, you make
an ass of you and me. GLORIA: But honestly, don't you feel like you have
something in common with other living things?
GREG: I believe it's time for a bit of inspiration. Sometimes, when I pick up someone's kitty and
Let us recite together: look into its eyes, I remember what it was like
to be with my kitty when I was little. It's
Blessed be the crisis which we have been given like my inner child comes back out.
to restore.
Response: Blessed be the crisis WARREN: Not me. I spent twenty years getting my inner
child to leave me alone. No way I'm going to
Blessed be the crisis which hath given birth to wake that dude up. Let sleeping dogs lie.
RLIS, which is such a wonderful system and
ruleth my waking hours. ME: Right. Kick it once in a while, to make sure
Response: Blessed be the crisis it's still sleeping, but otherwise leave it
alone.
Blessed be the crisis which hath given us the
need to restoreth the confidence. GREG: Without that sense of oneness with the universe,
Response: Blessed be the crisis there really is no answer to the question of how

132
can you prove that we're really here? How can ME: Sort of like mind over matter, eh?
you prove we're not just imagining all this?
WARREN: Yeah. I don't mind because you don't matter.
SHARON: I can prove I'm not imagining all this. I
wouldn't be able to imagine all this. Compared NOEL: I just think it's important to roll with the
to this, my dreams are simple. punches, grin and bear it. It helps to have a
self-defecating sense of humor.
ME: I know things are real because they stay where
I leave them, most of the time. I wouldn't be SHARON: One thing I know. If you're smart, you better
able to remember them otherwise: hide it. As long as people think you're an
idiot, you can do whatever stupid thing you
People say my memory's shot want, and people will assume you're just being
I used to know why, but I forgot. yourself. But if you're smart and you do
something stupid, they assume that you intended
WARREN: If I was going to make it up, this isn't the way the stupid act, along with all its stupid
I'd do it. consequences, and they'll hate you forever.

GLORIA: I don't think I'm imagining all this. I get up NOEL: I guess I never had that problem.
every morning, and I'm glad to be alive. I say
to myself, "Today is the first day of what's
left of the rest of your life."
*****
ME: It's easier to be positive like that when you're
in your twenties.

GLORIA: Why would that make any difference? Being Bad, Nationwide
ME: Oh, your twenties are the most important part of
your life. That's when you make the decisions Floating down the river of BULL, I used e-mail to stay in touch, not
that you spend the rest of your life trying to only with my friends there in the office, but also with people in other RTC
get out of. It's like running through the offices across the country.
bushes naked ) it's great fun when you do it.
The poison ivy doesn't start bothering you until As with so many of the things that make a job enjoyable, the fun
later. started with an honest attempt to get my work done. I made a couple of
NOEL: Speaking of which, you know, rectal cream works basic discoveries, about RTC management, that changed everything for
really well on poison ivy. me.
WARREN: Here we are, back to talking about the universe First, I discovered that most of the RLIS managers, in the various
again. RTC offices, were either not very smart or not very interested in how my
SHARON: Noel, I'm not even going to ask how you made
job actually worked. This made it easier for me to come up with halfway
that discovery about rectal cream. believable excuses for almost any screwy thing I might care to do.
Second, I discovered that managers were afraid to take a position on
GLORIA: I think the world is whatever kind of place you
expect it to be. If you have a great attitude, an issue. They were afraid of getting blamed for something, so they'd
you have a good life. Or if you portray your- refer it to a committee. And the committee would take forever to decide.
self as a sorry ass, people will treat you like
that. This created a great opening for me and other technicians in the
RTC. You see, unlike the managers, we actually had to try to accomplish

134
something. So when management would leave a vacuum, we'd move in
and fill it with our own theories on how things should be done. And this
was the best way to solve problems, because the managers didn't know as Online with the Show
much as we did about the problem, and half of the solutions they
Between sending out information, and asking questions of my fellow
suggested didn't work. Once we figured out the answer to a problem, it
LOC techs around the country, I reached a point where I wouldn't hesitate
was safe for the managers to come along, take a look, and eventually
to send an e-mail message to one of the LOC technicians ) Stan Dupp in
decide that this would be the officially approved way of doing it.
Atlanta, Wanda Gogh in Dallas, Albie Kuhl in California, Allison
This system worked pretty well. The people who were more
Wunderland in Washington, Patty Caique in Denver, and Anita Bier in
interested in political games and in protecting their butts became
Kansas City. It was as easy as sending a message down the hall to Greg
managers, which helped keep them out of the way.
Arius.
I also discovered that managers liked to hold onto information, so as
It started out as a bunch of work relationships, but we ended up
to make themselves seem more important. There were exceptions, like
being friends. Every now and then, we'd resort to the e-mail just to blow
Shirley Eugeste, the RLIS manager in the Denver office, who would
off steam and have some fun, like one time when I whipped up this
immediately give information to everyone who needed it. But in my own
confection:
office, Tara would hold onto her information, and would parcel it out only
when she had to. This way, she could remind us that she was dealing with ME: Thick bars of chocolate, dark and luscious.
things that were far beyond us, and that we needed her to handle such Heaving mounds of ice cream, dappled with buds
of almond. Raspberry tortes, languid in rainbow
important matters. pools of syrup, whitened with wild waves of
Since managers were not sharing a lot of useful information, we whipped cream. Espresso sets the palate alive;
technicians, in most of the offices around the country, were forever having nips of cognac excite it ...
to guess at what was going on. To help my fellow workers, whenever I'd ALBIE: I realize you MUST be speaking of dessert, but
come across a useful piece of information, I'd blab it to everyone across why am I all of a sudden flushed as if I were
reading a romance novel???
the U.S. who I thought might be interested.
Once or twice, someone in management complained that it wasn't PATTY: Oh MY!
my business to be sending such information all over the place. But there ANITA: Where, when, let's go now!
was usually an exception, or an explanation, or something that would
allow me to carry on as usual. Besides, sometimes even the managers
were getting their information through me, when I'd share a bit of Once we were all friends, people in those other offices would tell me
information that they hadn't heard yet. about the fun things happening around them. In this way, I got to share
My friends appreciated my efforts, so I expanded my missionary in the sense of adventure when 400,000 people arrived in Denver to see
activity. If I cooked up a useful spreadsheet, or if I did some kind of the Pope and to use the bathrooms in the RTC's offices. (I spent some
calculation or other research that I thought they could use, I'd send it to time in the Denver office, at one point, so I knew some of the people
them. It got to be a standard part of what I considered my job. there.) They told about the special beer being brewed for the event,
Popevisitus, and about people selling Pope-on-a-Rope on the streets. We
debated whether this Pope was one of the greatest Italians who ever lived,

136
until someone pointed out that this Pope was not Italian. ME: Which part is false ) she's not pregnant, you
weren't dating the other one in Denver, or what?
Another time, I shared the worry when the Denver people had to
evacuate because of a bomb threat. (Evidently their Help Desk was not
keeping the public satisfied.) And when they went out for a happy hour The long-distance games could get out of hand. One time, I sent an
drink, they would invite me along, but I was usually not able to join them e-mail to the RLIS boss in Denver, Shirley Eugeste, to tell her that I
because they did not give me four days' advance notice to make the 2,000- wanted to get a transfer to that office but that I only had 24 hours to
mile trip. arrange it. She needed someone badly at that point, and they tell me she
I was also in close touch with some RLIS techs in the California went running all over the place to set up my transfer. It wasn't until the
office. They loved to tell everyone about the shenanigans in their office, end of the day that I finally reminded her it was April Fool's Day. I'm not
like when they celebrated one tech's wedding by water ballooning him sure she ever forgave me.
right there in the office, or how they all drew names from a hat to have
Secret Pals and buy gifts for each other, or when they bought an inflatable
companion as a birthday present for one of their lonely male techs. Halloween
We had fun at the expense of one guy in the Denver office, who left
Denver to take a job in another RTC office. We set it up by secret e-mails At Halloween, the California office went a little crazy. One year,
to each other, and then we started this exchange of e-mails with him: they all dressed up according to the theme of “RLIS Hospital.” Some of
them were orderlies (with names like M.T. Bedpan); others were doctors
and nurses (Dr. Nina Nockers, etc.); and one got to be a plastic surgery
SALLY VAYSHON [a tech in Denver]: Ralph, I hear patient, wearing balloons under her blouse and a big old plastic butt
congratulations are in order! I thought you
were going to leave the little woman behind when sticking out the back of her hospital gown. Another patient had a pillow
you left Denver, but now they tell me you're in her tummy and gave birth to a monkey doll, delivered by a plastic
taking her with you and getting married! hatchet that would let out a bloodcurdling scream whenever they swung
ALICE PORYORIK [another Denver tech]: Ralph, I had no it.
idea, but I'm really glad for you! Meanwhile, I had my own Halloween party plans. I was chasing a
RALPH ALFA [the guy who moved to the other office]: What lawyer in our office named Deb O'Nair. She and I decided to try to get a
is this? Are people in Denver saying that I'm bunch of people together on Halloween, to set up a group costume and go
engaged? Who's spreading these rumors?
find a parade somewhere.
[A few days later:] The costume idea was that we would all go as the Ford Line. One
ME: Ralph, I've heard of moving fast, but this is
of us could be the Escort, with top hat and tails, and somebody could be
ridiculous. Someone in Denver was telling me the Fiesta, decked out in colors with a party hat and noisemaker, and
last week that you've already got a girlfriend somebody else could be the Taurus, a bull. We had room for more: the
in the new office, and she's pregnant! Is this
why you had to move to that office? What Ranger, the Explorer, etc.
happened to the woman you were dating in Denver? Me, I wanted to be the Probe. Deb and I tossed some ideas back and
RALPH: WHO GAVE YOU THAT INFORMATION? IT IS TOTALLY forth, like how we could get Ford stickers from a dealer, and maybe we
FALSE!!! could put butt bumpers on everybody. We agreed: it would be a gas.

138
But nobody seemed very intested in Halloween, since this was not
a crazy place like New York City. So it wound up being just me and Deb
going out on the town, with her as Dracula and me as a sort of last-minute The Clothes Make the Man
thrown-together werewolfish kind of character with big red lips. We
When I started at the RTC, I had four ordinary suits, plus two other
wandered around for a while before settling into a bar with loud music
suits that I wore only on special occasions because they were more
and lots of rowdies.
expensive and they looked better.
A couple hours later, we were back at her place. I craved her body,
After a couple of weeks of wearing just the four suits, I realized I
but suddenly the shys hit me, her being an official lawyer and all. So I
had to get some variety in my wardrobe. I thought maybe I should go out
wound up giving her this big, awkward hug, hoping she'd grind up against
and spend hundreds of dollars on new suits, so I could be nicely dressed
me a little. She didn't, although I thought that maybe it was just because
when I was hauling files around the basement of an abandoned rug
we were both still in those crazy costumes.
warehouse.
So then it seemed weird that I hugged her, so I pretended it was the
I considered that idea for about five seconds and then decided
first step in my process of saying goodnight. She didn't seem really
against it. Instead, I went into the closet and pulled out the reserves.
devastated by that either, but just in case I was reading the situation
The “reserves” were two polyester-blend suits that I had bought
wrong, I thought I may as well give her one more big hug, along with a
years earlier. The seats were a little shiny, and the pockets were held
kiss on the cheek. She took all this graciously, and then opened the door
together by iron-on patches. These pants were on their last legs, but if I
and told me to drive safely.
used them, I would increase the size of my wardrobe by 50%.
But it had been fun, so I sent her a couple of “Hey, wasn't that fun?”
I tried one of the suits on. It still fit fine. I made sure the cleaners
e-mails in the next few days. It was OK. We were friends, and I was
had removed all of the makeup from one year when I wore it as a
never going to have her body.
Halloween costume. I glanced in the mirror and shrugged. It looked OK.
Meanwhile, Noel Oakentender had an entirely different kind of
What the hell. I was only a technician.
Halloween. He decided not to join Deb and me in the Ford Line because
Months went by, and I got tired of wearing suits at all. I noticed that
he had already bought a ticket for a party bus that would supposedly go
more and more of my fellow employees were just wearing sweaters and
all over town, to all the best clubs, with a bunch of wild and crazy people.
semi-casual pants, and I decided to try the same thing. Nobody
But the bus wound up being an hour late, so he had to wait for it in the
squawked, so I kept moving away from the idea that I had to dress
cold in a parking lot; then, on one of the stops, he fell and got scraped up;
decently in the office. Sometimes it got a little out of hand, where I'd be
and then they accidentally left him behind at a bar about twenty miles
experimenting with a checkered vest, striped shirt, and dotted tie, but
from his home. By the time he realized that he'd been abandoned, he was
usually I seemed to pass the stare test OK.
pretty much drunk and helpless. But he was having a good time, so he
Eventually, the shiny black shoes wore out. Again, I faced the
just kept on partying. He eventually passed out there in that bar, but he
option of spending eighty bucks for a replacement pair, or instead just
was dressed up as an old man, so nobody helped him because they all
wearing these shapeless brown things I had in the closet. I decided that
thought it was part of the act. Before the night was over, he lost his
the brown ones wouldn't show nearly as much damage from snow and salt
wallet. God only knows how he got home.
in the wintertime, and also that I hated shopping for shoes, especially
when “shopping” involved spending money without a wardrobe allowance
from my employment.

140
It wasn't a perfect situation, but sometimes I was surprised that office. We're talking gorgeous, intelligent career ladies with great bodies,
people would actually compliment me on some shirt that I thought was women who made two or three times as much money as I did and spent
horrendous, and sometimes my crummy clothes would accidentally come as much as they wished on fine clothing and the accessories of beauty.
together in a sort of avant-garde look. On those days, I think I was I admit, my clothes and my RLIS tech job weren't super-impressive,
especially attractive. Still and all, the clothes didn't fit well, the old pants and my hair was vanishing at a great clip. I knew these women would
jammed my cheeks together, and it could be hell to wear this stuff on top have treated me better if I had been incredibly rich and handsome. Then
of thermal underwear in the winter. again, if I had been incredibly rich and handsome, I wouldn't have been
It kept on like that, one little decision after another. I won't tell you working at the RTC.
that I eventually came to look like a homeless person, there in my cube at In my view, if these women were so darned intelligent, they would
the RTC. Instead, I'll tell you that, a month or two after I left the RTC, I see that there was more to me than RLIS forms, polyester, and beat-up
found myself standing in front of a mirror, wearing some of the clothes brown leather. What these women really wanted, I believed, was a man
that I had been wearing at the RTC. I just glanced up at the mirror, and who had character, someone who drove a twelve-year-old pickup truck
suddenly I was shocked. “Did I really dress like this at that place?” I with a big wooden box on the back.
wondered. I guess I must have. But the good news is, I got to use up It's not like I had a lot of time for this. I really didn't get into the
some crappy old clothes that I would never have had the nerve to wear to whole dating and chasing scene. Besides, I knew perfectly well that
a real job. gorgeous women were put on earth for no purpose other than to make
everyone, including themselves, miserable. So I'll just summarize, here,
my brief experience with the forbidden act of dipping one's pen into the
Fishing Off the Company Pier company inkwell:
Our office was at least fifty percent female. Believe it or not, some
Penny Trait. Oy, did this woman have a body. She was a
of those women were not only single, but also attractive.
sight to be held. Her last boyfriend was a partner in a major law
I would not say that I spent my day chasing women. I was too busy
firm. I showed her a copy of a funny article I had written. She
sending screwy e-mails, going out to lunch, and punching holes. But I did
didn't like it. The conversation lasted about four minutes. After
have some spare time, every now and then, to think about the possibility
that, she avoided me in the hallways.
of finding myself a girlfriend. And I know this sounds weird, but at those
Betty Bie. A tall, shapely brunette with a brilliant mind. After
moments, I would actually wonder if maybe I should hit on the women in
six months on the job, I worked up the courage to introduce myself
the office.
) by e-mail. She informed me, in a cordial but clear reply, that she
I, myself, am tall, skinny, college educated, and somewhere between
would not be interested in going out with someone she didn't know.
25 and 55 years old, which means that, in my wildest dreams, I could
Ann Tellope. A young, long-haired blond with a sweet smile
probably approach almost any woman on earth and, if I could keep a
and a white convertible. She worked upstairs, so I never had an
straight face, I would have at least some kind of prayer that she would
excuse to visit her. This was another e-mail self-introduction,
take me halfway seriously.
because I didn't have the nerve to approach her in person. She said
In other words, I was able to begin this search for companionship by
she hoped we would be good friends. That was the last I ever heard
telling myself, on those steamy nights of long thought and short sleep, that
from her.
I could compete for the most outrageously good-looking women in the

142
Sally Schuss. This woman's chest has probably been responsi- that she didn't want to sleep with me, I moved on to the next phase,
ble for a number of auto accidents caused by male drivers who which was, of course, to despise her.
totally forgot about the car in front of them. I can't say she was the
brightest thing in the world, but how important is intelligence,
really? My own involvement with her was rather limited. I held out There really weren't too many others. Five or ten, maybe. But I
the possibility that we might go out on a date, and she seemed to think you see what I mean. A guy probably should try his hand at meeting
think about it. That was probably our most intimate moment. someone nice, if he can spare the time. But if at first you don't succeed,
Kay Malone. A thirtyish blond who had never had a relation- try again, then quit. No sense being a damned fool about it. Besides, I
ship that lasted more than a month. We actually went out on a date. could handle rejection OK. I got a lot of practice at it.
I think she needed to prove to herself that she was broad-minded So when nothing came of all my dating effort, I took a leave of
enough to accept someone like me. Turns out she was wrong. End abstinence from my fertile attraction, and instead just did my job and hung
of story. out with my friends. But then, one day, I was startled to realize that I was
Sarah Ann Dippity. A twentyish, skinny high school graduate exchanging an awful lot of personal e-mails with Sharon Jirmes, another
who might actually have been interested in starting a relationship; one of Greg's lunch buddies. Sharon and I had started out casually
but first, she wanted to go out occasionally during a brief explor- enough, but now it was going beyond that. Our e-mails started to look
atory period ) say, two or three years. like this:
Leigh Atard. An occasional member of Greg's group, with
whom I exchanged some fairly torrid e-mails at one time or another.
But despite the flirting, somehow we never got beyond an SHARON: Do you live with your mother?
electroplatonic relationship. ME: Huh?
Ann Allosis. An intense big-city woman who could never
SHARON: Believe it or not, there are a lot of grown men
decide if she liked me, hated me, or should just ignore me. I guess who do.
I have a slow reaction time. It seems like I was always prepared for
the wrong mood with her. Believe it or not, this woman actually ME: Gee. I never thought of it. Maybe I could have
been saving rent money all this time.
asked me out for a date one time. I just wasn't sure it was safe to
take off my helmet, and therefore I missed the moment of opportu- SHARON: I'm sorry I called you a loser yesterday. I was
only teasing.
nity.
Wilma Shipcummin. A divorced mom who wasn't doing such ME: I was not offended. Some of my best friends are
losers.
a good job of taking care of herself, but who had a nice smile, a
decent attitude, and no interest in me. SHARON: I'm a little bit tipsy. I had Japanese wine at
Chris Pankold. A cute, smart brunette with short hair and lunch, and now I'm hiccupping.
such a clipped professional attitude that I couldn't even work up the ME: What I want to know is, what are we going to do
nerve to send her an e-mail. Most memorable moment: a conversa- when they close down the RTC and we're all out
of jobs?
tion about how we both seemed to have the same kind of throat
infection. When I realized that she was gorgeous and also realized SHARON: There must be something. Maybe we could sell
goods in the parking lot at concerts. You know,

144
Grateful Dead paraphernalia, love beads, smoking ME: I guess I was thinking ... no, that wasn't me.
accessories ...
SHARON: Huh?
ME: We could use my truck.

SHARON: Perfect! Just the two of us, crusing around,


forgetting about reality. And just when I was about ready to give up on romance, I fell into
ME: Not like now. something with Sharon. We started getting together on weekends, and
then on weeknights after work, and suddenly I had a lady in my life.
SHARON: No, not like that. At first, we were discreet about it in the office. We'd be all business
ME: Well, whatever happens, I feel like things will until lunchtime. We'd go out for lunch together, and when we got back
work out OK for me. to work, we'd make out in her car for a little while. Then we'd walk back
SHARON: And what is the source of this confidence? into the office, sometimes forgetting to stop holding hands, and I think
some people from the Legal Division probably saw us doing that.
ME: Material concerns are not ordinarily a problem
for His Chosen One. Also, Greg Arius had this amusing habit of slipping into people's
cubes when they stepped away, and going into their e-mail and sending
SHARON: Are you His Chosen One? weird messages to other people. The e-mail system would automatically
ME: It will all become clearer to you bye and bye. stamp the sender's name on the message, and it couldn't be changed, so
you'd go look at your e-mail and you'd see that you had received these
SHARON: I think it's pretty clear right now.
really odd messages from people like the receptionist or the Personnel
ME: I think I have always assumed I was the Messiah. department manager. Once or twice, Greg got into my cube and sent me
I must confess that I was a bit disappointed
when the age of 30 came and went and I did not e-mail messages from myself:
find myself with any great new powers.

SHARON: I think I have always assumed that I could get


a job in a massage parlor, if push came to To: Ray Woodcock
shove. From: Ray Woodcock
Re: Question for Me
ME: If you got a job in a massage parlor, I guaran- --------------------------------------------
tee that push would come to shove. Like, why am I e-mailing myself? Am I just trying to
remember something, or have I lost my @#$!ing mind?
SHARON: You know, they're talking about us.

ME: Who is?


I think that, at those times, Greg probably saw the e-mails that were sitting
SHARON: People. The gossips. They're saying we've got on my machine, including the racy ones from Sharon. He wasn't known
a thing going.
for keeping secrets, and I believe he let the word out.
ME: I hadn't really thought about it, but it's not Finally, Mia asked me, “What's going on between you and Sharon?”
an entirely crazy idea. and I said, “Nothing, and I can't tell you.” She said, “What does that
SHARON: You hadn't thought about it? mean?” I replied, “That means you heard it here first.”
It was really nice to have a relationship in the office. Sharon was

146
incredibly sexy, and I got into the habit of dragging her from her cube to
the stairwell, where I could grope her and could hear if anyone was GREG: As Director of Covert Operations, of course, I
have access to the special investigation files.
approaching. We spent a lot of lunches together in the cafeteria or, in I have recently looked at the file on you and
summertime, picnicking at the park by the river. Once in a while during have discovered that you are a sexual deviant,
like to drive a beat-up pickup truck and wear
the workday, the computers stopped working or we just got bored, and at women's panties on your head. Also, we have
those times we went to her car or wandered out to the bushes together. Of photos of you engaging in games of Naked Pony
course, this is a book about the government, not a dime-store romance, so Ride with a certain paralegal from this depart-
ment.
I won't bore you with the extremely steamy, exciting details.
Once the world knew that we were a couple, people started to
confide in me, telling me that they, too, had a little thing going there at When I saw this e-mail, I freaked out. He didn't send it just to me.
work. One woman came around to ask my advice on where she and her He sent it to Sharon too ) and he also sent it to a half-dozen other people.
in-house boyfriend could go to make out during the workday. I took her I cooked up this reply:
on a little tour and explained the pros and cons of the library, the furnace
room, and a big storage place we called the warehouse.
And, of course, there was e-mail. Suddenly I had a maximum pen ME: I don't mind you mentioning the sexual deviancy
pal, and we were sending messages back and forth about everything: and the panties on my head, or my Naked Pony
Rides with Sharon. But you promised you would-
n't tell anyone about the truck. That was my
best-kept secret. I know the office picnic was
SHARON: Where were you during the fire drill? fun, but you seem to have gotten overly excited
by handling all those weenies. All I can say
ME: I heard the alarm and ignored it for a while, is, keep the good work up.
but it kept up, so I went down to your end of
the building to see if you were there. You
weren't. So I came back to my end of the
building, and all of a sudden I was the only one I sent this reply to him and the people he had written, and to a couple
left. This made me nervous, so I went to the of long-distance friends who I thought might enjoy it. I also sent a copy
exit. I was just about to go out the door when
I looked out across the parking lot and saw to his boss. I knew his boss let Greg get away with murder, but I also
everybody standing there, looking at the build- knew that his boss was a bureaucrat, and true bureaucrats definitely don't
ing. I decided I'd look silly going out at that
point, so I just stayed by the door until the like controversy or publicity.
alarm stopped. This set off a whole new storm, over the course of the next few
SHARON: What if it had been a real fire? You would have
hours:
been the toast of the town.

SHARON: Why did you send that e-mail to SO MANY PEO-


PLE?????
There was a bad side to letting everyone know that we were dating.
It gave people an opportunity to jump in and screw things up. One time, ME: I think they were mostly just the people that
Greg had written to.
Greg sent me this e-mail:

148
SHARON: Look again. You and I and Jonathan were the telling me how much you like me. If you don't
only people who received Greg's e-mail. want me being cocky, don't make me cocky!

ME: Shit. You're right. He had sent the OTHER one ME: Uh-oh. Sharon's on a roll. I think you should
to all those people. I got it backwards. stop by my place after work this evening.

SHARON: Great. Now half the office has a mental image SHARON: Yeah, but I have a point, don't I?
of you and me doing Naked Pony Rides.
ME: You stop by, we'll talk about it.
ME: I screwed up.
SHARON: Slimy, dude!
ANITA [LOC in K.C.]: I don't have the faintest idea who
these people are or what this e-mail was all ME: I take it that means yes.
about, but it sure was entertaining. Keep them
cards & letters coming! SHARON: How did you take it to mean that? I think you
just make things up to suit your whims.
SHARON: I have explained to Greg that you made a mistake
in sending it to so many people. He thought it ME: But I'm right, aren't I?
was funny. His boss thinks it's hilarious. I
am not so amused. I don't like people talking SHARON: You know what? I think you need a haircut.
about us dating, and I don't like them talking
behind my back, and I also don't want them ME: Fine. You can give me one. 5:30 PM.
saying this kind of thing to my face either.
SHARON: I'm scared to. What if I whack it too much?
ME: I can handle it.
Sharon and I wound up getting into a big fight over the thing. The
good news is, it gave us an excuse to make up. Making up with Sharon
on the e-mail could be fun: *****

ME: I'm really sorry about that e-mail. Conclusion: Tra La La


SHARON: It wouldn't have happened if you weren't so damn
uptight. Between dating Sharon, and going out with the lunch crews, and
laughing at Greg's goofy tricks, and running along that beautiful river, I
ME: You think I'm uptight, and I think you're a had one of the best times of my life there at the RTC. I had some decent
wacko. We are really something, the two of us.
friends and a stable job. It was never perfect, and it never felt like a
SHARON: You think I'm a wacko? I was an innocent permanent home, but while it lasted, it was good.
bystander!
ME: No, but you're so cocky, just knowing that I'm
going to come dragging my tail back around,
apologizing for stuff like this.

SHARON: You SHOULD apologize. And anyway, you shouldn't


be surprised if I'm cocky. You're always

150
you felt superior and you didn't need to prove it. But now, with the
seventeen-year-old, if older people started treating the two of you as
though you were the same age, you might feel like you had to remind him
Bureaucracy Wars
that he's just a kid and you're a grown-up.
That's how it was for my boss Tara, and her boss Lucy. Neither of
them had much previous management experience, and both of them had
been our managers for only a year or so. In fact, until Tara was promoted
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved rather
to manager, she was just another tech; even now, she was barely earning
than feared, or feared rather than loved. It might perhaps be answered
more than we were.
that we should wish to be both: but since love and fear can hardly exist
In other words, Tara and Lucy were like that 22-year-old girl who
together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than
feels the need to tell the cocky seventeen-year-old boy that she is much
loved.
more mature than he is, and that there are things he won't understand until
he grows up.
) Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
So when Tara would go into her office and close the door and get on
a conference call with her fellow managers from around the country and
discuss important subjects, like allowing law firms to charge eight cents
per photocopy, she was doing a very normal thing. She was enjoying the
little signs of success that we technicians did not have ) an office and the
During my golden days at the RTC, the world was my oyster. And
right to be treated like a manager ) because these little things told her that
that's great, as long as you like seafood. But if there's one thing you can
she had made it. She had become a leader. She was allowed, now, to
count on, it's that you can't count on anything, and eventually the seasons
have her very own rubber stamp for her signature.
changed for me.
To be sure, Tara and Lucy had different styles. Lucy quietly avoided
The first big change had to do with my bosses. Maybe I can explain
us, never visiting most of the employees for whom she was responsible,
it by telling you a make-believe story.
while Tara strutted around, playing overlord. But in a way, both of them
Let's say you're a 22-year-old single woman, and a little thirteen-
were really just manager trainees. I don't think any of us wanted to insult
year-old boy comes up and asks if you would go out on a date with him.
Tara or Lucy; it's just that we'd had better managers at other jobs, and we
You might laugh, or you might just think that the kid is sweet. You might
knew something was missing here.
even go out on the date, just to show him what a date is supposed to be
In Lucy's OCM department, Lucy was mostly not in charge. She
like. But you wouldn't take any of it seriously. You'd have too much
would sit in her office on the phone, or attend meetings or do other
confidence in yourself for that. And you'd know that this kid would not
manager-type things. She was a pretty low-level manager ) her boss was
be able to offer the kinds of things you'd want from a relationship.
Barry Amenama, whose boss was Joe King, whose boss was Kay Huna,
But now, what if the boy was older? Let's say he's seventeen, and
etc. ) and she wasn't super-busy. She usually seemed to be able to make
he's terribly sure of himself. You might wonder if you really should take
it on time to lunch with her buddies in the cafeteria, and she didn't seem
him seriously; and if he got on your nerves, you might be tempted to put
to put in much overtime.
him in his place.
You'd think that Lucy could have spared the time to take more of an
You didn't have these feelings about the thirteen-year-old because

152
interest in the people and things she was responsible for. But she didn't from me, and I said, “Yeah, and I'm still waiting for answers on all of
really. I guess she just felt that she was too important to worry much them.”
about us pesky technicians and paralegals. Instead of sending e-mails, I could have just called Ann on the
For whatever reason, Lucy pretty much left the day-to-day manage- phone, except that, a lot of times, she'd be on the line or away from her
ment of her OCM department to her deputy, Ann Thrax. Ann, in turn, desk. In that case, the call would bounce to Hanna or Rhonda, and they
relied heavily on her assistant, Rhonda Gauntlett. Ann also used Hanna wouldn't be able to help me. Besides, Ann could spend weeks solving a
Fiedsmie, Lucy's assistant, along with any other paralegals or secretaries problem, and by the time she came up with an answer, I would forget
who might be available. Together, they formed quite a team. It mattered what it was all about. So I liked to keep a written record of where the
to me, because I had to work with them. And the problems went way discussion left off, as a reminder when it came back around.
beyond the isolated things I was telling about before, like the paper files E-mail is an easy kind of written reminder because you can always
and all that. What we're talking about now is fundamental issues of print out the message that appears on your computer screen. So when I
management. couldn't get an e-mail message into Ann's full message box, I'd print a
copy instead and carry it down to her office. This took a few minutes
because my cube was located in the far back corner of the RLIS area. No
Clods Gather in OCM cube in the RLIS unit was farther away from Lucy's OCM group than
mine. Tara put me there as soon as she realized how much of my work
That heading was supposed to say “CLOUDS gather,” but I typed it
involved contact with OCM. I think this was intended to foster a humble
wrong, and now that I look at it, I guess I like it more this way.
attitude in me.
Ann Thrax, attorney at law, was probably not the best manager I've
When I would carry my memo to Ann's office, I prayed that I'd see
ever seen. She was smart enough that she could have organized the OCM
her somewhere along the way, so that I could just hand it to her. But I
department, if she'd wanted to. But she didn't. I think it would have
didn't see her, I would face a problem: where should I put my memo?
bored her if everything had functioned smoothly. So instead, she screwed
Ann's office had an “in” tray, but it was really just a bureaucratic
things up.
version of the Bermuda Triangle. Papers would go into that tray and
Ann's work style was amazing. Half the time, you couldn't get
vanish, never to be seen again. I didn't like to put my memos into her “in”
messages to her on her e-mail, because her “mailbox” would already
tray.
contain its maximum limit of a hundred messages. If you tried to send her
I could have put my memos on her desk, so they would be right in
something, you'd get an e-mail error message that said, “MAILBOX
front of her when she sat down. But that seemed unwise, since the desk
FULL. MESSAGE NOT DELIVERED.” Sometimes I'd send her
was usually covered with papers. I feared that, if I did this, my memos
messages like this one:
would get lost.
Ordinarily, if all else failed, I would just put my memo on the
ME: Ann, I'm just checking to make sure your mailbox person's chair. That way, they couldn't even sit down without picking up
isn't full, in case something important comes what I had left them. But this didn't always work in Ann's office. Other
up.
people often beat me to the punch, and there would already be stacks of
paper on her seat cushion.
I did have the alternative of just throwing my memos on the floor.
One time, she claimed that 75 of the 100 messages in her box were

154
There were so many papers scattered across the floor of Ann's office that It would have taken a tremendous amount of labor to go back to the
sometimes you couldn't walk to her desk without stepping on some of beginning and do it right for each of the systems that Ann was dreaming
them. I suspected that she worked on the papers on the floor first; up. Frankly, nobody was interested in doing all that work. So instead,
therefore, throwing my memos on the floor would get the quickest Hanna or Rhonda would just start in the middle, with today's papers.
response. But I didn't want to take any chances, so instead I just started They'd get a half-baked system going for a while, and then they'd get sick
taping my memos to things, like the wall or her computer screen. of it and drop it, and Ann would never notice, because by then she'd be
The system of organization that Ann preferred was to take whichever long gone on the trail of some other problem that required a new kind of
piece of paper caught her attention and go to work on it. I think she system.
would have been excellent at keeping her priorities straight if she had ever Often, Ann would walk into her office, pick up a new piece of paper,
gotten caught up with her work. But she never did. Really, it was not see a new problem on it, realize that she would need some help with it,
possible for her to get caught up, because whenever she got started on a and go stand around at Rhonda's cube or Hanna's cube, talking and
new piece of paper, she would go through it in great detail, pulling out thinking about what kind of system was needed to solve this problem.
every possible problem with it. Then she would want to set up “systems” Hanna and Rhonda would complain to me that Ann spent more time in
to make sure that the problems would not happen again. their cubes than she spent in her own office.
Ann liked several different kinds of systems to solve her problems One time, Barry Amenama, Lucy's boss, said to Ann, “Ann, how is
for her. One was known as a “log.” This is a list where you keep track it that you manage to piss everybody off?” It was true. She made Rhonda
of each time when you do a certain thing with a piece of paper. For and Hanna miserable. She would have Hanna do stuff, and then undo it,
instance, Hanna kept a “correspondence log” for Ann. In this log, Hanna and then change her mind and put it back the way it was. She'd give
made a record of every time Ann sent a letter to anyone. Rhonda a project, and Rhonda would start on it, and then she'd come back
Ann also came up with various ideas for computerized systems. An and see what Rhonda was doing and say, “Oh, no, not that way,” and from
example would be the one that I spent months teaching to that woman then on, Rhonda would have to get Ann's approval of each little step she
they hired to run it, the woman who didn't have any computer experience. took on that project.
Ann had lots of computer ideas, but since she and everyone else in OCM I do not want anyone to think that I am interested in picking on Ann
was afraid of computers, not many of these ideas went anywhere. for her own sake. She smelled great, she looked good, and she was smart.
She also had ideas for filing systems, to make sure that different She was awfully cute in her jester costume at Halloween. She could be
papers would go to the right place. She may have been partially to blame sweet, like a little girl, sitting on her desk, swinging her legs, sucking on
for the fact that we had all those different files for law firms: the Atlanta a lollipop and saying, “I love my lolly.” She liked cows, and one time,
files, and all that. after we arranged a birthday party for her, she sent us all an e-mail,
Ann would dream up these systems, and then Hanna or Rhonda or thanking us for being so udderly nice. We often saw her practicing what
some other assistant there in the OCM area would be responsible for she called her “life skills,” which included the ability to walk down the
them. Unfortunately, to work properly, each system would have had to hall snapping her fingers, clapping her hands, and making other motions
start from the beginning. If you want to organize your papers in a useful in a somewhat coordinated way.
way, you gather them all together and then put them all into the filing My objection about Ann is just that, as a manager, she was a fricking
cabinet. You don't just start filing the new papers and leave all the old disaster area. She was like a virus: everybody who came in contact with
ones in a box somewhere. her wound up feeling sick and unable to do their jobs. She would blame

156
Rhonda and Hanna when things went wrong, but we all knew that they ME: How about paint? I assume it was organic paint?
were in a no-win situation. They couldn't have gotten Ann through her RHONDA: I don't think paint is organic - at least not
various projects even if they had taken her by the hand and led her one the stuff they are using in my apartment. It
may be lead based - so I will have to refrain
step at a time. from sucking on the window sills.
In Ann's defense, I must say that this was a two-way street. Hanna
had an explosive temper. She'd come down to my cube fuming and
saying, “I'm going to haul off and slug her!” Hanna didn't like to admit On a bad day:
her own mistakes, even though I knew she sometimes forgot to do things,
or did them wrong.
And when Ann had to deal with Rhonda, she was dealing with a ME: I got a call from a law firm telling me that
person who was very, how do we say in Eenglish, emotional. Rhonda's they're changing their name and address. I
assume your department (i.e., Ann) will want to
highs were really high, and her lows were really low. It was bad in see something in writing and tell everybody it's
person, but it was a lot worse on e-mail. Examples: OK before I put it on RLIS, so I steered the law
firm your way.
RHONDA: That's just great. Give me more @#$! work to
do. I'm getting sick of it.
On a good day:
ME: I didn't mean to be doing anything out of the
ordinary. This is how we've been doing it for
months.
RHONDA: I can't attend the Veterans Day celebration.
It's scheduled for 8:00 AM, and I don't get to RHONDA: I'll be honest with you Ray the concept of my
work until 9:00. doing everyone's flunky work has irritated me
since "we" came to this agreement. (I don't
ME: It's not scheduled for 8:00. It's for 9:00. remember ever expressly saying "yes give me all
your !@#$ to do"). Consider this as setting the
RHONDA: Oh. I guess I got that wrong. I didn't even record straight: I only take direction and
realize that we have next Tuesday off. My brain assignments from Barry, Lucy, and Ann, and not
is not functioning quite right - I think it's from techs like you.
the result of inhaling too many paint fumes
while painting my apartment yesterday. ME: I'm just amazed that you're angry with me for
following the same approach we've followed since
ME: It's worse than you think. Look again at the last spring. If people say that something about
calendar. We don't have next Tuesday off. a law firm has changed, you've always been the
Veterans Day is THURSDAY. one to call the firm and double-check.
RHONDA: Oh no. And when I was typing my message, I
almost said I inhaled too many PANT fumes.
Ain't that a lovely thought.
One time, when Rhonda got really mad at me, she decided to keep
ME: You can have your pant fumes. Let me know if a log of everything she sent to me. For a while, I was getting e-mail
you run dry and need more pants. messages from her, telling me to get busy with some piece of paper. She
RHONDA: At least they're not an artificial means of pestered me like this because, according to her log, she had given the
reality adjustment, which I do not advocate.

158
paper to me a week ago. introduce a concept known as the Bureaucracy Generation Ratio, or BGR,
But her log would be wrong. There would be nothing on my desk, often pronounced as “booger.” This is the measure of how many new
since I had learned that nobody can accuse you of holding onto papers if items of hassle get created whenever you're trying to deal with one old
you don't have any. So I would tell Rhonda that I didn't have any such item of hassle.
paper. She would quote, from her log, the day and time when she had In a really efficient organization, you might have a booger of 10 to
given it to me. But then, later on, it would turn out that she had given it 1. That is, for every ten hassles you have to deal with, you might find that
to someone else instead of me, or had put it into a folder to give to me but one new problem arises.
had then forgotten to give me the folder. At my own job there in the RTC, I had a booger of about 10 to 4. I'd
All in all, they were quite a team. Ann would invent some new start with a list of ten things to do, but by the time I was finished with
system that had to be maintained; Rhonda would volunteer to take care of them, I had usually tackled four or five new ones along the way.
it; Ann would say, “But you're already overwhelmed! You just can't keep On the other hand, Ann was in a class by herself. She had a booger
doing all this work by yourself!” Rhonda would sigh and say, “I know, of about 1 to 8. She'd look at her first problem, and she'd see that it really
but ...” Then Hanna would get mad, because they were making her sound consisted of eight different problems. If anybody had ever asked her to
like she was useless. She'd start yelling at Ann, and then Rhonda would handle five problems at once, she would have had to hire two extra people
come down to my cube to kill time until the fight blew over. to help her. And if the governor of Pennsylvania had had a heart attack
As I tell you this, a question comes to mind. Let's say you find a and they'd called on her to solve all the problems facing him, she would
very religious person. It doesn't matter which religion ) Christian, maybe, have had the whole world tied in knots within a week, and instead of
or Moslem. Now, let's say that this person believes that the whole world fighting over land and food, the nations would be struggling to get more
has gone astray, and that he, or she, is the last true believer left. I don't staplers and filing cabinets.
know about you, but myself, I would think this person was a little bit nuts.
At the RTC, I would sit around with Tara sometimes, and we'd laugh
about how the whole place, everybody but us, was one big collection of Power Flows to Ann
losers. Then I'd go down and visit Rhonda, and we'd bitch about how the
Most of what I've been describing about Lucy, Ann, and the whole
whole place was one big collection of losers. Then Hanna would come
OCM group was in the normal course of events. But as time passed,
down to my cube, upset about how everybody was such a loser. And now
things started to get more intense. The longer Lucy neglected her
I'm telling you that these people were all losers.
department, the more Ann was able to run things her way. Hanna,
So as I tell you about the imperfections of Ann, Rhonda, and Hanna,
Rhonda, and I found this tough to take:
I think about that religious nut who believes that he's the only good one
left, and I must ask you: were these people crazy? Was I? Or were we
all just govern-mental? RHONDA: How's the database for the Committee coming?

ME: Teaching Ellen Emopee how to use the thing


The Booger should be like A-B-C. It's really simple. But
she just doesn't get it.

I have been telling you about Ann's personal work style. But there RHONDA: I know. I hear you when you're in her cube. I
was a larger process at work, and in order to explain it, I would like to can hear the ripping sound as you pull your hair

160
out!

ME: You think we'll ever get going on that other


database Ann wants? Sometimes, it seemed like Ann really enjoyed talking about the
RHONDA: Which one? philosophy of RLIS with me, discussing our different procedures and
systems. But at other times, my questions seemed to irritate her, and at
ME: The one to tell where we are in the process of those times she would tell me, “It's that way because I say so.”
approving law firm applications.
Finally, Ann got tired of me. She decided that I had too much
RHONDA: I hope not. It will require more instructions freedom in doing my job, so she persuaded Barry, Lucy's boss, to order
from Ann on how to think. Every day, when I'm
getting ready for work, I try to decide whether me not to make any more changes on RLIS without Ann's approval.
to bring my brain along or just leave it at At first, this was really depressing for me, because now I was just an
home.
idiot who typed what other people told me to type. But then I found ways
ME: How come she picks on you like that? to make it more bearable.
RHONDA: It's not just me. It's you too.
The first thing I did was to act on my hurt feelings. I sent Ann and
Lucy a memo containing a list of projects I was working on that didn't
ME: Not to that extent, I don't think. involve Ann. My memo said that I thought I had better spend more of my
RHONDA: Yes, she does. You just don't know it. The time on these other projects, where my help was clearly needed and where
other day, when you said you weren't sure if you I wouldn't be upsetting Ann.
had entered things into RLIS correctly because
you couldn't make out the handwriting on that Of course, once Ann got this memo, she was upset again, and she
one law firm's papers, Ann told me to go onto complained to Lucy, who complained to Tara, who complained to me.
the system and double-check your work. Tara said, “Ann is upset.” I asked, “About what?” “About your memo.”
ME: You were checking up on me? “My memo? Why, whatever is the problem?” Tara looked at me and
replied, “She says, ‘It's like he's not going to work for me anymore.’”
RHONDA: Yeah. The funny part is that she gave me a
typewritten version of the paper to compare I explained the situation, and Tara understood, and she talked to
against what you had entered. Now why you Lucy, and Lucy talked to Ann, and although it didn't last long, for a while
didn't get the typed one in the first place is
beyond me. there I got a vacation away from working with Ann, and during that time
she took some of the worst jobs I'd been working on and gave them to
ME: Ann is one of the best arguments I've ever seen other people, so that was good.
against big government. It's like there's no
end to the number of things to be checked, Also, now that I was under orders not to do anything without Ann's
verified, logged ... approval, I was perfectly entitled to tell Ann that if she wanted to give me
RHONDA: And I'm doing most of the checking, verifying, an order, she had to give it to me in writing. Otherwise, I said, I wouldn't
logging. This does not leave me much time to be able to prove that I had gotten her permission to go ahead with it.
irritate the new temp worker she just hired.
It took a lot of effort for Ann to write out everything that she
ME: Don't worry about irritating the temp. Ann will dreamed up, and she wasn't able to keep up with it all. I found myself
take care of that. Besides, I can see that getting a lot of oral orders, but not so many written ones.
you're thinking again, and this may require
another lesson in how not to have a brain. So I gave it a reasonable amount of time, and then I started writing

162
up her instructions for her. I'd take what I thought she had said, and I'd So I started rooting around in the files, and I discovered that this firm
build in all of the implications and ramifications and details. I'd explain had been trying to get an Agreement with us for more than a year now,
who was to be notified, and what steps they should take in response. I'd and Ann had been screwing up their paperwork at every step of the way.
even create notification forms and response forms and other things to be It went like this: their old Agreement was expiring, so Lucy sent
filled out and put into the file, and I'd attach copies of those forms to a them the forms they would need to get a new one. The law firm filled out
memo explaining the whole shebang. those forms and sent them back to us. The forms went into the file, and
Sometimes it could take a lot of pages to spell out all the details of everybody forgot about them, and five months later, Ann sent out another
what I thought Ann wanted. I became pretty good at it, too. I got to the set of forms to help the firm get a new Agreement. Ann evidently forgot
point where I could cook up five pages of bureaucratic rules in just an that she had sent that second set of forms, because then, two months after
hour or two. I'd finish those pages, and then I'd send them to Ann and say, that, she sent the firm a third set of forms. The firm ran out of patience
“Is this an accurate statement of your new policy?” and responded with a letter saying, “We have already twice submitted to
She tried ignoring these messages from me, so I'd let them sit with the RTC all of the information requested by your letter.” Three months
her for a while, and then I'd go ahead and put them into e-mail messages later, Ann actually got around to asking other RTC staff attorneys if they
and distribute them to everyone in our office, and to people in other RTC thought we should go ahead and give this law firm an Agreement.
offices across the country, who needed to know what our procedure was. My view was that the firm had suffered enough and that someone
I'd just say, “I'm not certain that this is our policy. I am waiting for should decide whether to give them an Agreement already. Ann told
confirmation from Ann Thrax. If you wish to confirm that this is our Barry about this and said it proved that I was being uppity, and Barry
policy, please contact Ann directly.” agreed. So they clipped my wings, and to protect myself, I put all these
And presto! Just like that, Ann started getting e-mails and phone facts down in a memo and distributed it to everybody. I knew I wouldn't
calls from all over the place. She couldn't keep up with them all, so then come off looking like a world-class martyr, like Jesus or Gandhi, but I
these people would send her follow-up e-mails and letters. Then they'd thought maybe I could get a few people to shed a tear, seeing how my
call her to remind her of their question. Before long, things that used to innocent and trusting nature had been wrongfully injured.
get done in fifteen minutes were taking weeks, and everybody was getting
mad at Ann. It was great.
In short, Barry's new policy turned out to be really good news for LOC Changes
me. It increased Ann's load and made her look like she was holding
The more power Ann came to have over me, the more weird orders
everything up, and meanwhile I was a saint, sympathizing with people
I would get from her. But I did what she said. And then, just as I had
who were trying to get things done and who were frustrated at having to
always done, I would send out an e-mail to keep people posted of the
wait on Ann.
latest changes. For example:
There was just one other thing I had to do about Barry's new policy,
and that was to cover my tail.
Barry had reached the decision to clip my wings because there was ME: Ann has ordered me to put the firm of Crine &
a disagreement about how to handle the papers involving this one law Masleep into Performing status, and that is what
I have done, even though the Agreement is
firm. And now, since I wasn't doing anything else, I had the time to figure Expired. I also cannot help it that California
out the whole story about that firm. RTC has this firm's L.A. office in Restricted

164
status and Atlanta RTC has their Florida office but at least they were trying to be human.
in Terminated status.
In a way, I felt sorry for our staff attorneys. I knew a little bit about
The law firm of Clyde & Trux is Terminated what it was like to be in their shoes. Some of them still had bosses who
because Clyde died. He leaves one closed legal
matter. R.I.P. could make them miserable. And they sure weren't practicing law or
doing anything that was going to help them get another lawyer job when
The Agreement between the RTC and one law firm the RTC shut down.
where some of our own RTC attorneys used to work
(wink, wink) has expired, but OCM has instructed But I had a special problem with one lawyer in particular, a guy
me to leave the firm in Performing status named Sonny Beech. He got hired and went to work in Lucy's OCM
anyway, so that the firm can continue to receive
new referrals. I have done as OCM requests. group, and the first thing you know, he started chasing Sharon, the woman
I was dating.
At this point in the game, Sharon and I were talking about moving
I'm not sure that Ann and her bosses, Barry Amenama and Lucy in together, and about our long-term future. Things had gotten pretty
Tania, always appreciated these e-mails. But for me, it was all in a day's serious between us. At the same time, we were having some arguments.
work. It was like tigers mating: sure, we'd claw the hell out of each other, but
it was our form of love. I just knew Sharon could tame the beastie in me.
I wouldn't have taken Sonny seriously, chasing Sharon, except that
Falling Off the Company Pier all of a sudden she started to act like she was having second thoughts
about me.
I've been talking about lawyers like Lucy, who didn't know how to Then Sonny and Sharon started exchanging little notes on the e-mail
manage, and Ann, who messed everything up. But I remind you, our system. Sonny suddenly developed an interest in folk music, which
office was full of lawyers, and they came in a variety of flavors. Sharon loved. He invited her out to a folk music concert ) just as friends,
Some of our lawyers were aggressive, demanding, or just plain he said, although I noticed that he didn't invite me to join them ) and she
mean. They'd yell at people. They'd make their secretaries and paralegals went!
do really tough stuff and never thank them. In the words of one of my co- I guess I'd have to admit, I wanted to strangle him.
techs, “What I had to get used to here was these lawyers, these people Other people started to figure out what was going wrong, and when
who will talk to you one day and be your best friend, and then, the next I'd talk to my friends about it, they'd be just full of helpful little theories.
day, look right through you when you say hello to them.” “I can't imagine there being any mutual attraction between those two,”
Admittedly, some of our lawyers were great people. There was one said one. “Nobody can make you jealous except yourself,” said another.
big guy who we called Sugar Bear. Every now and then, I'd see him on “From what I hear, he's seriously involved with someone else,” a third one
the dance floor at the local country dance place, lumbering around like said. My reply was, “If he's so seriously involved elsewhere, then why do
Smokey with a grin. He'd always wave hello when he saw someone he I see him taking all these women from the office ) including my girlfriend
knew. It was really a pleasure to know him. ) out to lunch?”
Honestly, there were a lot of decent lawyers in our office. At least Sharon swore she wasn't interested in anyone but me. I think that
four or five, anyway. And there's a reason why these decent lawyers were was two weeks before she dumped me.
at the RTC. They didn't want to live the harsh, tough life they'd have if When Sharon gave me the ol' heave-ho, I handled it calmly. I mean,
they were in private practice. Sure, they still had a hard edge sometimes,

166
I sent her a few thousand e-mails and called her at home every evening, ME: The twin hit shows "Ray" and "Sharon" have
announced that they will now be playing on new
but it's not like I really pulled out all the stops and begged her to come (separate) channels. Viewers have been phoning
back to me. A man's got to have his self-respect. in their suggestions for names for the new
shows. Some recent suggestions include:
I knew the rules of dating: rope 'em & grope 'em, @#$! 'em & chuck
'em, spurn 'em & burn 'em, use 'em & lose 'em. But just because I was Back to the Future, Part LXIX
comfortable doing those things to other people doesn't mean I liked it An Evening with Godzilla
A Farewell to Arms & Legs
when some woman did them to me. I, Technician
In past fights, the e-mail had been a valuable tool in getting Sharon
Phone in your suggestions now! Just dial 1-800-
and me back together, like a few weeks earlier, when we had this GET-REAL. And be sure to join us for the next
exchange: amazing adventures of ______ and _______ !

ME: Are you angry? Some people wrote back with genuine suggestions for names of our
SHARON: No, I just ate.
new TV shows, like Voyage of the Damned and Two Was Company.
Others said they couldn't understand my e-mail and just wanted to know,
ME: I don't get it. You're not angry because you was this splitsville for Sharon and me? I told them that I hoped every-
just ate? I'm trying to think of what I would
eat that would make me less angry, if I were thing would be clearer in a week or two.
angry. Pineapple delight? Cherries jubilee? And, well, I was right about that. One evening next week, at the end
A McDonald's Happy Meal?
of the workday, I was hanging out at Hanna's cube, moaning about how
SHARON: Oh. I read it wrong. I thought you wrote, "Are Sharon's absence from my life had left a big hole where the only thing
you hungry?" No, I'm not angry, and I'm not worth living for was to make sure my law firms were in the right status.
hungry either, thank you.
Just then, Sharon and Sonny came walking by, wearing these big smiles,
obviously happy to be together, and Sharon with a look on her face like
I hoped the e-mails I was sending to Sharon now would have that I'd only seen after a round of good sex. It was like they had just spent an
same good old magic. But they didn't seem to be working this time. hour making whoopie in his car.
I went crying and moaning to Rhonda and Hanna in OCM, and to I saw that and, oy, I lost it. I left Hanna's cube and went home, and
Greg's lunch group, especially Mia and Gloria. And they were supportive. then I proceeded to stay up most of the night, unable to sleep, re-living the
They told me how Sonny came to work late, left early, and didn't seem to experience of seeing those two ride down into the canyon together, like
know what he was doing. They promised me they didn't trust him. They the Lone Ranger and his psychic Tonto. It just freaked me out.
all said I was a much better guy for Sharon. I think the basic idea was that it was hard enough to break up with
I decided that everybody was getting the wrong impression, thinking Sharon, but I could handle that; and it was even tougher to think that she
that I was just heartbroken at losing this relationship. My solution was to had left me for this worm, but I could handle that too; but now they were
admit that the relationship was over, and just move on. So I prepared an going to start demonstrating their love for each other in the office, making
e-mail and sent it to all our friends across the country. It said: me out to be even more of a turkey than I actually was, and this part I
could not handle.

168
So I came to work the next day, still mad as hell, and wrote up an me if I had lost my mind, sending that e-mail out like that. To them, the
e-mail: thing of Sonny and Sharon wasn't worth all this noise. I think they were
afraid that I was starting to self-destruct.

ME: Sonny, I want to congratulate you on having


begun a relationship with Sharon. She is an
attractive woman. I myself felt lucky when she
Dealing with Management
began dating me, four months ago, about two
weeks after dropping her previous boyfriend. It might seem a little crazy, but I sent copies of that e-mail, telling
Sharon glows when she is with you. She Sonny and Sharon off, to my boss Tara, to her boss Lucy, and to Lucy's
hasn't looked this happy for several weeks ) not
since she was still talking about living with boss Barry.
me, marrying me, and having children with me. I'm not sure this was a brilliant idea. I did it partly because I was
As I told you some time ago, when you first
began to interject yourself between Sharon and furious and I wanted the whole world to know it. But it was also partly
me, I hope you will never be afraid to come to because Lucy and Barry were Sonny's bosses too, and I wanted Barry or
me, whenever a subject arises that you feel men Lucy to grab him and tell him to keep this romance out of the office.
should discuss openly and straightforwardly. I
was glad to hear you agree, at that time, that Unfortunately, I miscalculated. First of all, when I told my friends
this would be the best approach. why I had sent the e-mail to Lucy's boss Barry, they reminded me of
I am sure you would have come to me, by
now, if you had considered your pursuit of Barry's reputation for having “short-man syndrome,” which meant that he
Sharon to be a topic worth talking about. was jealous of tall men like me.
Meanwhile, however, I see that others do con-
sider it an interesting topic, and I have I don't really know if Barry had short-man syndrome. It did seem
written this e-mail so that we can deal with it possible, though, because, after all, he hired Lucy, who was even shorter
and get back to work. than him, and the two of them hired Sonny, who was the shortest of all.
In that spirit, I want there to be no doubt
about my own feelings. I am indeed disappointed In fairness, if I'm going to accuse Barry of short-man syndrome, I
that things did not work out better for Sharon should probably accuse myself of tall-man syndrome, because I couldn't
and me. On the other hand, recent months have
included several weeklong occasions when she has believe that Sharon had dropped me to go out with this midget.
declared our relationship to be at an end and My friends also pointed out that Barry and Lucy and Sonny were all
has refused to speak to me. Those incidents
have prepared me for whatever might follow. At lawyers. Everybody said the lawyers would stick together and they
this point, I must agree with friends who wouldn't give me a fair shake, seeing how I was just a technician. But I
suggest that I am better off without her. disagreed with this, of course, because I knew that lawyers are basically
I therefore gladly remove myself from the
scene, and I wish you two all the best. It fair people who place more importance on arriving at the truth than
appears that, in some ways, you are perfect for anything else.
each other.
But then my friends told me that Sonny was a personal friend of
Lucy, and that that's why he got the job here at the RTC. This was news
to me, and now I understood for sure that my plan was flawed. My
I sent copies of this e-mail to Sonny and Sharon and to about thirty
friends also reminded me that I had a reputation for being wild and crazy
other people in the office and across the country who knew we were
when I was trying to get things done on the RLIS system, and that Barry
dating. And that just made things worse. Now all my friends were asking
had probably not appreciated my wise-ass comments about how silly half

170
our rules were. serious. He said that my e-mail message to Sonny and Sharon was really
Still, after I sent that e-mail to Sonny and Sharon, days went by with terrible and should never have been written. But I disagreed. I said, if the
not so much as a peep from any of my managers. I sat and waited for a e-mail was so blasted horrible, how come he, Barry, hadn't lifted a finger
week or so, and then I got curious about what Barry and Lucy and Tara to come talk to me? Here we were, nearly a week after I'd sent the thing,
were thinking, and decided to stick my toe in the water. and we were talking only because I had come to him.
I started by visiting Tara in her office. I closed the door and sat He said he was surprised I had sent him a copy. I said, “Barry, you
down, and we talked. are directly responsible for Sonny and me, and this stuff between Sonny
Tara really surprised me on this one. She handled the conversation and Sharon is taking place in the office and is causing a lot of talk. I,
very well, with a good mix of sympathy and disapproval. She said she personally, am getting all kinds of questions about it. I admit that my
had wondered whether she should come talk to me about the e-mail, but e-mail was somewhat unusual, but I am surprised to hear you say that I
then decided to let things calm down for a while. She said that the e-mail shouldn't bring this kind of thing to your attention.”
was very inappropriate, and that I should never have sent something like He told me that my e-mail was embarrassing to Sonny and Sharon.
that in the office. I said, “If there's anything untrue in that e-mail, I'm sorry. But, you know,
Then again, she admitted that Sonny and Sharon had really mis- neither Sonny nor Sharon have said a word to correct me. I think I got the
handled things and that she didn't blame me for being ticked off. She said facts straight. If the facts are embarrassing to them, then I suggest they
she knew I could have taken the thing a lot further if I'd wanted to, and try to behave themselves in a less embarrassing way in the future.”
that she was glad I had gotten it over with, so that now I could get back I think Barry may not have expected me to be tough like this. He
to my work. I also said I didn't know of anyone else who'd ever had to had seen me walking around the office, being loose and friendly, and I
deal with a situation like this in the office, so that I didn't have much think he might have assumed that I would be easygoing and just say “Yes,
guidance from previous experience, and she agreed that it was kind of a sir,” to whatever he said. But that's not how this conversation was going.
unique situation. So now he pulled something that surprised me. He said, “You know,
This conversation with Tara was encouraging. I didn't yet have the this is not the first time you've abused the e-mail system. You've been
nerve to talk to Lucy, who they said was Sonny's personal friend, but I doing it for some time now.” And then he said that he had received
thought maybe it would be safe to talk to Barry Amenama, Lucy's boss. numerous complaints from women who, he said, I had been harassing by
I don't think I had ever done more than exchange a few sentences e-mail.
with Barry before, here and there, and even those sentences had just been When he said that, I had two thoughts. First, I was reminded of a hot
on RLIS stuff. Like Lucy, Barry didn't pay much hands-on attention to and heavy e-mail that I had just received from a female technician in
events in our department. But I went into our meeting with the basic another RTC office, and I almost smiled to think of how this woman was
assumption that we'd have a fair exchange of views. harassing me at this very moment. But second, I had to realize that Barry
Barry was short, as I say, and talkative, in his mid-40s, with straight and I were trying to accomplish very different things in this meeting. I,
dark hair and beady eyes. Something about his face reminded me of those myself, was just trying to make sure that we could all agree to put the
Ferengay aliens in Star Trek. Barry and I were pretty direct with each Sonny and Sharon thing behind us. But now Barry seemed to be looking
other during this meeting, and I could tell right away that it was not going for a way to make me the bad guy, and if he couldn't do that with the
to go well. Sonny and Sharon e-mail, he'd find something else.
First off, Barry told me that this e-mail business was extremely So when he said this thing about how I was harassing women, I said

172
there hadn't been any harassment. I asked him for names, and he named approach. He sat back up straight in his chair and announced that he was
three different women. going to prepare a memo for me to sign, so that he could put something
When he did, I had to laugh. One of them was Betty Bie, strong and in the files, to show that he had taken care of the problem.
beautiful. If I had tried to harass her, she'd probably have kicked my butt. And that was the end of our meeting.
The second one was Sally Schuss. Sally had shown some interest in me So now it was two managers down, one to go. I didn't believe things
at first, but then backed away, and we'd just been friendly but distant since could be any worse than they'd been with Barry, so I had nothing to lose
then. And the third was our very own Gloria Thunrythe, a regular by talking to Lucy.
member of Greg's lunch group and a good friend on e-mail. I had never I went to her office the next day after my meeting with Barry. I
made a romantic move towards Gloria. walked in and just said, “Without going into a lot of detail, I'm really
I knew what kinds of e-mails I had sent to these women. There was sorry about events of the past week.”
nothing harassing about them. So I had no problem calling Barry's bluff. She looked up from behind her desk and said, “We've just been
The RTC's computers kept copies of all of our e-mails, and if he wanted concerned about you.”
to pin something on me, I could sure ask the computer people to retrieve “I didn't want anyone to think I'm callous about this.”
those old e-mail messages and show the world just what I had said to “No one thinks you're callous. You have friends here. You should
these women ) and what they had said to me. be glad for that.”
Barry asked me why I would use e-mail to make any contact at all “I am. I really appreciate it.” This was nothing like what I had
with women in the office. He said, “You know better than to put that kind expected. I said thanks and went out. The next day, I helped arrange a
of thing in writing, where anyone down the line can use it against you.” birthday party for someone in Lucy's department, and Lucy was smiling
I said, “So let me see if I've got this right. In your view, if I want to at me more than anyone there. For me, at that moment, she was just a
approach a woman, I should do it face-to-face. That way, if I do wonderful person, a real sweetheart.
something inappropriate, it will be harder for her to make a complaint
against me. Instead of things being down in black and white, it'll be my
word against hers.” Doing Some Homework
This seemed to frustrate Barry. He softened up a bit and asked,
At the end of my meeting with Barry, he had said he was going to
“Why use the e-mail? Is it just that you're shy?” Then he started to talk
send me a memo to sign, so that he would have something for his file. I
about feelings, about what it was like to date women. He leaned back in
didn't really know what kind of file he had that required my signature on
his chair and said, “You know, I've got several friends who are psycholo-
some special memo. The only files I'd ever seen were these manila
gists, and we often talk about people's feelings and motivations.” It was
folders that just sat there and did nothing until you put something in them;
like he wanted to be my friend now and just talk like guys.
and then, right after you put something in them, they went back to doing
If I'd believed he was sincere, I'd have been delighted to sit there and
nothing. I suspected that Barry was probably using the same kind of
chew the fat with him about women and dating. After all, it was a fun
folders, and he was just making up this thing about how the files were
subject. And until now, I'd never had any personal problems with him.
demanding to be fed.
But the way this conversation was going, I sure wasn't ready to trust
So I called a friend who knew something about the RTC's manage-
him with frank talk about my feelings. So I didn't volunteer much
ment procedures. She said it was true that the managers were often told
information. After a little while, he got tired of the buddy-buddy
to make sure and put something in their files if they had a problem with

174
an employee. She said that nothing bad would happen to me if this was procedure with a lot of forms to fill out and a full investigation.
the first time they were putting something in my file. But to me, that I told him I wasn't afraid of an investigation. I was honestly curious
sounded like the doctor saying that I could get by with only one kidney. to see if anyone else was behind Barry, or if he was doing this thing all by
I told this friend about a guy I knew who got into a problem one time himself. Judging from how he'd gotten the story wrong about those
at his job. They told him that everything would be fine and that the issue women, I suspected that he was just relying on gossip, and that nobody )
would be settled if he just signed the document. So he signed it. Then least of all Sonny and Sharon ) would be interested in testifying and
they fired him, and since he had admitted guilt in writing, there was answering questions and having all their e-mail messages exposed in an
nothing he could do about it. investigation.
My friend said that kind of thing happened at other companies, but This meeting was short and to the point. It couldn't have lasted five
not in the government. “If you don't sign, you may be forcing him to minutes. And then I was out of there.
pursue the issue,” she said. Then she said, “Oh, by the way, congratula- I knew Barry was irritated, and I figured he'd be looking for a way
tions.” “For what?” I asked. She said I was famous: my e-mail to Sonny to get me. But I didn't care. In a previous job, I'd had the experience of
and Sharon had been a big hit, and now people were sending copies of it kissing up to the boss. It had left me feeling like an idiot, and it hadn't
all over the country. I guess it was a classic example of what can go paid off at all. I wasn't going to do it again.
wrong with an office romance. Until these meetings, I had nothing against Barry. He was just a
manager. He lived his life, and I lived mine. But after these two short
meetings, I had a different impression. He had never expressed any
The Lawyer Pushes the Issue interest or appreciation in what I was doing in my RLIS job. He had
never thanked me for trying hard or doing a good job. But now, when one
Almost two weeks after my meeting with Barry, his secretary Allie
thing happened that could make me look bad, he acted like he wanted to
Gaytor came to my cube. “Mr. Amenama would like to see you now,”
hang me. It just wasn't the kind of thing that makes you respect a
she said.
manager.
I went along with her, wondering what strangeness would happen
this time. I went into Barry's office and sat down, and he handed me the
memo he had told me about. He said I could take a minute and read it, E-mail Policy
and then sign it and he'd give me a copy for my records.
Not so fast, I thought to myself. I looked at this memo. It was about A couple months earlier, before this go-round with Barry, there was
as bad as he could have made it. He had me admitting that my e-mails to a TV show about e-mail systems and computers in the workplace. They
those women had been sexually harassing. He wanted me to say that my interviewed a half-dozen workers and their managers. The basic message
e-mail to Sonny and Sharon violated corporate policy. The final line said, was this: as far as your boss is concerned, your office computer and
“You have acknowledged the seriousness of these events and have agreed everything on it ) including any private notes you might make ) is
not to repeat them.” company property.
“I can't sign this,” I said. “I'll talk to you about another version, or Along with three or four other people on this show, there were two
I'll write one myself, something that I can sign, but it won't be like this.” RTC employees from the Denver office. One of them was an RTC staff
He said that if I signed the memo, it would just go into the files and attorney named Rad Akoll, and the other was a guy named Sid Stem.
be forgotten. Otherwise, he said, there would be a whole formal It seems that Rad Akoll was what they called a “whistleblower.” He

176
had seen some bad things happening in RTC management, and he called To: Tara Streikes
From: Ray Woodcock
the newspapers and tattled. Re: Use and Privacy of E-mails
This put Rad on the black list, and management started looking for
ways to get rid of him. They couldn't just fire him outright, because there A recent TV show on this subject has raised some
were rules that were supposed to protect whistleblowers. The basic idea concerns in my mind, especially since some RTC employees
was that you don't want to punish people for speaking up when they see appeared on that show. This memorandum presents my
concerns.
something bad in your government. The large majority of my e-mail messages have to do
Instead of firing Rad, management got the brilliant idea of tapping with my work, and there is nothing in them that anyone
would find especially provocative. They deal with
into his computer, to see if they could get more dirt on him. But they Inherited firms, computer questions, etc. But I want to
didn't know how, so they needed some help from Sid, the computer point out several issues that arise as I use the e-mail
system:
system manager there in Denver. Sid told them he wouldn't do it unless 1. Some of my e-mail messages contain discussions
he got the order in writing, to protect himself. with co-workers, where we try to figure out if management
So management gave Sid the written order, and he broke into Rad's is taking the wrong approach to a problem. We have these
discussions in order to improve things here. I would not
computer account and gave copies of Rad's stuff to management. Then want someone from management reading my e-mails and being
Sid felt guilty and ratted to the newspapers and showed them the written angry with me for just trying to figure out the best way
to do my job!
order from management. So now, evidently the FBI was investigating the 2. We use our e-mail for many non-business pur-
thing, and management in Denver hated Sid as much as Rad, so here were poses, with management's blessings. Examples include
birthday announcements, party announcements, and Activity
Rad and Sid, sitting side by side on this TV show. Committee messages. It does not seem fair that manage-
After this show, I wasn't too pleased about the idea that the RTC's ment would let us go ahead, now, and use the e-mail
management thought they were entitled to break into our computers system for personal as well as professional business, and
then come back and criticize us later for these personal
whenever they felt like it. I enjoyed sending my e-mails to my friends, e-mails.
and I didn't really want some manager building up a case against me 3. The e-mail system can be used in personal ways
that are good for the company. I know of situations
because he didn't like me, picking on me for writing the same kinds of where someone came to work, very upset about some per-
messages that a lot of other people were writing. sonal problem. Once they got a chance to talk to a
friend here in the office, they were able to calm down
Nobody in management had ever said whether our computers were and get to work. It shouldn't matter whether they are
private, or public, or what. This story from Denver sounded kind of more comfortable having that kind of conversation face-
sneaky. It was like, “We'll let you believe that your computers are to-face or on e-mail.
4. It would be a real mistake for the Corporation
private, so that you can put all kinds of incriminating stuff on there. Then, to start policing what that we say on e-mail. If the RTC
when you least expect it, we'll break into them and see what you've got.” makes itself responsible for the contents of our e-mails,
then the RTC could be sued if it lets us say something
I felt strongly about this issue, so I wrote a memo to Tara: wrong ) like if one employee slanders another one online.
The RTC is wiser to stay out of it.
5. Just because the employer provides me with a
telephone does not mean that my employer can listen to my
phone conversations. Likewise, I really don't know what
management would gain from tapping our computers, other
than to discourage everyone and create a total "us versus
them" atmosphere.

178
In view of these concerns, I would very much like to formal policy at all on what people were permitted to do on e-mail.
hear exactly what the RTC's policy is, in terms of
whether our managers are reading our e-mail messages and Months had passed since then, and now I was thinking about these
whether there are any rules on how we use the e-mail meetings with Barry. Using what I had learned, I prepared my own
system.
version of a memo that I could sign for him:

After I wrote that memo, I sent it to Tara. I didn't know if she would To: Barry Amenama
have anything to say about it. I just had this feeling that it was important From: Ray Woodcock
to raise the questions. Re: Appropriate Uses of E-mail
Tara said that she, too, was curious about the answers to my
questions, so she sent a copy of the memo to Barry. Barry didn't respond This memorandum will confirm our recent meetings on
the subject of e-mail. I believe the following para-
to it. Tara told me I could go ahead and send one to Hiram Atwill, the graphs summarize our discussion:
head of the Personnel department, if I wanted to.
1. I acknowledge that I wrote an e-mail message
I did. Hiram wrote back that there was no official policy on the concerning a former romantic relationship with an em-
proper uses of e-mail. And Hiram was proof of that: he was the kind of ployee of this office, and that I distributed copies of
guy who had once sent out an e-mail to see if anybody was interested in that e-mail to that employee and to others.
2. That e-mail message had to do with the behavior
a hand-me-down pair of shoes that he had only worn three times. Hiram's of certain Legal Division employees within the RTC
view of the e-mail system was just as relaxed as everyone else's. office. As such, it did not bring an external personal
matter into the office. Rather, it sought to resolve a
I kept asking around, and somebody pointed me to a guy in personnel issue that had arisen here. Moreover, it
Washington who was supposedly on a committee that was trying to write succeeded, because the objectionable public behavior by
those employees appears to have stopped.
up a policy about e-mail. So I called that guy, and we had a peculiar 3. I wrote a memorandum to Tara Streikes several
conversation. At first, he said the same old thing about how e-mail was months ago, asking questions about the proper uses of the
supposed to be used only for business purposes. But then he gave me e-mail system. Tara sent a copy to you. You did not
answer the questions in that memorandum. I also sent a
some odd examples. He said that messages about a softball game played copy to Hiram Atwill, who stated that there is no formal
by the company team were personal messages that did not belong on the RTC policy on the proper uses of the e-mail system.
4. Since I have seen no statement of RTC policy on
corporation's computer system. But he felt that the government had a the use of the e-mail system, I have no way of knowing
legitimate professional interest in informing everyone if you've just had whether my usage of the system has gone against official
policy.
a new baby boy or girl. I got the feeling that the man was a father who 5. Even though there is no corporate policy on
did not play softball, and I decided that he probably would not be giving e-mail, I recognize that my use of the e-mail system has
the RTC's final word on the subject of e-mail. upset you. To make you more comfortable, my signature on
this memo will serve as a promise to refrain from sending
social invitations, by e-mail, to anyone who has not
shown an interest in receiving such invitations or with
Using Policy Against the Boss whom I have not previously had social interactions.
6. We agree that these rules apply to all Legal
Division employees; and that you will enforce them
The things I was just telling you had occurred months earlier. I had against all employees equally; and that I am not being
looked into the rules on e-mail, and I had discovered that there was no singled out.

180
welcome to stop by his office any time and continue the conversation.
I decided it was better not to show any eagerness, so I just sat around
At the bottom of the memo, I had places for both Barry and me to and waited another week or so, until Barry finally sent me an e-mail,
sign it. If he signed it, I'd be glad to do the same. asking me to give him my proposed memo. I took it into his office. He
I wasn't sure that Barry would be able to swallow something like this was on the phone, so I waved it at him and put it in his “in” tray.
from me directly. So I went to Tara and asked if she had a minute to talk. I don't know if Barry liked my memo or not. He never signed a
She said yes. copy. But I guess he saw where I was coming from, because he didn't ask
I knew she was interested in resolving the thing between me and for any more discussions or signatures on that whole subject. I guess Tara
Barry. We argued sometimes, but Tara still seemed to like me. In fact, must have explained my attitude to him pretty well.
another department in the RTC once told her that they'd be glad to take
me if she wanted to get rid of me, and she told them not to hold their
breath. Social Fallout
I told her that I wanted to get past this e-mail thing and move on. I
I've been describing how things started to go downhill for me there
said that it seemed like Barry was the only person in the office who was
at the RTC. The golden, happy days of kicking around in my job, dating
still making a big deal out of the e-mail that I had sent to Sonny and
Sharon, writing fun e-mails, and hanging out with friends were coming to
Sharon. I said I didn't want to force Barry to do radical things to prove
an end.
that he was boss, and that's why I was coming to her, hoping she could
I admit, I became more paranoid after these go-rounds with Barry.
help out.
I was nervous about the e-mail system, because I felt like I could never
She was definitely interested in helping, she said. But she took a
tell what stories would get back to Barry or how he might try to use them
stronger line against me than she had done before. It was like she knew
against me.
what Barry would say, and she was saying it for him.
But when I backed away from e-mail like this, I learned just how
So I brought out the heavier ammunition. “Tara,” I said, “I've got
much of a difference the e-mail had made to me. I had thought I was just
very little to lose here. I'm really not afraid of any dispute with Barry. To
fooling around with those social e-mails. But now I found out that, if I
tell the truth, I think it would be interesting, because there's no telling
couldn't take a minute every now and then to write to my friends in the
what facts might come to light before we're done looking into this whole
office or around the country, I wasn't nearly as interested in the job.
thing.”
I don't know why it worked that way. Maybe I was like a little kid
I told her that lawyers like Barry sometimes get involved in
yelling, “Look, Ma, no hands!” I mean, maybe I needed to have
situations and start focusing on all the details, and they screw everything
somebody to show off to. Or maybe my work was just an excuse to have
up. I said that, at those times, it took a person who was able to keep more
something to talk about with my buddies. Maybe it was more fun to do
of a perspective to set things straight. I said I hoped she could be that
the job if you could approach it as part of a whole group of people who
person in this case. Then I gave her the memo that I had written for Barry
were working on it together. Or maybe e-mail was a way of taking a
to sign, and she said she'd do what she could.
break, every now and then, so that I wouldn't get sick of what I was doing.
A couple days later, Tara invited me into her office. She closed the
But for whatever reason, the e-mail had really helped.
door and said she had talked to Barry. She said that she hadn't shown him
I'm not saying that the e-mail dried up altogether. But there was a
the memo, but that he was interested in further discussion, and that I was
lot less of it, now that the sense of adventure had been replaced by a sense

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of fear. was a smoker, and although it was against the rules, he went ahead and
It wasn't just me, either. Greg had some good connections in smoked in his office anyway. Hal didn't like fluorescent lights, so he
management, and he told me that, according to his sources, Barry was disconnected the ones in his office and brought in a couple of nice lamps
reading his e-mails and trying to get him kicked out. Other people, too, instead.
said that they had heard, from people in the computer department, that When you went into Hal's office and sat down, you had the feeling
certain managers were reading their e-mails. of entering someone's private study, instead of the generic feeling that
Greg, himself, was protected by his own boss. Therefore, he was you'd get from other people's offices. With Hal, you definitely didn't have
free to send me this advice: the feeling that all government attorneys were the same.
Hal may have been a strange ranger, but he also had a reputation for
being a good lawyer. Of course, Barry didn't like Hal, and the rumor was
GREG: Dude, if you suspect that someone is reading that Barry was trying to get him kicked out.
your e-mails, do what I do: insert random
subliminal satanic messages. That way, if Eventually, Hal did leave. And then, just to pee on his grave, Barry
somebody goes looneytunes and kills their arranged to have his office sprayed for bugs. “Fumigated!” snorted his
family, we'll know they read your e-mail and got
the message. former secretary, always fond of him, as she stepped in to get a few
things.
Hal went out and started his own MWOLF firm, and the last time I
Still, when word got out that Barry was picking on me for my talked to him, he was making a lot more money from that than he'd made
e-mails, and that managers were reading people's e-mail messages, then as an RTC staff attorney. Barry sure showed him.
everybody ) even Greg ) became more cautious in their use of the I'm saying that the e-mail started to die down, but it wasn't just the
computer. e-mail. Greg's lunch club broke up, and there weren't so many big-group
One woman told me about a guy who got called on the carpet for an social events anymore. It seems like everybody's mood was changing.
e-mail that he had written years ago, and I said, “Exactly. If they're going Winter came on, and the whole atmosphere of the place became darker.
to use your e-mails against you, they'll go back as far as they have to.
And no matter how careful you are, they'll always be able to find
Keeping Myself Entertained
something.”
As they say, when the going gets tough, the clever ones bail out.
The Hit Parade Ever since my first days at the RTC, I had been amazed at the turnover.
Old people were forever leaving the RTC and new ones were arriving to
I think the basic idea, about Barry, was that his hit list included take their places. And within the RTC, it was a never-ending game of
anyone who was colorful or offbeat or wasn't afraid of him. musical chairs, as people tried to get internal promotions, moving to
For example, there was a tall black lawyer in our office named Hal different departments.
Wethit. Hal was kind of a renegade. One time, he got a ticket for parking In most cases, there are two kinds of job changes. First, there's the
in the fire lane at the office, and he retaliated by sending out an e-mail easy kind. The reason it's easy is that you're going to a new job that's
looking for fellow attorneys who wanted to sue the local cops. Also, Hal pretty much the same as the old one. Everybody can see exactly how
you'll fit in, so they're eager to hire you for that kind of job. And once

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you get there, you usually discover that it's like The Who said: Meet the I dusted off the books and started to teach myself computer programming.
new boss, same as the old boss. Or, if you'll pardon a pithy phrase: Same I had first studied programming more than ten years earlier, but I'd never
bullshit, different day. had the time to do much with it. Well, now I had the time.
And then there's the hard kind of job change. This is where you The computer language I studied was PAL, which came with the
totally rearrange yourself and apply for something that's got nothing to do Paradox database system. If this doesn't mean anything to you, that's OK,
with what you were doing before. In order to succeed at this kind of job because it doesn't mean anything to most people. I just hoped it would
change, you've usually got to go through a lot of self-analysis, rewrite mean something to someone who might want to hire me someday.
your résumé a bazillion times, and endure an enormous amount of Teaching myself PAL at the RTC was not easy. If I got stuck with
rejection. The guiding principle here is that you must be made to suffer a problem I didn't understand, I could always get assistance from the
a great deal and then, if the gods are pleased by the amount of sacrifice people in the computer department, except that they didn't seem to know
you've made and pain you have endured, you will be granted a new job PAL very well. They gave two forms of assistance: either they would
and a new life. listen carefully to my problem and then say, “I'll look into that and let you
I wasn't really fond of either one of those scenarios. But when know,” which they almost never did; or they would let me get a few
matters started to turn sour for me there in the RLIS unit, I did consider words out and then immediately spend five minutes giving me detailed
looking around for a different job. I even put in an application on one advice that did not solve the problem.
position upstairs, on the “business side” (i.e., not in the Legal Division). The PAL programming kept me busy for a long time. There were
That's where Hal Wethit's secretary had gone after he left. One time, she weeks when I did nothing but PAL. But that seemed to make my bosses
took me upstairs to show me her cube. “I can even see a tree from here,” happy. As long as I was keeping myself occupied, I didn't get in much
she crowed. trouble with them. I knew that the RTC, with all its training classes, had
Despite my application for that position upstairs, they didn't contact always been a sort of federal job training center, and I thought that maybe
me. That was odd. Friends said that at least they'd interview everybody it was my turn to pick up a skill that could get me a good job someday, so
from the RTC who applied for the job. But they didn't interview me. I that I wouldn't always continue to be unemployed there at the RTC.
suspected that Barry got wind of my application and bad-mouthed me.
But it could also be that they didn't like my style, which came out one day
when somebody from that office called my number by accident and asked The Forces of Darkness
for Al Kemmy, and I said, “Al Kemmy? Who the hell is that?”
Candy Tenuff, Tara's sidekick, was a woman who clearly enjoyed
It's probably just as well. I suppose I would have had the same
being our boss. She was just a tech like the rest of us, but Tara gave her
problems at a new RTC job as I'd had in this one. I guess I was slowly
a lot of authority to act like our manager. Using a tech to be boss over
gearing up for one of those major jobhunts where you totally re-invent
other techs was sort of creepy, like when the U.S. Cavalry used Indian
yourself. And until that jobhunt got underway, I really didn't feel like
guides to help them find other Indians, or when the Nazis used Jews to
wasting time with half-measures.
help them run their death camps during the Holocaust. I guess that, in
The fact is, I had my friends here in the RLIS department, I knew the
Candy, our RLIS department had its very own Holocaust.
job, and I could take naps when I wanted to. Really, what more can a man
We weren't always real sympathetic to Candy's need for power,
ask?
though. One time, she came up to a couple of us and told us to move
Just in case I reached a point of wanting more out of my job, though,
some boxes for her. We looked at her and said, “Move them yourself.”

186
Frustrated, she went off and got one of our temp workers ) the skinniest I'm not sure why my compliments irritated Candy so much, unless
little woman of all, naturally ) and made her move the boxes. This was maybe they led her to fear that we were all thinking that she must be a
sort of like taking a hostage. When I saw that little woman struggling to very unhappy person.
pick up a box, I knew that I had to help. But it was OK, because at least My friends from other regions would sometimes run into Candy at
I came off looking like a gallant rescuer of this damsel. training sessions in Washington or elsewhere around the country. They'd
I think Candy's biggest impact on me was one time when she was ask her how I was doing, or tell her to say hello to me for them. After-
responsible for converting a bunch of data from one computer format to wards, when they'd tell me about this by phone or e-mail, they'd say that
another. I wish I had known she was trying to do it. I might have been Candy frowned when they mentioned my name. I told them that she was
able to help her. But she wasn't able to figure it out, and she assumed that probably just eager to make a good impression because she treasured the
if she couldn't do it, it couldn't be done. So she printed out thousands of thought that people would consider her a friend of mine.
pages of paper and got Tara to make us all go through them by hand. I
guess I didn't really mind, though, because it gave me a feeling something
like what I got when I was working on the Help Desk. No RLIS Unit Is an Island
Candy tended to be somewhat grumpy, but I did my best to have a
Sometimes, it was kind of depressing to work in the RLIS depart-
pleasant relationship with her. On those days when I would see her
ment. It seemed like we were at war with everybody else.
smiling and being agreeable, I would go back to my cube and send her an
Any working relationship involves friction, and of course there was
e-mail, telling her how much we all appreciated it when she had a happy
some friction between the RLIS unit and other people in the Legal
look on her face. For some reason, this would drive her crazy, and she'd
Division ) especially staff attorneys and paralegals ) when things didn't
go off and yell at someone or send us all a nasty e-mail, which would get
go right.
us all chattering, like this:
Unfortunately, Tara seemed to enjoy this friction. In her words, we
were in “a constant confrontorial situation” with the staff lawyers and
CANDY: Some of you still seem to be unclear on the paralegals.
concept!!! Nineteen matters were recently added It seemed like Tara was always fighting with someone. The staff
to RLIS without proper data. This is UNACCEPT- attorneys and paralegals resented it when she insisted that they spend days
ABLE!!!!!
in training classes to learn how to fill out her RLIS forms. The conflict
MEG ROAN: Whoa, now there's an effective manager in came out in body language, too. People would tell me how they had made
action.
some friendly gesture toward her, like holding a door open or saying
ME: Leadership based solely on authority is like hello, and she had acted as though of course they would want to hold a
using your campfire to scare away the wild
animals. It's fine, as long as you've got door open for her or be her friend.
enough firewood and you don't have to go beyond In fairness, the paralegals and staff attorneys were not always
the perimeter to pee. This is what my fellow innocent. They would try to get away with things, or put the blame on the
peers say, anyway.
RLIS unit when it wasn't our fault. I think we all appreciated the fact that
HOPE: Some of us are doing it right. It's not fair to Tara had the moxie to get out there and defend us at those times.
blame everyone for what a couple of people do
wrong. I guess the situation was just that Tara was one of those people who
finds a fight wherever she goes. We didn't really have to be at war with

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whole groups of people in the RTC. Sure, there were bad players, but woman's new boss found out that Tara had given her a terrible personnel
there were good ones too, and it seemed like Tara's attitude wound up review because she refused to rush through and do sloppy work, he gave
turning people against us unnecessarily. People didn't always understand her a new review, emphasizing what a good worker she was, so that her
what she was trying to accomplish, and they started talking about how personnel file would tell the truth.)
papers got lost “somewhere in RLIS,” like our department was a big, Tara would keep going after those women even after they left the
mysterious swamp. RLIS department. One black woman got promoted to another job outside
During our RLIS meetings, Tara would talk about how the paralegals the RLIS department, but Tara caught her trying to help an RLIS tech by
and staff attorneys were to blame for our problems, were trying to get out doing some of his work for him, and Tara jumped all over her for
of doing their work, etc. One paralegal got an especially large amount of engaging in “unauthorized activity” on the RLIS system. In Ima's case,
her criticism. Maybe she picked on him because he referred to her as “the Tara discouraged people from even mentioning her. Most of us caught on
goldfish,” swimming back and forth all day and not really accomplishing after a while, but one tech, a guy named Sharpe Fellah, had always liked
much. Ima, so every now and then he'd say something nice about her; and when
Another paralegal would send e-mails to Tara, with copies to he did that, the other techs would just sort of look away and not say
everyone in the Legal Division, asking when she was going to get around anything.
to solving a particular problem, or telling the RLIS techs to handle their
paperwork in a certain way until Tara finally made a decision and came
out with helpful instructions. Tara seemed to like these e-mails, because The Wedding
they gave her an opportunity to remind everyone that she, and not that
Despite my complaints, let it not be said that all was darkness and
paralegal, was in charge of the RLIS unit, and that she was the one who
gloom. Right around this time, I received a very lovely wedding
gave the orders.
announcement in the mail at my home. Tara was getting married!
As time went by, I began to hear stories, and to see for myself, that
I was happy for her, and of course I felt very flattered that she
Tara did not just play favorites, on the positive side, by making Candy
considered me enough of a friend to want me to attend her wedding. It
Tenuff her sidekick. Tara was also quite willing to single certain techs
was like, geez, here I've been such a pain in the neck for her, but she's big-
out for bad treatment. But I don't think she chose them herself. If she
hearted enough to look past all that and see me as someone who should
had, it would have been too weird, because at least three or four of the
be involved in this very personal event in her life.
techs she picked on were black women like herself. I think most of us
It put me in an awkward place, though. Should I tell my fellow techs
believed that Tara was a political animal, and that she was following
there in the RLIS unit? I really didn't want to look like a teacher's pet,
suggestions from Barry, who was a white lawyer from Philadelphia, or his
like a favorite or something.
secretary Allie Gaytor, a white woman from the South. Allie had a
The day after I received that wedding announcement, I went to work
reputation for hounding people who were on Barry's hit list.
as usual. I was sitting in my cube, doing my work, when one of the other
For instance, Tara and Barry and Allie had made things uncomfort-
techs stuck her head in and whispered, “Hey, Ray, are you going?”
able for Ima Mensch, the computer whiz and permanent Help Desk
“Going where?” I asked.
assistant. Ima had finally quit, to go to a company where they appreciated
“Did you get an invitation to Tara's wedding?”
her abilities. Tara had also hounded another black woman who actually
“Yeah, I did,” I admitted.
took a pay cut to transfer out of the RLIS department. (When that
“She sent them to everybody in the RLIS unit. Are you going to the

190
wedding?” through the mental anguish of deciding whether to offer a sign of my
Suddenly the situation looked different. So much for being a special lifetime commitment of friendship ) you know, like going out and
friend of Tara. This was a relief, because now I didn't have any special spending thirty bucks on a blender or something.
obligation to attend. Don't get me wrong. I'm not cheap. Frugal, yes, but not cheap. For
We all talked about why we were invited. Some people thought that a good friend, I would gladly hunt around and see if I could find a toaster
Tara wanted to make a friendly gesture to us, to let us know that she did on sale somewhere. But this wasn't a good friend. This was just Tara,
think kindly of us outside the office. Of course, she was rarely friendly and right now our undying friendship was looking a bit rich for my taste.
to us in the office, and she had never joined us for any kind of lunch or I guess there was only one possible outcome. I blew off the bridal
after-work social activity, so it didn't seem like she was all that interested shower. Fortunately, I was in something of a fog at that point. I took
in being our friends. some sick time ) no kidding, I really was sick, nose running and green
Other people thought that she had wanted to invite a couple of techs, stuff coming out my mouth ) and so one day, when I went to Tara's office
but didn't want to be playing favorites, and therefore had to invite and stood there dizzy and sneezing, and she said to me, “Ray, you missed
everybody. But this was silly, because Tara played favorites all the time. the bridal shower,” I was able to say, in all honesty, “Oh, man, what did
Besides, she didn't have “a couple” of friends in our unit. Candy was the I do here?” in the tone of voice that you might use if you asked somebody
only one, as everybody knew. what year it is.
The only thing I could figure was that she was just packing the pews. That took care of the shower. One event down, one to go.
She wanted us all to show up at the church, and be sure to bring presents. The wedding was scheduled for a Saturday. Five days before that,
It didn't stop there. Shortly thereafter, I received another letter in the on Monday, we had our usual weekly RLIS meeting, with Candy taking
mail from her. This time, it was an invitation to a bridal shower. Fine. Tara's place. Tara was out sick that day, Candy said.
So now I was supposed to buy her one present for the wedding and Tara was also out sick the next day, and Candy let us know that Tara
another present for the shower. hoped she would feel better by Friday. The sick-leave note on Tara's door
You may wonder if this was kosher. Was Tara really allowed to be said, “SICK LEAVE, MONDAY - FRIDAY.” We all knew that either
shaking us down for gifts? she was dying or else she had an uncanny ability to look at her own
I'm glad you asked. It gives me a chance to tell you about Code of condition and be pretty sure that she would remain sick for the next five
Federal Regulations Title 5, Part 2635, Subpart 302, which states that days.
employees in the federal government are not permitted to give gifts to Tara had guessed correctly. She did not recover her health that
“official superiors,” and official superiors are not permitted to receive week. Then she got married on Saturday, and she took two weeks of
gifts from their subordinates. vacation for her honeymoon. So we were stuck with Candy as our
The Code of Federal Regulations was written by “official superiors” temporary boss for three weeks altogether.
in the federal government, of course, so naturally they had to make some Bosses like Tara were required by an Official Directive to “periodi-
allowances. Therefore, Subpart 304, paragraph (b), subparagraph (1) cally review employee sick leave records for indications of sick-leave
contains an exception. This exception provides that it is OK to give a gift abuse.” But now we knew for sure that Tara would never be accusing
to your boss “in recognition of infrequently occurring occasions of anyone of that, because if she did, we'd blow the whistle on her for this
personal significance such as marriage.” whole pre-wedding sick week scam.
So there you are. Tara had us by the balls. I, personally, had to go Anyway, this may come as a shock, but I didn't make it to the

192
wedding. I really was almost tempted to consider maybe going, until a where I had to punch holes in thousands of sheets of paper and put them
couple of the other techs said that they didn't think Tara would miss us if into red binders.
we were absent. I agreed with them and decided that I, too, would not I'm not saying that Tara and Barry were deliberately getting even
bother going. But then they went after all, and I was left looking like the with me by choosing me to work on this huge project. But there were
bad guy. some suspicious factors to consider, and this project eventually became
I probably should have gone. Weddings are fun. If I could actually one more problem between me and my managers. There's actually more
have gotten to the point of feeling like a friend of the bride, I probably to the story than I told you before.
would have gone, even if it did require me to go out and buy her a vase. The first odd thing was that Tara came up with this idea of punching
holes in all those thousands of sheets of paper and putting them into
binders. I contacted the six other RTC offices around the U.S. and found
Silence before the Storm out which technicians were handling the UIC project in their offices, and
I talked to those people, and none of them were going to all this extra
I think I blew it in not going to the wedding. Somebody showed me
trouble.
pictures afterwards. The church looked pretty empty. I think Tara was
While Tara was on her honeymoon, Candy Tenuff was standing in
counting her friends carefully that day.
as temporary manager of the RLIS unit. We had these three temp workers
I couldn't tell for sure if she was mad at me for skipping out. She
(including Dawana Dewitt) who were just sitting around, complaining that
was always switching between being my friend or my enemy. Maybe it
they didn't have any work to do. So I asked Candy if they could help me
was an astrological thing. I think she was a Gemini, and they say Geminis
punch holes. Candy said no: I had to do the punching by myself.
are like that. Rhonda Gauntlett was like that too, and she was a Gemini.
My investigations revealed that all of the RTC offices except ours
But whatever the reason, it didn't seem like Tara and I were having too
had sent a manager, like Barry or Tara, to a planning meeting in Washing-
many warm and fuzzy moments to treasure anymore.
ton. I sent some questions by e-mail to the guy in D.C. who was
Same with Barry Amenama. Until we had this go-round about the
coordinating the whole UIC project, and he said that our office was
e-mail I sent to Sonny and Sharon, I'd pass Barry in the hallway and I'd
probably confused on some points because we didn't have anyone at that
say Hi and he'd say Hi and we'd just sort of move on, making the basic
meeting.
guy assumption about how other men are probably going to be on my side
We were also getting mixed instructions from that guy in D.C. I was
in a pinch if I need them. But now there was no more of that. I'd see
receiving papers from several different sources: Washington, law firms,
Barry and I'd say, “How are you?” and he'd say “Oh, I'm fine,” in this
our files, etc. As far as I could tell, we might need to know where a
high, singsong voice that one woman said reminded her of how her ex-
particular paper had come from, so I kept all these papers in different
husband talked when he was lying.
stacks in my cube.
Candy ordered me to get busy and start punching all those papers
It's UIC and combining them into binders. I started punching them, like I said
before, but I also told Candy that I wasn't sure it was a good idea to
Right about this time, Tara and Barry decided to assign me to the combine them, and that I had other questions that needed answers from
UIC project I was telling you about earlier, the one where we paid law Tara, when she returned to the office.
firms $330 million because they said we owed them the money; the one Candy said, “This project has already been completely thought

194
through in Washington.” When she said that, I laughed and covered my no attorney in our office had been appointed to take responsibility for the
head and said, “Look out! Now I'm really nervous.” Then I showed her project; and I was not going to be able to get all of this work done within
the e-mail where the guy in Washington told me that the answers to some two days.
of my questions had not yet been decided on yet. It looked like Barry was giving me an unnecessary rush deadline,
So I decided to ignore Candy, and I think she must have complained hoping that it would force me to work all weekend; or else he wanted me
to Barry's secretary Allie. It was the last week of Tara's honeymoon, and to take the blame for a job poorly done. I wasn't interested in either of
Barry was out of the office too, that day, but Allie acted on Barry's behalf those outcomes.
and so, on Thursday of that week, we had this exchange of e-mails: It would have been a real problem for me, and I would have had to
work on it all day the next day, which was a Friday. Unfortunately, I was
out sick that day, and so I was not able to return to the project until
ALLIE: The UIC assignment you were given is expected to Monday.
be completed by noon on Monday.
Moreover, Barry evidently did not realize that Tara had previously
ME: Which UIC assignment were you referring to? approved a week of vacation for me during that next week. So I was not
ALLIE: How many UIC projects have you been given? going to be able to return to the project on Monday either.
Therefore, I was out sick, and then I was on vacation. A week later,
ME: Just one, but you said ASSIGNMENT. If you're I got back from my vacation and discovered that all those nasty UIC
talking about the PROJECT, then I understand
what you mean. papers had been removed from my cube. This was a pleasant surprise.
Tara had finally returned from her honeymoon, so I wandered around to
ALLIE: Whatever you call it, it must be completed by
Monday noon. her office to thank her for getting rid of those papers. She said, “Ray,
come in and sit down.”
ME: I know. Tara told me, before she left, that she
wanted it done when she got back. Unfortu- I closed the door and sat down, and she started in on me, telling me
nately, I have run into a couple of questions how Barry had freaked out when he saw that I didn't get the project done
since then, and I need to talk to her about by his deadline. She said I could be in serious trouble for disobeying a
them.
direct order from a supervisor.
ALLIE: I am giving you instructions from Barry Amenama. I told her that I sure would have liked to finish the project, but I
It doesn't matter what Tara said. You are
expected to have the project done by Monday couldn't help it that I was sick on that Friday, and I had already gotten her
noon, questions or no questions. permission to take that week of vacation, so it wasn't like I was deliber-
ately trying to keep Barry from meeting his very important deadline. I
said I'd be glad to go back to work on the project, except that the papers
At this point, other offices were not even starting on the project yet; were no longer in my cube and I would not be able to proceed without
we had not finished receiving papers from law firms; Washington had not them.
yet given us the computerized database to guide us in sorting our papers; She explained that, when Allie Gaytor saw that I wasn't going to
Washington did not yet have answers to other questions I had asked; have the papers in the binders within Barry's deadline, Allie had ordered
nobody had any idea what we were going to do with these papers once we the temp workers to take all the papers from my cube and carry them
got them combined into binders; combining them looked like a bad idea; down to Dawana's desk. I said, “Do you suppose that means they

196
combined the different stacks of paper I had been keeping separate?” That way, if the binder changes, we'll be able to change the
Tara asked what stacks, and I said that the papers in my cube had been in label. Does this seem right? If you want, I could see if the guy
separate stacks, and that each of those stacks came from a different who orders supplies has a special kind of label that he might
source, and I explained why each stack needed to be handled differently. recommend for this purpose.
Tara was clearly surprised to discover that I had actually been doing
some thinking about the project. A light went on in her head, and now she
understood my concern that Allie might have made a royal mess of things. Somehow, I was able to cook up several e-mails that ran on for
Tara and I marched right down to Dawana's desk and, sure enough, Allie pages, full of such questions. Some of the questions were quite long and
had ordered the temps to put everything in one big pile. involved, as I explained the full history of each little question and the
Since Allie had removed the papers from my cube, I was content to possible ways to handle it.
go along with the idea that she was in charge of the project now. So when Tara tried hard to answer each of those trivial questions. To tell the
Tara sent me an e-mail a couple of days later, to ask how the project was truth, I was kind of surprised to see how much effort she put into her
going, I wrote back that I just didn't know because I hadn't been involved answers. It took almost a week before she finally ran out of patience and
since Allie took over. Tara was irritated, and she e-mailed back to tell me sent me this e-mail:
that I was still in charge of the project and that it had been removed from
me temporarily because I hadn't lived up to Barry's deadline.
I told Tara that I was sorry to irritate her, but that she and Allie and TARA: I do not think it is necessary for me to con-
tinue answering lengthy e-mails on the subject
Candy all seemed to have a better idea of how to handle this project, and of how to organize documents for reference
that I had gotten into trouble for following my own common sense. purposes.
But Tara insisted that I take charge of the project again, and I did,
but of course they had challenged my judgment previously, and therefore
I was insecure, so I did not want to proceed without first getting her So there you are. I had gotten in trouble for doing things my own
opinion on questions like this: way, and now I was in trouble for trying to do them in the officially
approved way.
There remained just one thing left to handle, and that was the
If we have more than one binder for firms whose names begin question of executive assistance. In other words, I wanted Dawana, not
with the letter B, what should we put on the outside of the me, to do the actual work.
binders? It seems like we've got several choices: either just Candy was in charge of the temps, but Tara had made some kind of
plain “B” or else “B1,” “B2,” etc. Or possibly “BA - BK” and exception and had put the one temp, Dawana Dewitt, under the supervi-
then “BL - BR” and then “BS - BZ.” What do you think? sion of June Saypah. I knew Candy wouldn't let any of her temps help
me, but June thought the UIC project would be just fine for Dawana.
I think there are two different ways of putting those letters (B, Since the request was coming from June rather than from me, Tara
B1, B2, etc.) onto the outside of the binders. We could use a approved it, and now Dawana was assigned to the project. So that's the
magic marker, or we could just tape some labels on. I'm real story of how I came to be her supervisor in this project.
thinking that it would make more sense to tape the labels on. As the weeks went by, Dawana became sick of the UIC project. “I

198
just don't ever want to see these papers again,” she said. She would thank
me ) as in, “Oh, thanks a lot, Ray” ) each time I brought more papers for
her to put into the red binders. I told her that we would eventually have
Radicals
our answers and be able to complete the project when Washington made
some decisions, and she snorted, “Washington ) ha! Washington's the
reason the UIC project got screwed up in the first place!”
Dawana and I continued to consult extensively on the timing and
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does
manner of hole punching and other related questions. In total, the project
not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss
of punching paper and putting it into binders took nearly two months of
also looks into you.
Dawana's attention, working full-time, and the equivalent of several full-
time weeks for me as well.
) Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

One day, Tara invited me into her office and informed me that I
would no longer be handling the LOC job. No more changing law firms'
names and addresses; no more working with Ann Thrax.
Ordinarily, a man would rejoice at such news. Just like that, I was
freed from all that irritation. But the way it was presented to me, I wasn't
so happy.
You see, the LOC job was not being eliminated. It was being
assigned to another RLIS tech, a guy named Bud Kizzer. Bud and the
LOC job were going to be moved out of the RLIS section and into the
OCM section, and he was going to be promoted to paralegal, for a salary
jump of at least $5,000.
I guess it should not be surprising that Bud got this job. He was
probably the shortest person ever hired by the RTC. He was even shorter
than Sonny or Barry.
Bud had another important asset. He used to practice law. You
wouldn't think this would have anything to do with the LOC job. And it
didn't. But they were going to give Bud one additional duty, down there
in the OCM department. He was going to be the guy who took notes at
the meetings of the Committee, when they made decisions about assigning
work to different law firms.

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Evidently those meetings were more complicated that most people note-taking job to put me in my place, to get even with me for being such
realized. There was another RTC employee who had wanted the job Bud a pain in the neck.
got, but didn't get it. When this other guy went to ask Lucy why he didn't There was just one thing Tara didn't count on: I like to write. I took
get the job, Lucy explained that they needed a lawyer, like Bud, to take this new assignment and ran with it.
those minutes of the meetings, because it was a very risky job. Lucy said Tara usually sent us a reminder e-mail, saying “The meeting will
that if the minutes-taker recorded things the wrong way, they'd all go to begin at 2:00 PM. Please be prompt!” So here's a part of the minutes I
prison for the decisions they were making there in the Committee. wrote for the first meeting where I had to take notes:
So I was being replaced by Bud, who was wangling a promotion out
of the deal at the same time. And what would happen to me? Instead of
LOC, I would now be working in another area, called the SAMDA area. ME: The meeting began "promptly" at 2:08 PM, when
Tara and Candy finally walked in. We floored it
I didn't know much about it, but everybody said it was super-boring. and went across the state line into 3:00 terri-
They said the job involved a lot of straight data entry, just sitting there and tory, finally running out of fuel at 3:45.
typing all day. A number of us are going to Washington for
Tara gave me the news about the job switch, but that wasn't all. She training in the new "Platinum" system. For
also informed me that, starting immediately, I would be the person those people, Tara gave some great advice on how
to rip off the government for the maximum amount
responsible for taking minutes at the meetings of the RLIS unit. of travel time. Recommended steps include (1)
leave the office early enough, the day before
your class, to let you ARRIVE in Washington
before the end of your regularly scheduled
Man of the Minutes workday (e.g., 5:00 PM); (2) stay in D.C. on the
evening AFTER your training class and travel
Up to now, two different people were responsible for taking down back to the office during business hours the
next day, so that you don't have to travel on
the minutes of our RLIS meetings. One was Candy Tenuff, Tara's your own (evening) time; and (3) stop off at
sidekick. Candy always took these exhaustive notes, page after page. It home, on the way back to the office, to get a
fresh shirt or dress.
was like she copied them from a tape recorder.
You'd think that would be good enough. Candy could just send There was much discussion about other subjects
everybody a copy of her notes, and we'd have the whole story. But that's I could not understand. I did notice, however,
that every time Buddy Fermi spoke up, Jay Gundus
not how Tara handled it. I have no idea why, unless maybe she thought would smile and scratch his ear.
Candy was too important to act like a secretary.
Instead of getting Candy's notes, we'd get the notes taken by another
RLIS tech, a woman named Ida Noe. Ida was OK. I mean, she wasn't I sent these minutes to my fellow RLIS technicians. They seemed
brilliant, and you could tell that sometimes she was writing about things to be amused, all except Tara. She called me into her office and informed
she didn't understand, but her notes were OK. me that all minutes were to be cleared with her before they were
But now Ida was being removed from the note-taking job, and it was distributed to the techs. I asked if she was starting this rule just for me,
being given to me. Everybody knew that I complained bitterly about our and she said no, that's always been the rule. I said I was sorry, I didn't
RLIS meetings being too long, not focused, not solving anything, etc. know. I wondered if she wanted me to get everybody to send back to me
And now everybody I talked to pretty much agreed: Tara gave me this those nasty minutes that I had already distributed, so I could fix them, but

202
she didn't say anything, so I let it go. the minutes. If I knew the answer to questions like that, I would be the
Well, I had been told how to do it properly and so the next week I manager of an RLIS unit. But I didn't know, so I just did as she in-
did what Tara said, and ran my minutes past her before distributing them. structed.
I sent her a copy, by e-mail, of what I planned to send to all the other Evidently this was not what she wanted, however. On the next draft,
techs. But she didn't respond or do anything, so neither did I. I took notes she crossed out my nice word “Reword” and wrote this comment:
again the week after that, and the same thing happened: I sent them to
Tara, and she didn't reply. I was a little disappointed, because I had really
put a lot of work into them, sort of. Ray ) re-word your original version!
Eventually, I got an e-mail from Tara, asking where my minutes
from those meetings were. I sent her back an e-mail that said, Hey, I sent
them to you already. She said she must have erased them by accident, and Suddenly the blinders fell from my eyes, and I could see. She just
would I please send her another copy. wanted me to try again. No problem; that's exactly what I did.
Unfortunately, her e-mail mailbox was full, so I wasn't able to send I'm not sure how many versions we went through on those minutes.
them to her for another couple of days. I kept trying, but her box kept Eventually, she got really irritated with me and told me that she did not
being full. I suppose I could have just printed them out and carried them see why I could not produce minutes like those which Ida Noe had
to her office, but ) I know this doesn't sound like me ) I have to admit produced before me. This was a new concept, but after a moment's
that I just wasn't excited enough about the project to go to all that trouble. contemplation, I believed I finally understood what she wanted, and so I
Finally, I was able to get these rough drafts of the minutes into her promised that I would try to produce minutes like Ida's.
e-mail box. A couple more days passed, and then she came back with a To produce minutes like Ida's, I decided to use this formula: each
printout of what I had sent her. She had made some corrections to my paragraph must have one typographical error, and the minutes overall are
version on that printout. required to have at least three errors of grammar and one error of logic.
Not all of Tara's corrections made sense, but I made them anyway. So I stopped all that excessive “editorializing” that Tara disliked,
I gave her a copy of the revised version, and she marked it up again. about Jay Gundus scratching his ear and all that, and instead I started
I tried again, but there was still this one paragraph that just wasn't writing just the simple facts as Ida would have written them.
working out the way Tara wanted it to. So this time, she just wrote one I found that Tara could catch about two-thirds of the typographical
word in the margin next to the paragraph. It looked like she wanted me errors that I put into the minutes, and at least a third of the grammatical
to cross out the whole paragraph and just insert this one word, so that's errors, but would usually miss the logical errors altogether. I was really
what I did. I deleted the whole paragraph and just stuck in that one word. holding my breath one week, when I sent her a draft containing this
Here's the word: sentence:

Reword! If you have a receipt that is questionable, disallow the


qustionable parts and don't pay the parts that can to be paid.

I admit, I had no idea why she would want me to insert that word in

204
Three errors in one sentence: “qustionable” is misspelled, “can to was a memory that would always have a special place in my heart. And
be paid” makes no sense, and once that's fixed, “don't pay the parts that now that it was being taken away, I paused to reflect upon what it had
can be paid” is exactly the wrong advice. I sent it to Tara with a hope and meant, to me and my fellow technicians, during the past year.
a prayer. We had all spent our time on the Help Desk: Jay Gundus, with his
Next day, I had the answer. Tara marked up everything around that master's degree; Ima Mensch, the computer whiz; Trudy Mill, holder of
sentence, but this one crippled soldier survived the battle without a a law degree; Sharpe Fellah, the ex-NASA engineer who had worked on
scratch. I got her approval to distribute it, and I rejoiced as I sent it to all the Apollo missions to the moon in the 1960s; Buddy Fermi, who spent
the techs. Yes! I said to myself. I win! I knew, at that moment, that I years doing the books for a construction company; June Saypah, who
was as good a note-taker as Ida Noe had ever been. wrote screenplays; and all the rest of us, each with at least a college
degree.
Each of these intelligent technicians was earning at least $30,000 a
The Big Change Meeting year. The Help Desk had given us an opportunity to do important filing
projects for Candy Tenuff, instead of wasting our time trying to figure out
I was being moved to the SAMDA area in a few weeks, and Bud
if law firms were overcharging the government for a few hundred
Kizzer was taking over my LOC job and moving to Lucy's OCM area.
thousand dollars. I think we all felt that life at the RTC would just not be
But we weren't the only ones changing jobs.
the same without the Help Desk.
In the privacy of her office, Tara had told me about my new duties
But Tara was right: the Help Desk had to go. We could not allow
as SAMDA tech and minutes-taker. But a few days later, we had an RLIS
these expensive, intelligent RLIS techs to continue doing those filing jobs
meeting at which these changes were announced officially. Barry, the
for Candy Tenuff, since that would require our temp workers ) college
boss, was present, and he announced that I, and a lot of other people,
kids, earning half as much as the full-time techs ) to sit around with
would have new jobs.
nothing to do. Tara felt it was important to keep the temps busy with
I sometimes refer to this meeting as the “Big Change Meeting,”
those filing projects; I mean, why have temp workers if you don't have
because this was when Barry described how a total of seven different
any work for them? Besides, the filing projects were all done, so there
RLIS techs would be changing jobs at the same time. According to Barry,
was no need for us RLIS technicians to work on them anymore anyway.
we needed to switch to different jobs so that we would all be trained in a
Everything considered, Tara was being reasonable. She had just
variety of skills. He didn't explain why we needed a variety of skills that
wanted to run her experiment for a year or so, to be sure it didn't make any
we couldn't use anywhere in the world except on the RLIS system, which
sense. She was sure of it now, and so we had to accept that the Help Desk
would be shutting down in a year or two when the RTC folded.
would soon become just a memory.
Besides moving me to the SAMDA area, Barry announced that Noel
Oakentender would also be moving to the SAMDA area, and another tech
who had been in that area previously was being reassigned. So now it was Thinking about the Future
going to be me, Noel, and Hope Ferdabest doing SAMDA work.
Tara also announced, at this Big Change Meeting, that the Help Desk I wasn't sure what to believe about all the changes that Barry and
was going to be shut down. I rolled my eyes. She saw me do it and said, Tara announced at the Big Change Meeting. I must admit, I considered
“Well, it was just an experiment.” the possibility that they were moving me out of the LOC job because they
Maybe Tara could forget the Help Desk this easily. But for me, it wanted to be able to lay me off. My main clue was that the maintenance

206
people were no longer vacuuming under my chair. I would put crumbs unexpected problems.
down there and sometimes the crumbs would still be there the next day, Therefore, when you allow enough time to solve ten problems, you
and I felt that this could be a sign of changes to come. always fall behind because it turns out that you should have allowed
Like most RTC employees, I was on a one-year contract. Ordinarily, enough time to solve fourteen problems (if your booger is 10 to 4). You
they would renew everybody's one-year contracts, giving us a job for could have allowed extra time for those four unexpected problems; but by
another year. But there were no guarantees, and if they didn't like you, the time you were through with them, there would have been another one
you could be history. or two new problems, and now you'd be getting in trouble for not starting
If they decided not to renew, they had to give us three months' to work on the next set of ten original problems that you were supposed
advance notice. That way, we could spend months moping around, to be solving.
feeling sorry for ourselves. If we were really bad, they could fire us, but Actually, it's worse than that. If you start with ten original problems,
that required the managers to do a lot more paperwork. They tried to you'll wind up having to solve fourteen; but if you allow time for fourteen,
avoid that, because paperwork is only fun when you can make someone a booger of 10 to 4 means that you'll wind up with a total of 19.6
else do it. problems. You could allow time for 100 problems, but that would mean
My own one-year contract was going to be expiring in four months. that you'd really wind up having to solve 140. In other words, the more
It was quite a coincidence that they were now moving me from the problems you try to solve, the worse it gets.
important LOC job to the unimportant SAMDA job ) especially since Obviously, the best solution would be to allow time for only one
they already had two people doing SAMDA work and there hadn't been problem, in which case you'd wind up with only four-tenths of an
any increase in the workload over there. It sure looked like they were unexpected hassle; rounding it off, you'd start with one hassle, you'd solve
preparing to ease me out. one hassle, and you'd be done. Of course, since you hardly accomplished
But I couldn't be sure. Why not? Because of a little-known fact anything, you'd probably be fired, but that's beside the point.
about governmental work. In light of these thoughts, scientists have begun to suspect that an
It goes like this. Remember the BGR ) the Bureaucracy Generation essential mathematical principle of the universe is that you just can't win.
Ratio, or “booger,” that I was telling you about before? This is the Under Booger Theory, the correct statement is not that work expands to
measurement of how many new hassles arise every time you try to solve fill the time allotted; it's that work expands, period, and there's not a damn
the existing problems. I think I told you that my own booger was about thing you can do about it.
10 to 4, which meant that, on average, I'd find four new problems every Therefore, it didn't really matter if there had always been just two
time I solved ten old ones. people handling the SAMDA work that Tara was now assigning me to,
A job, of course, is an activity where you get paid to solve problems. because life keeps on being full of new little complications, and you can't
This is different from kicking back in your favorite chair in front of the keep up with them all, and eventually the day comes when you have to
tube, where (a) you're not solving problems and (b) you're not getting hire another person to help you, even though, officially speaking, you've
paid. only got the same amount of work that you always had and you're not
Now that we have established the difference between going to work really accomplishing anything more than you were before.
and watching TV, we can apply the principle to an understanding of Since I recognized this basic principle, I could not be sure that Tara
boogers. You see, nobody on Earth has a zero booger. You will find a was moving me to the SAMDA area because she was planning to get rid
booger in any job you take, because every job forces you to deal with of me. For all I knew, she was just doing her best to keep up with the

208
ever-growing pile of work in all areas of the RLIS department. have to depend on me anymore for LOC work.
Tara sent signals that helped me to believe that things were going to With these thoughts, I tried my own little experiment on Lucy and
be all right. For one thing, as part of the new job, she assigned me to a Ann Thrax. I suggested that they might prefer me, instead of Bud Kizzer,
new cube that was really much better than my old one. I did not think to as the guy who would move to the OCM department and handle LOC
myself that this was anything like the great dinner that they serve to a work. After all, Lucy had just told me that I have these great skills. What
condemned man, the night before they execute him. Also, after the Big could be better than to devote those skills to the service of Lucy Tania and
Change Meeting, I had a conversation with Lucy, Tara's boss, about my OCM?
transfer to the new SAMDA job. Lucy said that this would be a good This suggestion was not received enthusiastically, however, and I
opportunity for me, because SAMDA work was going to become the new had to admit that Lucy and Ann were probably relieved to think that I
hot area. She said that they really needed my assistance in that area, and would not be working with them anymore. I cannot say that such
that my skills would be valuable there. So that sounded pretty encourag- thoughts increased my sense of job security.
ing.
Weighing My Options
Having My Doubts
At first, I didn't want to leave my LOC job. But to tell the truth, I
A few weeks before they told me that I was being taken off the LOC was not certain that the SAMDA job would be all that bad. It might be
job, I was sitting on the Help Desk, not yet knowing that it was going to boring, but it might also be up-and-coming, as Lucy said. Besides, the
be abolished. I hated the Help Desk then as much as ever, although I must LOC job wasn't exactly a hotbed of excitement, ever since Ann Thrax had
admit that I learned a few interesting secrets during that particular week. taken control of it and cut down my work flow by about two hundred
For one thing, I had been halfheartedly chasing this one woman in percent.
the office, and during that week on the Help Desk I got a stray call from I also wasn't sure I cared all that much about getting laid off. I had
her boyfriend. Or, as he told me, her ex-boyfriend. I hadn't realized that saved some money, and if I didn't find another job, I would collect
they had split up, and it was valuable information to discover that she was unemployment.
back on the market. Or at least I thought I would probably qualify for unemployment.
In addition, I got a call from someone in Washington, also not Not wanting to take anything for granted, I asked around to gather more
knowing who I was, who wanted to confirm that Rhonda Gauntlett in the information. Everyone said that the RTC would never dispute a person's
OCM department was being set up as a backup, to do the same work as claim to unemployment. There was only one exception that anybody
Ray Woodcock. This was most interesting, since I had personal knowl- could remember. One woman had gotten fired after she stood up in the
edge of Mr. Woodcock and, as far as I knew at that point, he was in good middle of the office one day and yelled at Barry and the other managers,
health and planned to continue doing LOC work for some time to come. calling them ass-kissers and accusing them of all having sexual relations
As I say, these things happened several weeks before the Big Change with each other. Barry and the others went to a hearing to oppose that
Meeting when they announced that I was going to the SAMDA job. So woman's application for unemployment. They lost. If she could get
now, now that we'd had that meeting and had all been assigned to unemployment, I figured anybody could.
different jobs, I thought back to that phone call on the Help Desk, and it Still, it's not like I was dying to be unemployed. It was a nice feeling
looked like my bosses had made Rhonda my backup so that they wouldn't to have a job and save a little money. I had my friends on the job; I came

210
home in the evening with no worries; and I did enjoy some aspects of the after a conversation with Mel Phunc Shen, who worked in our computer
work. department.
I decided that I could handle unemployment, if it came to that, but “Mel,” I said, “how come my computer account keeps having these
that I should first attempt to keep my job by trying to improve the problems where it says ‘Invalid Password’ and won't let me into the
situation between me and my bosses. system, first thing in the morning?”
“How many times has it happened?” he asked.
“Oh, geez, probably a half-dozen by now.”
My Concerns “Well, we don't drop passwords by accident. It just never happens.
The only time passwords change is when someone goes into your
When you cut away all the details, there were really just two things
account.”
that bothered me at this point. One had to do with the job change. As I
“Say what?”
say, I wasn't eager to get laid off or to get stuck in the SAMDA job if it
“The computer system won't tell us your password, but if we have
was boring. It was starting to look like my managers had a bad impres-
the right authorization, it will let us change your password. Then we can
sion of me, and that they didn't have the courage to come clean and just
use that new password to get into your account.”
tell me what was bothering them.
“Then you'll change it back to my old password?”
The other thing was that I didn't see why it was necessary for them
“We can't. We don't know what your old password was.”
to be breaking into my computer account. I didn't expect management to
“So if I come to work one day and find that I have to use a new
put up a personal living space for me, but if they were prying into my
password, it's because someone got into my account the night before.”
e-mail messages or other computer files, I wanted them to admit it. I
“Chances are. You say this has happened a half-dozen times?”
missed the old days, when I was free and happy on the e-mail system, and
“Probably. Something like that.”
I wanted to have that attitude again.
“Then I'd say that someone with the right authorization has been in
Lately, I had heard that employees' phone lines were being tapped
your computer account a half-dozen times. I hope you're not keeping any
in RTC offices. I also heard about a raid in the Dallas office ) a “Gestapo
secrets in there.”
raid,” everybody called it ) when management supposedly came in one
Well, if I was bothered about my e-mail privacy before, now I was
day and told everybody to stand up, leave everything as-is at their desks,
really bothered about it. Having your house broken into can increase your
go home, and not come back until they were called. According to the
interest in door locks. Mel was telling me that yes, in fact, my managers
story, management spent the next couple of days going through the desks
were breaking into my private computer account.
of each RLIS technician. This stuff was scary and depressing. Nobody
It didn't look like Barry or Tara were in any rush to give me an
likes that feeling of being invaded.
honest explanation of what was going on. At this point, I didn't think I
Or, as the Supreme Court once put it, “An expectation of privacy in
could really trust anything that Barry said anyway.
one's place of work is based upon societal expectations that have deep
Any good employee realizes that managers sometimes become
roots in the history of the [Fourth] Amendment [to the Constitution of the
difficult and unruly, and that a special effort is needed in order to resolve
United States].” You will find those words on page 709 of a book called
those difficulties, which may stem from personal problems that the
“480 U.S.,” which is a strange name for a book ) but I guess if the
manager brings to the job. So at this point it looked like I was going to
Supreme Court writes a book, they can call it whatever they want.
have to find a way to set things right.
I had recently become more concerned about our computer privacy,

212
at construction sites. “I'm really surprised,” Buddy said. “Joe normally
has a very helpful attitude.” “Well,” I said, “he just told me I had to sort
Going Over Their Heads it out with Barry on my own.” “That's not how it's supposed to work,”
Buddy said, shaking his head.
The first thing that everyone knows to do, when things go bad with
a manager, is to go over their head and see if the manager's boss sees it
differently. I had heard of Barry Amenama's boss when I first joined the Going WAY Over Their Heads
RTC; and long ago, as soon as I got a chance to introduce myself, I
walked up to him, shook his hand, and said, “You must be Joe King!” When I saw that none of my bosses were interested in my situation,
Joe and I had always got along OK, at a distance. I never really I decided to experiment with a new thing that the RTC had just set up. It
bothered him, and like all the other managers above Tara, he didn't show was called the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman was a person high up in the
his face too often down in our corner of the building. It was pretty much management in Washington, at the right hand of Lou Brickant, the
live and let live, or bureaucrat and let bureaucrat, or whatever. But the Chairman of the RTC.
day came when I had to go to Joe and talk to him about this situation with The Ombudsman's office had an 800 toll-free number and also an
Barry and Tara. e-mail address. Being cautious, I started just by sending the Ombudsman
Others had warned me that Joe was useless. One friend said, “The an e-mail message, asking what kinds of situations they handled. I knew
incompetence that you see in Tara and Barry doesn't stop there. It goes Barry might be reading my e-mails and might see this, but I decided it
all the way to the top.” Another told me of how she had the RTC dead to wouldn't be much of a surprise to him anyway.
rights in a discrimination complaint, and Joe just basically didn't care. They sent me a list of common questions that people ask about the
“He was in his ivory tower, and I was a speck of dust on his horizon,” she Ombudsman's office, along with the Ombudsman's answers to those
said. I think she felt bad for not pursuing that lawsuit, just to prove a questions. It looked pretty good. From what I understood, the Ombuds-
point. man's office had been set up to give RTC employees someplace to turn
But Joe was indeed Barry's boss, and I knew it made sense to start when things went wrong. Top management seemed to think it was better
with him. So I went to Joe one day and explained the situation between to get people to tell their complaints to the Ombudsman than to make
Barry and me. And you know what? My friends were right. Joe told me them public.
that I'd have to work the situation out myself. I said, “I've tried, but Barry I decided to give it a try. But I wasn't ready to become a real
just doesn't like me.” Joe didn't deny it, and right there I was pretty sure whistleblower. So I didn't call the 800 number from my desk, where
that Barry had already talked to him. maybe they could trace the call back to me, or where maybe someone in
Joe said, “Unfortunately, it is not within my power to make one my office might even be recording my calls. I doubted that they really did
person like another.” I said, “Yeah, but it is within your power to instruct that, but I didn't want to take any chances. Instead, at lunch one day, I
one person not to let their personal attitudes affect their professional went to a gas station and used their pay phone to call that 800 number.
judgment.” Joe admitted that this was true. But it didn't seem to make It turned out to be the main 800 number for the Washington RTC
any difference. He just wanted me out of his office, and so, when I saw office. I asked the switchboard operator to put me through to the
that our discussion was going nowhere, I thanked him for his time, got up, Ombudsman. But I didn't realize that the RTC had more than one
and left. ombudsman. Naturally, she put me through to the wrong one. After
I went back and told Buddy Fermi, the RLIS tech who used to work playing around for a while, though, we got back to the place where I

214
wanted to be, the employee Ombudsman. handicap. But they were discriminating against me, and I had two ways
The guy handling phone calls on the Ombudsman's hot line wasn't of proving that their discrimination was based on my own mental
the Ombudsman himself. He said that he, personally, was just a temp handicaps.
whom they had hired from a personnel agency down the street, and that For one thing, as anybody could see, you had to be crazy to be in my
he couldn't answer my questions, but that he would take those questions job. Craziness is a mental handicap, even at the RTC. In my view, it was
to the Ombudsman and get answers for me. unfair for them to look for someone crazy enough to do the job, and then
This sounded good, so I told him I had two questions: (1) If I could pick on him for being crazy.
prove that there was no good reason for putting me into another job, And then there was the clincher. Obviously, I had some kind of
would the Ombudsman be able to keep my managers from doing it? And mental handicap that kept me from doing the job the way Barry and Tara
(2) Could the Ombudsman give me a list of the managers or other people wanted, because if I had been doing it the way they wanted, they wouldn't
who were authorized to break into our personal e-mail accounts? be taking it away from me. Therefore they had to be discriminating
The guy on the hot line said he was sure they would be able to do against my handicap in taking it away from me, and the fact that they
something for me. Unfortunately, when I called back a few days later, he were taking the job away from me proved that they shouldn't take it away
had changed his tune. He said that they don't ordinarily tell managers from me.
how to do their jobs, so if they wanted to switch me to another position, To me, these were legitimate grounds for a discrimination complaint,
they'd probably be allowed to do it. He also said he couldn't give me a list and I thought they were worth looking into. So I went to see our EEO
of people who were authorized to get into my e-mail account. “counselor,” as she was called, and told her that I thought I might qualify
And that pretty much exhausted the possibilities for going to my as a victim of discrimination in the workplace.
boss's boss or to someone else up the ladder. If I wasn't happy with Barry I sat down and told the counselor my story. I said, “I don't want to
and Tara, it was up to me to find some other way of dealing with them. cram myself down their throats. I can understand their reasoning: ‘We're
just more comfortable with our own type.’”
The EEO counselor snickered, because we both knew that this “our
E-I-EEO own type” stuff was the classic definition of discrimination. She took
down the basic information and then asked me if I wanted to file a formal
So far, I was striking out. But I wasn't out of options yet. There was
EEO complaint.
an office at the RTC called the Equal Employment Opportunity office, or
I asked her what was involved in this process. She said she would
EEO for short, and I thought maybe they could help me.
start by arranging a conference with Barry and Tara. Then, if that didn't
Ordinarily, EEO defends women and minorities who are victims of
produce a solution, she would come back to me and see if there were any
discrimination. But I felt that I was a minority too. There were only four
other steps I could suggest. This process had to be completed within a
white males out of sixteen people in our RLIS unit, and I was the only one
certain amount of time. If I didn't get satisfactory results by the end of
who was over six feet tall. So I was clearly a minority who deserved
that time period, then it sounded like I would have to file a different kind
protection from discrimination.
of formal complaint if I wanted to take the thing further.
I wasn't sure I'd be able to say that with a straight face, so I came up
It was all a little murky to me, and I didn't see how this would have
with a second reason to prove that I was being discriminated against. And
any effect on anything, but I figured it was worth a try. I have to say, the
on this one, the logic was absolutely rock-solid. It went like this. They
counselor sure seemed to think she could cut through the red tape and find
were not allowed to discriminate against someone who had a mental

216
a solution. weren't going to cover a big part of her medical expenses. But she was a
She gave me some papers that explained things in more detail. I fighter, and she had friends. She sued our insurance company, and people
took them home and read them that night. There were a lot of compli- started taking up a collection for her. And you know what? She beat the
cated deadlines and rules. I also looked again at the Ombudsman stuff. insurance company, she survived the chemo, and she recovered nicely.
I paid careful attention to many useless details, and then, after an hour or Now that I didn't seem to have a lot of other options, I found myself
two, I said to hell with it and went to bed. getting in touch with people like this, who had already fought battles with
A week later, the EEO counselor called me back and told me that she the authorities. I was especially interested in making contact with the
had met with Barry and Tara, and that they had basically denied every- whistleblowers, like those guys from Denver who had appeared on that
thing I had told her. The counselor seemed to think this was a typical TV show about breaking into their e-mail: Rad Akoll, the lawyer, and Sid
response. She asked if there was anyone else in my department who Stem, the computer guy, along with another lawyer, Ann Arkist.
might be able to help sort things out. The only other person I could think Some time back, I had been in the Denver office on RTC business
of was Joe King, Barry's boss, and I already knew where he stood. So I for a while, and I had gotten to know these three people. Sid was a real
told her that I needed some time to think about it, which was my way of sweetheart. Everybody loved him. He was a fun, friendly, helpful guy
saying, “See, I knew you were useless.” with a great attitude. When he appeared before Congress, he cried when
he was telling them how management had turned his life upside down
after he became a whistleblower. His boss put him into an office by
My Friends, the Troublemakers himself in another building, took away most of his responsibilities, and
told him that he would never again be a computer site manager. At this
I knew some pretty feisty people at the RTC. One of them, named
point in the game, Sid said he was spending most of his time just
Paulise Freemey, was a “lifer” ) that is, a “GG” employee, who didn't
defending himself. They sure seemed to have him under surveillance:
have to worry about getting her contract renewed every year like most of
one time, when I called him, there was another guy on the line, and he
us did. She had come to the RTC from the FDIC, when the RTC was first
stayed on and listened to our whole conversation.
created, and when they shut down the RTC, she would be put back into
Rad and Ann had a pretty intense story too. Each RTC office across
the FDIC.
the U.S. had a Legal Division, and each of those Legal Divisions had a
Paulise was not afraid to defend her rights. She sued her boss, a
Professional Liability Section. These “PLS” departments concentrated on
woman, for sexual discrimination. She filed a complaint against one of
suing lawyers, accountants, and other professionals who had caused banks
her co-workers for sexual harassment. She also measured her cubicle and
to fail.
discovered that it was smaller than regulations required, and I think she
Rad used to be in charge of the PLS department in the Denver RTC
may have sued the RTC for that. Also, they tell me that she filed a claim
office. Used to be, that is, until he and the staff attorneys under him were
for disability because of carpal tunnel syndrome caused by too much
about to sue people in the White House, state governors, and other top
typing.
politicians across the nation for their part in frauds and thefts that had
There was another woman with a slightly different story. She had
occurred at some of the failed banks. Then, suddenly, orders came out
bone marrow cancer and was going through chemotherapy. “You get
from headquarters. Rad's department was totally changed around, those
mouth and throat sores so bad you can't speak or swallow,” she said,
lawsuits were stopped cold, and lawyers in that department, including Rad
talking about the chemo. As time went on, her speech got worse. It was
and Ann, were put into entirely different positions.
horrible. Right about then, our health insurance company decided they

218
According to Rad and Ann, this political move put an end to billions One of the most senior attorneys in the Dallas office told the Senate
of dollars' worth of lawsuits that they were going to file on behalf of the how the RTC had done almost nothing to investigate bank officers at a
taxpayers. But it didn't stop there. That's actually where the story of Rad hundred different failed banks. After this attorney said that to the Senate,
and Ann was just starting. They didn't go along quietly. Instead, they management seized his files and computer and locked him out of his
told the newspapers all about it. This made a big stink, and they wound office. He ultimately had to leave the RTC. The Treasury Department
up getting invited to D.C., to testify before Congress. heard about this, and sent a task force to Texas to investigate. This task
By the time I made contact with Rad and Ann, they had put up with force included two Secret Service agents and some other outsiders. We
a tremendous amount of harassment. They explained why I hadn't gotten heard that they had prepared a report that would just tear management
a straight answer out of Barry when Tara sent him that memo, months apart. But then somehow, after they got back to Washington, the whole
earlier, asking for the RTC's policy on the invasion of employees' private thing got hushed up. I don't think any report ever came out.
e-mail files. Rad and Ann said, “Management is getting into people's This stuff was in the news. Somebody told me that every RTC
e-mails big-time, all the time, across the country. They don't want any office in the country had at least one whistleblower complaining of gross
kind of rule that would keep them from doing it.” corruption, fraud, or mismanagement. Rad and Ann had finally gotten to
They told me stories about harassment of fellow workers who visited the point of winning some lawsuits against the RTC under the Freedom
them in their offices, or were seen talking to them or having lunch with of Information Act, and they had just recently gone to Washington to
them. They said that one guy was told that his career would be damaged accept the Cavallo Prize for Moral Courage. As I understand, they also
if he socialized with the whistleblowers, and that another guy actually found out, somehow, that the head of the Denver Legal Division ) the one
jumped behind a closet door when a manager approached, to avoid being who had told Sid to break into Rad's computer account ) had just awarded
seen next to them. A receptionist told Rad and Ann that her boss had herself a $10,000 annual bonus. Meanwhile, the lady with bone marrow
ordered her to give him the name of each person who called and asked to cancer, who I told you about a minute ago, also got an annual bonus ) of
speak to Rad or Ann. $750.
I told Rad and Ann about my contacts with the Ombudsman. They
said that nobody they knew of, including themselves, had gotten anything
from the Ombudsman. In fact, at this point, we all suspected that the Joining the Gang
purpose of the Ombudsman was just to tell management about complain-
These whistleblowers certainly had a lot of fights going against
ing employees, and tip them off if the employees had any really hot
management. But they were also making an interesting discovery about
information against management.
their fellow workers. Once these whistleblowers established their
Of course, Denver wasn't the only RTC office that had whistleblow-
reputations as people who opposed management, other employees started
ers. A guy in the Valley Forge office got canned for sending some
coming to them, secretly, and telling them about other things that
information about an RTC scam to someone in Congress. Another lawyer
managers were getting away with.
in Valley Forge was convinced that management was deliberately
Then the same thing started happening to me. As word got out that
avoiding efforts to go after the bad guys. This lawyer had years of
I was on Barry's hit list, people who had never had much to say to me
experience in the task of tracing money laundering from the U.S. through
were suddenly in much closer contact. It turned out that Barry and other
foreign banks, but when he offered to do that kind of investigation for the
managers had a lot of enemies hiding away, waiting for an opportunity to
RTC, he was informed that it wouldn't be necessary.
do something about the bad stuff they'd seen.

220
For instance, one paralegal had gotten her hands on a confidential Rad and Ann and Sid had experienced, and maybe even costing them their
memo from a law firm. Let's call them Firm No. 1. The RTC had hired jobs. And, really, these friends didn't seem to expect me to do anything
Firm No. 1 to investigate some work that another law firm ) Firm No. 2 about these stories. They just needed to tell someone.
) had done for the RTC. In this memo, Firm No. 1 said that Firm No. 2
had screwed up a $4 million lawsuit that the RTC would have won if that
firm had just filed a simple document with the court. The memo went on Other Options
to say that, if we wanted to sue Firm No. 2 for screwing up, we would
When it comes to investigations and complaints, you've really got to
almost certainly win the case, and they would owe us at least that
hand it to the government. They've got more departments checking up on
$4 million, and maybe some other amounts besides.
each other ... I won't promise you that any of those departments really
For a while, we put Firm No. 2 into Restricted status on RLIS, which
accomplish much, but it does look impressive.
supposedly kept them from getting any new assignments from us. But
Aside from the Ombudsman and the other things I've already
eventually a big shot in our headquarters in Washington decided that this
mentioned, the RTC had a department known as the Office of the
was not appropriate, and I was ordered to remove the restriction. I don't
Inspector General. They had posters up all over the place, telling us to
know if it was the decision of that big shot in Washington, or of someone
call a toll-free 800 number to report any fraud, waste, or mismanagement
else, but as far as I know, we never did pursue Firm No. 2 for that
that we might see. (This was different from the 800 number for the
incredibly expensive errror. You have to wonder if maybe there was a
Ombudsman that I was telling you about earlier.)
reason why we let the other guys win that one and then didn't pursue it
In my impression, you became an official whistleblower by
afterwards.
complaining to the Inspector General. So to do this, I came up with a
Then a staff lawyer named Bernadette Alldowne told me about a
plan. I figured that, if the managers were having meetings in non-RTC
situation where the very guys who had driven a bank to ruin were now
places like New Orleans and Santa Fe, we could probably have a
trying to get the RTC to sell, back to them, the bank's remaining business
convention of LOC technicians in Hawaii. Then, once we were all there,
and a bunch of its assets. According to the proposed deal, they would pay
I figured I could call the Inspector General and tell them that the RTC was
very little for all these goodies. These guys evidently had a lot of pull.
paying a fortune to ship us to this tropical paradise. (Actually, I probably
They were persuading people in Washington to try all sorts of legal
would have postponed that call until the end of the week.) The Inspector
shenanigans to make this thing happen. Bernadette said, “I'm talking to
General would nab our managers, and furthermore they would see that I
those Washington RTC attorneys about this, but I may as well talk to my
was an eager beaver, and this would qualify me for a job with the Office
cat. At least I can understand the cat. The guys in Washington are telling
of the Inspector General, which would almost have to be more interesting
me that they've done something here that no one has done before. And I
than working with Ann Thrax.
say, ‘You're darn right no one has done it. It doesn't make any sense. No
It didn't look like we were going to get our convention in Hawaii,
reputable attorney in the country would touch it.’ When I told them that,
though, so eventually I just picked up the pay phone and called the
they accused me of interfering and said it could cost me my job.”
Inspector General's 800 number. I got a lady who didn't understand what
It was kind of funny to get these confidential stories from fellow
I wanted. I kept trying to explain that I was just interested in reporting
workers. I didn't feel like I could blow the whistle on these events without
mismanagement, like they said on their posters.
dragging my friends ) the ones who were trusting me with these stories
She finally gave me another 800 number to call. It turned out to be
) out into the spotlight, setting them up for the kind of harassment that
the hotline for the Department of Energy. I wondered if it was a joke: the

222
Energy Department's hot line. So now, I had to admit that it would probably be more trouble than
Since I couldn't think of anything I needed to tell the Department of it was worth to try to send an explanation to the Inspector General. If the
Energy right then, I hung up and called back to the first 800 number. This top guys at the Ombudsman's office weren't interested, I sure didn't see
time, I got a different lady. She transferred me to another lady. This lady why the I.G. would be.
said that I should write up the thing that I was complaining about and send Then I heard about another investigative group, called the Program
it to them, there at the Inspector General's office. Compliance Review Team. One time, this Team invaded the California
So I started doing that. I discovered it was hard to explain all this RTC office with about twenty people who stayed for weeks, photocopying
stuff to someone who doesn't know much about the RLIS department. I all kinds of things. Maybe they actually found what they were looking
spent several hours at it, and then I began to recall what I knew about the for. It sounded like they tried hard, at least, and perhaps I could have
Inspector General. called them too.
The basic idea was that the Inspector General would keep the RTC I've been talking about polite kinds of investigations, involving the
functioning efficiently. But the RTC didn't function efficiently. Inspector General or the Ombudsman or testifying before Congress. But
Therefore, the Inspector General was a failure. So I asked myself, Why every now and then, I'd hear about these really serious-sounding FBI
should I go to all this trouble to explain the situation to a clown like the “raids” on RTC offices around the country: the FBI had investigated the
Inspector General? Denver office after Sid Stem blew the whistle out there, and another time
Then I remembered one time when the Inspector General's people the FBI went into RTC headquarters in D.C. with a search warrant. It was
were investigating a problem that was under the control of: me! tempting to invite these guys into our office, guns drawn, to help me sort
At the time when I heard about that investigation, it made me a little things out with Barry and Tara. But in the end I decided against it.
bit nervous. The day came when they were scheduled to visit me, there I did try going to a guy in our own personnel office. He had some
in my cube at work. I got my papers together and waited for them to very simple, sensible comments. He said, “Let me give you some advice.
arrive. And they did. Two guys came to my cube and sat down. They Two words of advice that I often give to people in your position.”
asked me a question, and I answered it. Then they asked me another I said, “What ) give up?”
question, and I answered that one too. “No. Save yourself. I see people fight these battles, and sometimes
And then they got up and left! Their “investigation” of me was done they win the battles and lose the wars. Let's say I were in your position
in 47 seconds. I'm not kidding. I timed it. I hope they figured out what and my boss said that part of my job was simply to remain standing. I'd
they were looking for, but what I really bet is that they didn't understand ask my boss, ‘Where do you want me to stand? You want me to stand
the whole thing, didn't want to spend the time it would take to figure out here? I'll stand here. You want me to stand over there? I'll stand over
what I was talking about, and instead decided to fake it. there. It doesn't matter where I stand, because it doesn't make any sense
Rad and Ann, the whistleblowers, told me that the Inspector to me anyway. Where you want me to stand, that's where I'll stand.’”
General's office didn't seem to make much of a difference, and I agreed. I knew the guy was right. Tara and Barry were not going to start
I knew of one case where they investigated a problem in our offices, went making sense just because I went and complained to someone. I hadn't
back to Washington, drew up some recommendations, sent us those made much of a difference in their management styles so far, and I guess
recommendations, and then went off on some other goose chase. A year my real decision was that I didn't want to spend years of my life fighting
later, they came back to see if we had done what they suggested. The the kind of lonely battle that Rad and Ann were fighting. I knew that,
answer was no. I hope this didn't hurt their feelings. even if you did make some progress in that kind of war, management

224
would probably find a way to stonewall things for another couple of years, explanation like this:
until the RTC shut down.

ME: Barry, I'm glad you asked about the rates on the
Getting It Handed to You RLIS system for the law firm of Sy & Narra.
Months ago, I pointed out this problem to you
and Lucy in two separate memos. I will make
It had become clearer that Lucy Tania, Tara's boss, had no interest more copies for you, if you cannot locate the
in fighting with me. For some months, she had been pulling a Pontius ones I gave you. The problem has been on the
system since before I joined the RTC. I agree:
Pilate ) washing her hands and saying, “Hey, just because I'm in charge it is high time that management made a decision
here doesn't mean I'm responsible.” After a certain point, I almost never to resolve this problem. Let me know what you
decide.
heard from Lucy anymore.
But it wasn't like that with Barry Amenama. I think it must have
bothered him to see that I wasn't being very humble. I had refused to sign
Another time, Barry gave me a chance to have an e-mail exchange
his admission of guilt about that e-mail to Sonny and Sharon, and had
with him that I gleefully shared with people across the country:
instead told him that I needed his signature on the statement that I typed
up. “It's not your place to be coming in here and asking me to sign
something,” he had said, almost whining, and I had replied, “I disagree. BARRY: Yesterday morning you apparently left the office
You are the one with the problem.” around 9:30 a.m. complaining of illness. While
I didn't see anybody who was dying to tell Tara that it was waste, you advised the receptionist of your leaving,
there is no record of your having advised either
fraud, or mismanagement to assign me the job of inserting grammatical your first level supervisor (Tara), second level
errors into the minutes of our weekly RLIS meetings. And I had begun supervisor (Lucy) or third level supervisor
(me). No word was left with any secretary of any
to realize that nobody would take me seriously if I took Barry to court for of the supervisors nor with the RLIS unit's
discriminating against the only tall white man in the RLIS unit with a timekeeper. Please advise me of the circum-
stances of your leaving the office and to whom
mental handicap that caused him to be a pain in the ass. (Me. We're you gave notice of your leaving.
talking about me.)
It looked like I was on my own. Tara and Barry saw that they had ME: You have inquired as to the circumstances
of the sick leave that I took yesterday morning.
stopped my EEO counselor in her tracks, and now they had me right As your e-mail recites, I left the office at
where they wanted me. approximately 9:30 AM because of illness. I am
not certain what other circumstances you want me
So, being good RTC managers, they started to pick on me. Tara to explain.
started saying things like, “Why is that report taking so long to prepare?” You have also asked whom I informed of my
absence. But again, as your e-mail recites, you
and “When are you going to have the UIC project done?” And both she already know whom I informed. I informed the
and Barry started sending me memos and e-mails, harassing me about legal receptionist. I would also have informed
various petty things. Tara, but she was in a class.
Your e-mail lays down numerous procedural
Dealing with these memos and e-mails was actually kind of steps that you seem to think I should have
amusing, especially when they came from Barry. Each time he sent me taken. Those steps certainly are not common
knowledge within this unit. I point out,
some bogus accusation, I went into the facts and came back with an contrary to your e-mail, that (a) Tara has asked

226
us to inform either her OR the receptionist, but there is interest in a book of forms approach if
not necessarily both; (b) I have no idea whom you are willing to keep writing. Users would
the receptionist has been asked to inform, but simply fill in the blanks with the names of
evidently the news did reach you; (c) RLIS their supervisors!
technicians frequently call in sick to the
receptionist or to fellow technicians, who then
inform others; (d) to my knowledge, nobody in
this unit places sick notifications with you and I showed a copy of my e-mail to others around the office. One
your secretary, and they are even less likely to
place them with Lucy or her secretary, since woman who Barry had picked on a lot, months earlier, got a real kick out
Lucy rarely takes a role in the management of of it. She held her head and moaned, and then burst out laughing. “You
RLIS; and (e) nobody has complained, in the sent this e-mail to Barry?” she asked, amazed. “I thought you might like
past, when I have placed sick calls only with
the legal receptionist. it,” I said.
It may not be obvious to you, but news of Another guy was confused. He asked, “Why would you yank
your sniping at employees tends to linger here,
and the reputation of your management style Barry's chain? I thought you said you just wanted to do a good job and
deteriorates further with each new instance. It mind your own business.” I said, “I do. Barry doesn't have anything to
is terrible for morale for the remaining employ-
ees to see that you are capable of, and seem to do with the job.”
enjoy, this kind of pettiness. It obviously The next day, I saw Barry in the men's room. “Hi, Barry, how are
takes time away from our workdays, and yours, to you?” I asked. “Fine,” he said, in the high, singsong voice that one
formulate, investigate, answer, and protect
ourselves against such trivial charges. And woman said her husband used when he was lying. I had this image of him
despite your repeated efforts to pick away at going back into his office after that and socking himself and saying, "Oh,
me, you seem only to be highlighting your own
failings. In this case, for example, you seem I just hate it when my voice does that! I hate it!"
not to be aware of standard procedure within a I made the most of these opportunities to turn the tables on Barry
unit under your direct supervision.
I suppose you will not be able to resist when he came hunting for me. It was an application of the ancient
continuing to pick on me. I can't help it, principle that he who takes the sword shall perish by the sword. Or, in
Barry: I'm hard-working, competent, and decent, modern terminology: fist come, fist served.
and this makes it difficult for you to find
something wrong with me. I wish, for your sake, But the real point here is that Barry and Tara were handing me a
that I were more of a screwup. Since that is golden opportunity. You see, the EEO discrimination rules say that you
not the case, do you suppose it would be possi-
ble for you to curtail this sort of thing, so can't engage in “reprisal” against a person who has participated in “a
that I can get some work done? protected EEO activity.”
RAD AKOLL: Great EMail! That was one of the best writ- The situation was like this. Barry and Tara may or may not have
ten salvos ever sent to the thugs who masquerade been discriminating against me for being a tall white guy with a mental
as managers in this agency. handicap. But they were picking on me a lot more, now, than they had
ME: I'm certain I scored with this one. Barry's done before. The harassment started up right after I filed my EEO
secretary, Allie Gaytor, ignored me when I complaint.
smiled and said hello a little while ago.
In other words, I could say that they were getting even with me for
RAD AKOLL: Just to let you know, you are a celebrity in using the EEO service. Maybe I was a minority, or maybe I wasn't, but
the Dallas office. Copies of your EMail are
circulating around to great acclaim. I think it's bad news to pick on anybody for trying to use the EEO, and that's

228
exactly what they were doing.
There was just one problem. If I filed an EEO complaint, they
couldn't let my contract expire. It would be just too obvious if I was Post-Partum Blues
practically the only guy in the whole place whose contract wasn't being
The time drew near when I would be starting my new SAMDA job.
renewed. That would be as good as saying that, yeah, we're discriminat-
And I would have been happy in my new job in the SAMDA area, except
ing against Woodcock. They couldn't do that, so they'd have to renew my
for one thing. It bothered me that Bud Kizzer was getting my old LOC
contract, and then we would get to work with each other for a whole year
job. I felt rejected.
longer.
But then I felt a lot better when I saw that Bud wasn't really very
So if I wanted my contract renewed, I was all set. But as they say in
excited about the LOC job. As Tara ordered, I taught him the basics, but
Brooklyn: My contract renewed ) are you nuts?
he didn't seem to understand or care much about what I was saying. He
I had seen Rad and Ann banging their heads against the wall, trying
didn't know Paradox or RDQ or other computer programs that I had found
and failing to make a difference from inside the RTC. I had published a
very useful in that job. Months later, he was still stopping by my cube to
book once before, and I'd enjoyed it, and as the weeks went past, it
ask me the same beginner-type questions, and LOC techs from other
became clearer to me that the only way I could hope to make an impact
regions were telling me that he still didn't understand his job. And as far
on this screwy government would be to get outside, get some perspective,
as I know, he never did get around to writing up those minutes for the
and work full-time on a book about the situation.
Committee's meetings that everybody had been so worried about.
To do that, I'd need funding, also known as “unemployment
I felt that this was a triumph for Justice, giving Lucy and Barry
compensation.” I didn't want to be forced to work for the RTC for another
exactly what they had bargained for, and I said a prayer of thanks. But I
year, doing the same make-work stuff, still killing time and not making
have to admit, Lucy and Barry probably didn't care much about Bud's
any difference in anything.
computer skills anyway. They probably just wanted to irritate me, or
So I couldn't file an EEO discrimination complaint against Barry and
maybe they wanted to be getting away with things and they knew that Bud
Tara, even though they really were picking on me for using the EEO
wouldn't know or care enough to try to stop them.
process. Therefore, with great sadness, I allowed the EEO deadlines to
It's said that what goes around comes around. As it turned out, Lucy
expire without doing anything further.
and Barry were not the only ones with a secret agenda. Bud apparently
When the deadlines expired, my EEO counselor told me that she
had his too. He told one of my friends that he was just looking on the
would make sure I got photocopies of all of the documents I had signed,
LOC position as a springboard to his next job. Somehow, this seemed
and would get full information on how I could go ahead and sue Barry and
appropriate, and I silently wished him the best of luck.
Tara if I wished. But then I guess she forgot that she had promised to give
me copies of those papers. I asked her several times, but she never did
send me any of that stuff. I don't know. Maybe she really was there just Making My Decision
for the purpose of seeing if she could catch me making any statements that
the RTC could use against me. When things first started going wrong between me and Barry and
Tara, I felt that I had to defend myself. This led me to the things I've been
telling you about, like the EEO process, the Ombudsman, and the
Inspector General.

230
It was not easy to get past this defensive stage. I think I would really If you've got a good boss, then maybe he or she doesn't rub your
have felt good about myself if I had gotten onto the train and starting nose in this. You work hard; you get appreciated; and that motivates you
blowing the whistle with Rad and Ann and the rest. to work harder.
But the day came when I looked at the whole situation and said to If you've got a boss like Tara or Barry, however, you find that they
myself that I would be content if I just did my job and tried to make a like to use the trump card to win other valuable bits of ego gratification.
difference in whatever time was left to me. To tell the truth, this might For instance, Tara told us that we were not allowed to receive any
have been all I could have accomplished anyway. I wasn't a top-level personal packages at the office. This meant that if our cousin was trying
manager, demoted and harassed, like Rad Akoll, and I wasn't a permanent to send us a Christmas package, either the UPS guy would have to leave
employee who'd be hard to get rid of. it sitting outside our door at home, or else we'd have to take our lunch
That thought could be depressing. But from another perspective, it hour to drive over to the UPS place and pick it up. Meanwhile, when the
could set you free. I had basically discovered that there wasn't a whole lot RTC sent Tara on business trips to places like Dallas, she would try to
that management could do to hurt me. Remove me from the LOC job? find time to go shopping; then ) perhaps to avoid sales tax ) she would
Terrible thing: I guess that means I won't have to work with Ann Thrax have her purchases shipped from Texas to the office there in Pennsylva-
anymore. Move me to the SAMDA job? The more I thought about it, the nia.
more I was sure I would find a way to make it interesting. Let my Tara treated her authority like a bum would treat an all-expense-
contract expire, so that I have to collect unemployment and can write full- paid, limousine-powered night on the town. Everything about Tara )
time? Oh, yes, please. right down to the rubber stamp with her signature on it ) cried out, “See?
Upon reaching this stage of freedom, where I felt secure about my I really am somebody!”
options, I didn't just give up and quiet down. I guess I could have, and I I would not want to take this away from Tara. I am glad she was
probably would have if Barry and Tara had helped me to believe that they able to feel good about herself like this. I was mainly interested in
were really decent professionals, just trying to get an important job done. keeping her from running over innocent bystanders while she was having
But I didn't believe that anymore, and it was getting to the point such a good time.
where I would probably never again see them in that light ) especially I guess Tara did not appreciate my helpful memos, suggesting ways
with the stories that others were now telling me about them. My attitude in which she might be a more effective manager. Also, every now and
was shifting, and I was starting to realize that the real issue here was not then, I would send her an e-mail, complimenting her on little things, like
power, as Barry and Tara saw it, but competence. Barry and Tara could how much she had improved her speaking ability in our RLIS meetings.
take away our jobs, but they couldn't take away our abilities, our pride, I had all good intentions when I sent her those compliments, but then one
our self-respect ) unless we let them. day she sent me an e-mail asking me not to send her any more compli-
mentary e-mails, and I realized that she was probably not ready for this
kind of relationship with me.
Repent, for the End Is Rear During the three or four weeks after the Big Change Meeting,
several odd little things happened. There was a day when Tara needed to
A basic rule of employer-employee relations is that the boss always
figure out how to do something on Paradox. Normally, she'd have gone
wins. There are exceptions when you've got a union, or when you can use
to Candy Tenuff, but Candy was out that day. I knew the answer, and she
blackmail or something. But for most of us, the boss has the trump card:
knew I knew it. But she didn't come to me. Instead, she asked Jay
they can fire you or lay you off.

232
Gundus, who didn't know the answer. Together, the two of them spent an swim against this current?
hour in her office, trying to figure out something that I could have shown ME: The winds of war swirl in the distance, bringing
her in five minutes. I'd walk past every now and then, my rabbit ears with them a fog, the fog of battle, and a great
clamour: the shouting of men and the cries of
sticking out, and I'd hear them agreeing that this computer stuff was not horses, the tramping of hordes, and the pained
easy unless you did a lot of it. squalling of a thousand bearings upon axles,
Lucy was her same sweet self as always, except that sometimes, axles upon wheels, wheels upon stone. And
though none of this has yet reached my ears, I
when we passed in the hallway, she didn't seem very pleased to see me. brace myself for the first heralding gust.
With Barry, it was worse than that: he'd try to ignore me, but then I'd say
FRIEDA: Yeah, well, I have to admit, the beauty of this
something like, “Hey, Barry, nice haircut,” just to let him know that I was boocoocy is that all accusations must be proven
still the same old friendly guy. before acted upon. At times, it looks like
you're taking advantage of a great situation.
I guess Barry must have felt the need to let me know who was boss, I don't know...part of me thinks you're intelli-
because along about this time he started pulling the stunt of calling me gent and part of me thinks you're crazy for
into his office at 3:45 PM on Friday afternoons, which was fifteen minutes attempting to climb this particular mountain.
Good luck & keep me informed.
before I left for the day. (I worked from 7 to 4.) We both knew that he
didn't have the nerve to come right out and fire me, but on these Friday
afternoons it sure looked like he was trying to make me afraid he would. Still, no matter how many buddies you have on Death Row, the day
One time, when he did this, I walked in and sat down and noticed comes when you must face the music alone, and I started to realize that
that he was wearing glasses, which I'd never seen before. I was thinking that day could be approaching for me.
to myself that he looked like a fricking dork, but I thought it might be
impolite to say so. So instead, I said, “Barry, the glasses create a different
image. When did you get them?” “About twenty years ago,” he replied. Christmas
In this particular meeting, Barry informed me that I had better be thinking
about what I intended to do. I figured he was talking about my future In the movie Lenny, Dustin Hoffman plays a scene where the
with the RTC, so I smiled at him and said, “Oh, I'm in good shape.” comedian Lenny Bruce went through a tough time in his life. Instead of
Naturally, when you're in the position of feeling bad because your telling jokes on stage, Lenny was preoccupied with his courtroom battles
boss does not like you, you reach out and search for friends. In the over freedom of speech.
previous generation, the applicable phrase was, “Misery loves company.” I felt a little like that during this portion of my RTC experience. I
Nowadays, we see it differently, so we say that a person needs to establish was being drawn into a tough, hostile situation, and it really wasn't much
a “support network.” I had a support network consisting of people who fun.
knew what I was talking about and who shared my views of management. Fortunately for me, Christmas rolled around. I'm normally not much
My support network and I had e-mail exchanges like this: of a Christmas celebrator, but a couple of my RTC buddies really came
through for me.
First, there was a day, deep in dark December, when I came dragging
FRIEDA GOGH: Ray, I just read the copy you sent me, of my sorry butt in to work, as usual ) only to see that my whole cube was
the latest e-mail you sent to Tara, and I'm lit up! A couple of merry pranksters, calling themselves “Santa's Elves,”
worried about you. Are you sure you want to

234
had strewn Christmas-tree lights all over the place. I had decorations and It was nice to be on this list. It told me that they weren't fixing to
tinsel on every wall. It was beautiful, and it was just what the doctor fire me any time soon. But I wasn't so excited about going to Washington
ordered. for training. I feared it would involve another hassle with the Travel
And then there was Rhonda Gauntlett's annual Christmas party. department to get reimbursed for my travel expenses. I also didn't have
Granted, Ann Thrax and some of the other people there weren't really any desire to learn Platinum, because RDQ was adequate for my needs
eager to spend much time speaking to me. But Rhonda herself was a great and they were continuing to spend money to improve it. And early
host, and I had a very nice time, and when I left, I felt that working at the reports made Platinum sound like a real dog.
RTC was worth all the hassle, if I could have friends like this out of the Nevertheless, I made reservations for the trip and got in touch with
deal. some friends from other parts of the country who would also be attending
this training, to figure out when we could get together there in D.C.
Then, mysteriously, I got an e-mail from Tara that told me my
Platinum Platinum training had been cancelled because I would not need to use
Platinum as a SAMDA tech. I agreed, but I was curious. So we had this
Our RLIS computer system was slow and poorly organized. But it
exchange of e-mails:
still contained a lot of information about law firms, and there were times
when we needed that information.
To get it quickly and efficiently, the RTC could have paid for ME: The plans to send me to DC for Platinum training
someone to add the necessary features to RLIS. The RTC was always were made after it was known that I would be
spending a lot to improve RLIS anyway, so it shouldn't have been hard to switching from LOC to SAMDA. Has there been
some redefinition of what my future work will
add this one more assignment to the list. But that's not what they did. be?
Instead, they paid for someone to create another computer system, called
TARA: Your future work is under consideration.
QMF, that could be used to get information out of RLIS.
Unfortunately, QMF was difficult to understand. People had to take ME: Well, I appreciate that update. May I inquire
as to the more detailed meaning of the statement
classes in it before they could use it. Really, it was a kind of program- that it is "under consideration"?
ming language in and of itself. So QMF wasn't a practical solution for
most of the people at the RTC, and they were in the same boat as before.
The RTC saw this and decided to create another computer system to I didn't get a response to that question. This made me all the more
get information out of RLIS. This system was called RDQ. It was easier suspicious that I was going to get laid off. The thing is, I didn't want
to use than QMF. It contained some problems, but for the most part it Barry and Tara to suspect that I was hoping for a layoff, because if they
worked OK. knew that, I was afraid they might not give it to me. So I suppressed the
But the RTC felt that it was important to try to develop yet another urge to thank Tara for taking me off the Platinum list.
computer system to get information out of RLIS, so they did. This latest Fortunately, the early reports were right: it seemed like everybody
system was called Platinum. And at the first RLIS meeting where I had who went to the Platinum training came back frustrated with it and
to take notes, Tara had announced that I, and a half-dozen other techs, irritated at having to spend the better part of a week in a class to learn it.
would be going to Washington for training in how to use this new So I came out OK on that deal.
Platinum system.

236
finally start moving forward again. No more of this tension and discom-
fort in the office. No more worrying about getting along with turkeys like
Precision in All Things Tara and Barry. I was free to be myself, and I intended to do exactly that.
I drove away from the building happy as a lark, yelling “Yee-ha!” and
I started at the RTC at the beginning of April. My contract was
“Hallelujah!” for about a mile down the road.
renewed each April after that. And now we were coming up to another
I got home and called a friend. I finished describing what had
springtime, and the question was, will they renew me in April?
happened and said, “So it looks like I'm out of here in three months.”
According to the rules, if they weren't going to renew my contract,
“I bet you could sue them,” he said.
they had to give me 90 days' advance notice. This meant that I'd be
“Yeah, but then they might have to give me the job back.”
getting notice at the beginning of January. The exact day was January 3.
“Oh. Yeah. Well, you made it. Congratulations!”
But January 3 came and went, and they didn't give me any notice
that my contract was not going to be renewed. It looked like I had gotten
Barry and Tara all wrong. After all my hard work, they still weren't going Easing Out
to lay me off.
January 7 was a Friday, and at fifteen minutes before closing time Barry didn't leave me alone after giving me notice that my contract
on that Friday, Barry's secretary Allie Gaytor came around to my cube and was not being renewed. Every now and then, he'd find some excuse to
told me that “Mr. Amenama” wanted to see me again. By that point, we call me into his office at 3:45 PM on a Friday afternoon, fifteen minutes
were well into the 90-day period, and I knew it was too late for Barry to before the end of my week. I'd go off to see the lizard, and we'd sit there
give me a notice that my contract was not being renewed. and argue.
So I went into Barry's office, wondering what in the world he wanted Unfortunately for Barry, I wasn't feeling particularly humble these
this time. I looked at him. He looked different. It took a minute, and days. In one meeting, as he was going on about some silliness, I looked
then I said, “Barry, are you growing a beard?” him in the eye and told him that, frankly, he was talking bullshit. He tried
“Uh, yes, I am,” he said. He handed me a piece of paper, signed by to stare me down, and he lost, which is always what happens when you
Joe King, that said my contract was being extended ) for two weeks. I come up against someone who is really strongly determined about
looked at it and wondered what this was all about: my contract now ends something.
on April 15 instead of April 4? It didn't make any sense. But that didn't stop him, and we had more meetings like that. During
Then he handed me another piece of paper that said my contract one of Barry's 3:45 PM discourses on his concept of management, he
would be expiring on April 15 and would not be renewed. And now I surprised me. For a few seconds, he seemed almost reachable.
understood. April 4, my starting date, did not fall at the end of a pay “You brought a lot of energy to this job,” he sighed.
period this year, and our Personnel department did not want to go to the I was surprised and pleased at the compliment. I said, “Thanks. I
trouble of figuring out how much to pay me for only part of a pay period. tried.”
So they were extending my contract until the end of the pay period that “I wish we could have found a way to channel that energy into
ran until April 15. And since that was more than 90 days away, they something productive. There were things that needed to be done and
could now give me 90 days' notice. I was going to be a free man! weren't.”
“Is that all?” I asked him. He said yes. I replied, “I'm glad you said that. It brings me back to reality. For
I left Barry's office, excited at the news. I felt that my life could a minute, I was afraid that this was going to degenerate into a constructive

238
discussion.” technician in the SAMDA area. It was kind of weird to be starting a new
“It might have been different if you hadn't left those things undone.” job with only 90 days left, but it was a new adventure, and I looked
“Which things? I need specifics on what you think should have been forward to it.
done and wasn't.”
“I know you do. We had this same discussion before.”
“And I'm still waiting on the specifics from that one.”
“Maybe there were unrealistic expectations. You needed someone
to pat you on the back every now and then and tell you that you were
doing a good job.”
I felt like saying, “And, in your opinion, that would be bizarre,
right?” But I didn't. I just said, “Oh, I don't know. I seem to have gotten
by, here, without anything like that.”
“When you were writing all those memos and making all those
suggestions, if there had been some performance to go along with them,
maybe they would have been taken more seriously.”
“But you can't tell me exactly what performance was lacking,” I
said.
“I just think we're dealing in alternate realities.”
“I agree with that,” I replied emphatically. I offered, again, to sit
down with him or Tara any time they wanted to get into the question of
what had happened during my time with the RTC. But I guess Barry
wasn't all that interested, because he never took me up on it.

For me at this point, the only big question remaining was, who do I
tell about my departure? I knew how quickly word could spread around
the office. Once I let the genie out of the bottle, it would be tough to get
him back in again.
I didn't really feel like putting up with 90 days' worth of people
feeling sorry for me, especially since I didn't feel very sorry for myself.
I also realized that people might pull away from me, treating me like a
leper, afraid to catch whatever I had, if I told them that I was on my way
out. I preferred to just do my new job and carry on for a while, business
as usual, until I saw how things shaped up.
So I didn't tell anyone about the situation for a while. I just kept it
quiet and concentrated on my duties in my new job as a bill-paying

240
to bring in-house. You've got outside janitor companies to clean the tens
of thousands of buildings that you own. You've got accounting firms and
law firms and real estate companies straightening out the paperwork and
SAMDA
getting those properties on the market so they can be sold.
In fact, you're dealing with so many outside janitor companies and
law firms and real estate companies that you have to hire more RTC
employees just to keep track of the companies who are working for you.
Millions are fascinated by the plan to transform the whole world into
In the law area, for example, you've got 60,000 lawyers and paralegals,
a bureau, to make everybody a bureaucrat, and to wipe out any private
working at more than 5,000 law firms around the country, handling a
initiative. The paradise of the future is visualized as an all-embracing
quarter-million legal cases. So you hire people to keep track of those
bureaucratic apparatus. Streams of blood have been shed for the
companies, and you wind up with hundreds of Legal Division employees
realization of this ideal.
after all, even though you've been trying to farm everything out.
Congress clears its throat, and you realize that you're becoming a
) Ludwig Edler von Mises, Bureaucracy
huge bureaucracy in spite of yourself. So you go to the next level, and
instead of hiring yet more employees, you hire more outside companies.
But these companies are different. Their job is not real estate or law or
janitoring. Their job is just to keep track of the companies that are already
working for you. (No, I have not changed my mind and started writing a
Once I received notice that I was going to be laid off, my life at the
fairy tale here. I'm still talking about the RTC. This really did happen.)
RTC went in two directions. Professionally speaking, I had a new area of
You hire these companies ) called SAMDAs ) to do whatever your
the RTC to explore, and it was up to me to make of it what I would. And
in-house employees would have done. The SAMDAs assign work to all
personally, I had unfinished business to take care of.
the different companies, keep an eye on their progress, process their bills,
The SAMDA area was responsible for spending many millions of
and pay them. Then the RTC just writes one big check every month to
dollars. My experience there brought together many things that I had only
pay each SAMDA for its services and for whatever it had to pay to all
suspected previously. Before moving ahead with my personal story, this
those other companies.
chapter explores a bit of the magical world of SAMDA.
That's the theory. And there's nothing wrong with it, as long as you
can handle the cost.
SAMDA-land
Let's say you're the RTC. You'd really like to hire thousands of new Paying through the Nose
employees and become this huge bureaucracy. But Congress, source of
Hiring these SAMDAs made the whole process look easy. It's like
your salary and other useful money, is not interested in being crucified as
what you could do if you were a billionaire. You could hire a right-hand
the creator of Big Government. In this light, you recognize that it would
assistant; and the assistant could hire a whole staff, including a chief
be wise to come up with another plan.
janitor and a chief lawyer to clean up after you; and then the chief janitor
So you hire outsiders to do the work that you would have preferred
and the chief lawyer could hire outside maintenance companies and law

242
firms to deal with the tough jobs. All this could be going on, keeping a Besides, bureaucracies have this annoying habit of staying in
lot of people busy, and you, the billionaire, wouldn't have to bother with business when the economy hits the skids. This makes a difference if the
any of it, as long as you were willing to pay enough to hire the right bureaucracy has offices scattered across the country. When the local
talent. economy starts to suffer, local businesses lay off workers, and that makes
Really, the whole RTC could have consisted of just one guy. With the downturn worse. But the bureaucrats keep earning a paycheck, and
enough money, he could have hired outside firms to do everything for they keep spending it on restaurants and car repairs and whatever else the
him. town has to offer, and that helps the local economy. Needless to say,
Hiring outside experts can get expensive, though. An attorney, hired good economic planning attempts to get rid of this kind of bureaucratic
to work full-time on the RTC's staff, might cost the government $40 per influence, because it interferes with the functioning of an efficient market
hour, if you include the cost of benefits and income tax and everything. and reduces the number of desperate, laid-off workers who are forced to
But if that same attorney was out in his/her own law practice, he/she sell their properties to rich people at bargain prices.
might charge three to five times as much. Same thing for a paralegal: on
staff, they might cost the RTC a total of $20-25 an hour, but the outside
law firms charged us as much as $70-100 per hour for their paralegals' Getting What You Paid For
time. Then, too, most law firms are cautious, so they would sometimes
In addition to cost, there's another problem with setting up a
assign jobs to their lawyers that could have been handled just as well by
temporary bureaucracy, like the RTC, that you plan to shut down within
a less-expensive paralegal.
a few years: it's hard to persuade the right people to come to work for
This sounds costly, even on an hour-by-hour basis. Imagine how it
you.
added up over the six-year existence of the RTC: 60,000 lawyers and
I was just talking about how the RTC could have saved a lot of
paralegals, working part-time or full-time on RTC matters, billing tens of
money if it had been allowed to hire thousands of extra staffers, instead
millions of hours, at prices that were as much as five times higher than we
of paying outside law firms. But there would be two problems with doing
would have had to pay if those people had been on our staff. My
this. First, the RTC would have to find more abandoned rug warehouses,
calculation? It may have cost us an extra billion dollars, or more, to farm
like our building in Valley Forge, in which it could put desks for all those
the work out to outside law firms. And that's just for the legal services.
people. Second, the RTC would have to attract lawyers and paralegals
We haven't even begun to talk about the costs for janitors, accountants,
who would want to join our staff. The fact is, it is not easy to find high-
realtors, consultants, and all the other characters hired by the RTC.
quality staffers. Heck, it's not even easy to find the type of screwups that
In a perfect world, Congress would have realized that the taxpayers
the RTC actually did hire.
really could cope with a useful federal agency. In that case, Congress
It's a problem. High-quality lawyers usually don't want a job
might have been a little more courageous in treating the thing as though
shuffling paper in a place like the RTC. They want a career. They may
it was expected to be useful: staffing it properly, for instance.
not want to work in government at all, because the money can be so good
We know, of course, that Congress believed that the taxpayers were
in private practice; but if they do want to work in government, they'll join
afraid of bureaucracy, even if it was useful. Or at least Congress itself
an agency, like the FBI, that will give them a chance to do lawyer-type
was afraid of useful bureaucracies, because Congress knew that useful
work ) and to keep on doing it for many years to come.
bureaucracies find useful things to do, and they therefore prove to be a
The RTC did have some very good, dedicated lawyers and
pain in the neck for politicians who don't want them to do those things.
paralegals. But it also had an awfully high percentage of people who just

244
wanted to collect the paycheck and go home at the end of their forty-hour would hire a SAMDA and tell them to do whatever was necessary to take
week. care of an asset ) hire the lawyers, get the grass mowed, whatever. Of
Congress had looked for a cheap solution, and it had found one. course, the RTC could use this method of taking care of its assets only
There's an old saying: penny wise, pound foolish. A more modern when the RTC actually realized that it owned those assets.
version of this old saying goes like this: It is better to be excellent with Unfortunately, orphaned assets kept showing up on our doorstep,
mediocre equipment than mediocre with excellent equipment. Or, looking for their mommy. Someone in the Legal Division would get a
alternatively: Splurge on pilots, save on jets. phone call about a building. The person calling would think that this
There are times when you have to spend money in order to save building belonged to the RTC. The RTC employee who received the call
money. You can hire a cheap pilot who will crash your $10 million jet would not know anything about it, however, so the only thing to do was
into a hillside, or you can hire an expensive pilot who will keep the thing to send out an e-mail, like this, to everyone in the Legal Division:
up in the air where it belongs.
I don't know that we could have found enough good lawyers and
paralegals to take the place of all those outside law firms. Congress had ELLA FYNO: I just received a phone call from a lawyer
who wanted to know if the RTC owned the
pretty much ruled out the possibility of paying a lot for highly talented Dudley Dewright building in Rochester. He
people, or offering them a long-term future there at the RTC. said the parties are going to meet in
court tomorrow and the judge is going to
So instead, the RTC hired halfway competent people. But they decide what to do with the property. I
didn't have much hope of getting good legal experience, since all they don't know anything about it. Does anyone
were doing was keeping track of the outside law firms. else?
This approach gave us managers like Tara and lawyers like Ann
Thrax, who could have kept the entire U.S. Army busy for eighteen years
on endless projects. Under leaders like this, the RTC could grow big like And then, even if we did know that we owned a property, it was hard
a fat elephant, and still couldn't keep up with its workload. to figure out which one it was. You see, the Legal Division and the
In sum: the RTC could have hired a lot of staffers, to save money; business people, upstairs, each had their own separate lists of assets. A
or they could have hired outside law firms, to avoid creating a bureau- property would be described one way on the one list, and it would be
cracy. The RTC did the logical thing and used both approaches. They described another way ) or might not appear at all ) on the other list.
hired a bunch of staff attorneys, and sometimes the staff attorneys would Eventually, somebody hired a bunch of temps and ordered them to
do the actual legal work themselves; but mostly they just supervised sit in a windowless room and match up those two lists of assets, so that
outside law firms; but then they couldn't keep up with that, so they hired everybody would be working from the same list. This required those
SAMDAs, which turned out to be expensive and, sometimes, not very temps to connect tens of thousands of items on one list with tens of
good; and so now the RTC staff attorneys had to keep an eye on the thousands of items on the other list, manually, one at a time. It took
SAMDAs too. months of work. Those temps hated this job and snarled at the rest of us,
and we were all glad when they finally finished up and cleared out.
So then, just when we thought we finally had a single list of assets
Get Ready, Get Assets that everybody could use, Washington sent out an Official Directive,
reminding us all that the Accounting department in D.C. had yet another,
The basic idea behind the whole SAMDA job was that the RTC entirely different list of assets. Washington informed us that our list of

246
assets would now have to be further combined with the Accounting This chart demonstrates how much help it was to have the SAMDAs
department's list. involved in the process. I would like to draw the reader's attention to the
Legend says that, someday, a virgin will walk the streets of New first and last steps shown in this chart, which are especially different in
York City, and the stone lions in front of the Public Library will roar the SAMDA and non-SAMDA situations.
when she passes. Legend also says that, on that great day, the trees will The first step requires someone to assign work to a law firm. As I
burst into bloom and all the birds will sing in harmony. And when that already knew, Lucy's OCM department considered it very important to
happens, at the end of time, I will look to heaven and I will know that the assign work to minority- and women-owned law firms (MWOLFs). Also,
RTC finally figured out what it owned; and my soul shall sing, and my according to the official rule, legal matters were only supposed to be
heart will know peace. assigned to approved, Performing-status law firms.
The question was, how could SAMDAs obtain information about
MWOLFs and Performing firms? The obvious answer was that they
We Three Techs of SAMDA Be should just look at RLIS like the rest of us, because RLIS was where that
information was recorded.
So anyway, you've got your RTC assets, and you've got SAMDAs
Unfortunately, we could not allow the SAMDAs to use RLIS. We
that have been hired to take care of them. This is where we SAMDA
also could not send them a list of approved law firms. Therefore, the
techs came in.
SAMDAs were required to guess which firms they could safely assign
Hope and Noel and I were the SAMDA techs. We had been sitting
work to.
in different places, but now Tara told us all to move to the same area, so
I'm not kidding. You see, there's a legal doctrine known as “the
that my cube was across from Hope's and next to Noel's. Hope had been
attorney-client privilege.” Like many things in the law, this privilege is
doing SAMDA work before, but Noel and I were new at it.
something that helps the client a great deal, except when it doesn't.
The RTC needed special SAMDA technicians like us because
The attorney-client privilege works like this: if you go to a lawyer
different steps were required when SAMDAs were involved, as the
and tell him/her your problem, they aren't allowed to tell anybody else
following chart shows:
unless you give them permission. If they do blab your story, you could
sue their pants off, maybe even get them disbarred, and do other things
that would probably be a service to your country if you went ahead and
Steps Required for SAMDA and Non-SAMDA Situations
did them.
This matter of “giving permission” is kind of tricky, though. It's up
SAMDA Non-SAMDA
to you to decide whether your story is a secret. But if you start telling
SAMDA assigns job to firm. Staff attorney assigns job to
other people about it, the court is likely to say that it really wasn't much
firm.
of a secret to you after all, and now that you've told it all over town, you
Law firm submits budget. Same.
can't complain that your lawyer is doing the same thing.
RLIS tech puts budget on RLIS. Same.
So the RTC was suing and getting sued all the time by various law
Law firm bill is sent to RLIS tech. Same.
firms, and we didn't want those firms getting their dirty hands on our
Tech tells SAMDA to pay bill. Tech tells Accounting to pay
secret comments about them, there on RLIS. So we kept a strict policy of
bill.
not sending our RLIS information to anyone, including the law firms

248
themselves, in case we had to sue them someday. This way, nobody could different for SAMDA and non-SAMDA situations. I just told you about
say that we were acting like our secret information wasn't secret. the first step, which involved the choice of law firm. Now I need to say
So it was decided that we couldn't send information about law firms a word about the last step, which had to do with the actual payment to the
to the SAMDAs, even though they were the ones hiring the firms on our law firm.
behalf. In a non-SAMDA situation, the “regular” RLIS bill-paying techs,
Problem: nobody ever explained this attorney-client stuff to our like Jay Gundus and Buddy Fermi, would tell the RTC's Accounting
paralegals, and therefore they were always sending RLIS printouts to law department to send a check to the law firm. We SAMDA techs ) Noel
firms. and Hope and I ) didn't do it that way. Instead, we would tell the SAMDA
Nobody seemed to mind when paralegals sent out this kind of to send a check to the law firm.
information, even though they weren't supposed to. The attitude was, Naturally, since the RTC had to pay the SAMDAs for their work, the
Well, it's done now, and it's too late to do anything about it. It was RTC wanted to find some way to keep track of what the SAMDAs were
another one of those things where it's easier to get forgiveness than to get doing. For this purpose, the RTC had its choice between two methods.
permission. We SAMDA techs probably should have done this too, but The first method would have required the RTC to keep a list like this:
instead we asked permission, and management said no, we couldn't send
a list of law firms to the SAMDAs.
So every now and then I'd get a phone call from one of the SAMDAs Asset SAMDA
I was responsible for, asking me if such-and-such a firm was still OK to
give work to. I'd check the list, and I'd say yes or no. In this way, the The Carpenter Building Ahmet & Mathom
SAMDAs wound up using the same old firms, over and over again, Philouta Forum Penn Fullah Inc.
instead of using all those new MWOLF firms that Lucy's OCM depart- Yuseena Mall Etmay Beetymta Co.
ment was signing up. When I was handling SAMDA bills, I could easily
go for a week at a time without seeing a single bill from a minority-owned
law firm. In other words, there could have been a simple list that showed each
I don't think the SAMDAs usually cared which law firm got the RTC asset, along with the SAMDA company that was responsible for that
work. If anything, the whole job of choosing a law firm was a pain in the asset. The SAMDA would have kept track of all the details, and it would
neck for them. One SAMDA representative told me that she would prefer have given the RTC a summary of what was going on. Then, if the RTC
it if she could just have an RTC staff attorney choose a firm for her. Once wanted more information, the SAMDA would have to cough it up.
in a while, a SAMDA would screw up and keep on using the same old law We could have done it that way, but we didn't. Instead, we used the
firm, without realizing that the RTC and the firm had now become mortal other method, which involved keeping double records of everything. The
enemies and were suing each other. At these times, the law firm might SAMDAs were responsible for hiring the law firms, paying them, and
well accept the assignment ) hey, it's income ) and then people from the keeping tabs on their progress; but just in case, we also kept track of those
RTC would get on the phone and yell at the SAMDA, which was same things ourselves.
somehow supposed to know better. That was the purpose of Noel and Hope and me. We duplicated
what the SAMDAs were doing. It was another case of shipping out the
A moment ago, I pointed out that the first and last steps were very work to avoid building a bureaucracy, but then building the bureaucracy

250
anyway, just in case. kind of difficult to tell them that they had spent more than we had
To keep our duplicate records, we SAMDA techs started by budgeted.
requiring the law firms to send their bills to us first. We would type the And the RTC couldn't really be sure that its budgets meant much
information from those bills into the RLIS system. Then we would send anyway. Law firms could always come back, later on, and say that they
the bills on to the SAMDAs. They would type the same information into had run into unexpected difficulties and that they needed to amend their
their system, and eventually they'd pay the law firm. Then they'd tell us budgets upwards. We were always entering amended budgets into the
that they had paid the law firm, and we would put that information into system, and you never knew if anyone in the RTC had actually looked at
RLIS too. them. One time, a paralegal gave me two different amended budgets,
One thing's for sure: when our law firms were paid, by God, they bearing two different amounts, for the same matter ) on the same day!
were paid. We could prove it in at least two or three different ways. Often I'd see where a law firm's original budget said that they'd have the
case wrapped up for such-and-such a price by a certain date, and then, two
years later, I'd be entering an amendment that tacked on thousands of
Living on a Budget dollars for a matter that still wasn't done.
Usually, the law firms would try to put really precise-looking
Officially, each law firm working on a matter for the RTC was
numbers on their budgets, as though they could possibly know how much
supposed to start by submitting a budget, to tell us how much they were
time they were going to spend on a project. But sometimes they didn't
going to spend on the project. And this sounds good. It's nice to think
bother, and in those cases I'd find myself entering silly numbers, like
that we had some control over what they were doing and how much we
$12,345.67. But I guess that was better than if they had run the numbers
were paying.
backwards, $76,543.21.
Then again, as I had discovered in my previous work as an LOC
tech, a lot of firms were being put onto the RLIS system because they had
already done the work and now we just wanted to pay them for it. In Training for a New Mission
those cases, our RTC staff attorneys would simply approve a budget for
the amount of the bill, and then we'd pay them. The alternative was that Now that I was a SAMDA tech, I was going to be doing brand-new
the law firm would sue us for non-payment ) and you can bet that they work, and I didn't know how to do it. Yes, I had attended a training class
kept track of the precise date when they were first assigned to the project in Dallas, but it didn't concentrate on SAMDAs specifically. Besides, that
by some long-forgotten staff attorney who no longer worked for the RTC was long ago, and nobody expected me to remember any of it, which was
and therefore would not be testifying on our behalf. So we'd pay. It good, because I didn't.
happened all the time. Tara decided that the best way to train me would be if I took the
We also had thousands of legal matters on the system that had no “computer-based training” (CBT) program. This was a computer disk that
budgets at all. This happened when someone would feel that RLIS should I could put into my computer and follow, step by step, as it showed me
show that a firm was handling a matter for us; but they'd forget to show how to do my job and then tested me on what I was learning.
how much this firm was supposed to spend. Sometimes, for these matters, This training program was strange. It was supposed to make my
you'd go to the paper files for the controlling documents, and there'd be computer function just like it would if I was using RLIS. But not all the
nothing there, or there'd be a totally blank budget form, like they used keys worked right. And if I made a mistake, the program would broadcast
invisible ink. No matter what these law firms spent, it was going to be the total number of errors in that section with a comment like this: “You

252
have successfully completed the Litigation scenario, but in the process because there won't be a budget for them.”
you committed four errors. Better luck next time.” This irritated me, I thanked her and went to work on the stack, separating bills from
because the only reason I made those errors was that I was experimenting budgets.
to see how the thing worked. I had heard that I should be expecting a lot of phone calls from law
Fortunately, I discovered something very helpful about this goofy firms, wanting to know how long it would be until I approved their bills
program. The bottom left-hand corner of the screen was telling me the and sent them to the SAMDA, so that the SAMDA could send them a
answers to the questions, showing exactly what to type next. So when I check. One of the other RLIS techs, Sharpe Fellah, had said, “Every time
got tired of the program saying that I was making too many mistakes, I I get a complaint about an overdue bill, it's for a SAMDA matter.”
stopped looking at the rest of the screen and just typed whatever was As I worked through the stack, I saw why. I had budgets and bills
down in that corner. I am pleased to report that I made no more errors and that were as much as two years old. I asked Hope why all this old stuff
that, moreover, I was done with the training in record time. still wasn't done. She said that the previous SAMDA techs hadn't been
able to keep up with the workload. In accounting terms, we had a FISH
(first-in, still here) system.
Getting Started I discovered that I wasn't the only one who would be taking heat
from the law firms when they didn't get paid. The firms would also call
As soon as I finished my training, I was ready to go to work. Tara
the SAMDAs, to complain to the “coordinators” there. These coordina-
told Noel and Hope and me that we would each carry one-third of the
tors were my contact people at the SAMDAs, and by the end of my first
SAMDA load. She divided the list of SAMDAs, and I wound up being
week, I had gotten calls from several of them.
responsible for six of them. Then we went into the boxes of SAMDA
One coordinator was a woman named Deedee Tea. She called to
work that hadn't yet been done, and we parcelled that out among us. I
wish me good luck and to tell me to feel free to call her anytime I had
came away with a stack of papers about four feet high.
questions. She was really nice. But Hope had been responsible for
“What is all this stuff, exactly?” I asked Hope, leaning back in my
Deedee's SAMDA before I came into this new job, and when the phone
chair and looking across the hallway toward her cube, after Tara had gone.
call was over, Hope said, “She's friendly at first, but if you give her any
“Budgets and bills,” she said, turning away from what she was doing
problems, she'll turn nasty pretty quick.”
there on her computer.
I also got a call from another SAMDA coordinator, named Larry
“Yeah, I know. But, I mean, what do I do with it?”
Engitis. Not wasting any time, he said, “What's the holdup there? Why
“Didn't anyone show you how this job works?”
haven't I gotten any approved bills from you? These law firms are eating
“Yeah, I worked through the CBT training disk, but I'm not sure I
me alive!” I told him that I sympathized, and that I'd get his papers to him
understood everything in it.”
as soon as I had my basic system set up. “But I need them now!” he said.
She said, “The budgets go on the system to show how much the law
“I'm sure you do,” I said, “but I've got to get moved in and set up first. It
firm can charge for their work on a matter. The bills show how much
may take a while.”
they're actually charging. The bills can't exceed the budget.”
Buddy Fermi, another RLIS tech, volunteered to help me put some
“That makes sense.”
of the budgets onto the system. This was very good because, as I
“You should put the budgets on the system first, and then the bills.
discovered, budgets were slow work. I had to type a huge number of
If you do it the other way around, some of your bills will bounce ) I
things into the computer for each budget. Here's a sample of what was
mean, you won't be able to tell the SAMDA that they can pay them )

254
required: I found it.
I figured that I'd eventually know where all the items were, so I'd be
much faster at this. But for right now, the computer was asking for quite
Matter identification number a few items that I couldn't find anywhere on the form.
Matter caption
Bank name, address, and ID no. Hope had been doing this stuff for a long time, so I asked if she
Law firm name, address, and ID would mind helping me find those items that I couldn't locate. She came
Venue location
Forum code over to my cube and I showed her what the computer was asking for, and
Matter class then handed her the form. She fussed around with it and was able to find
Matter type code some of them, but she had no idea where others were. “Some law firms
Matter status
Offensive/defensive status use the old forms, and some use the new one,” she complained.
Inherited status “Management keeps changing the forms, and things that were in one place
Significant issue (yes/no) and code
Subsidiary name keep moving to other places.”
Loan servicer name In the end, there were some items that neither Hope nor I could find,
Court docket number
Starting capacity so I just had to leave those items blank and move on, and I realized that
Claim amount maybe it would take a while for me to become speedy at this budget job.
Loan reserve amount
Secured asset status
Payment class
IOJ indicator Entering the Rat's Nest
SAMDA status
RTC oversight attorney At this point, I should say something about the learning curve at the
Significant issue attorney
Law firm contact attorney RTC.
Date assigned to firm I've been giving you explanations of all sorts of things. But I'm not
Rate schedule selection
SAMDA contract name and number copying this stuff from a government manual. Nobody else had already
written these things down, to make them clear to everyone. If they had,
I could have just sold you that government publication and saved myself
Those were the items of information required on just the first page a lot of work here. I mean, there were various manuals and guidebooks,
of the budget form. The form was five pages long, and each page asked but judging from our phone calls, nobody understood them.
the law firms to supply many more items of information like these. We were using the RLIS system full-time, and we still needed days,
I didn't understand the purpose of a lot of these items. I got the weeks, even months to figure out how different parts of the process
feeling, as I worked through these budgets, that there were whole galaxies worked, or were supposed to work. You have to pity the poor chump at
of RTC complexity out there, employing all kinds of people for tasks that the law firm, whose boss orders him/her to investigate why they've been
I would never even hear of, much less understand. handling legal matters for the RTC for two years and haven't been paid
It was frustrating to type this stuff into the RLIS system, because the yet. Some bosses, hallucinating, probably believed that the chump could
questions on the computer screen didn't follow the same order as the items get the answer with a single phone call.
on the form. The screen would ask for an item of information, and I'd Some law firms understood our system, but many of them didn't. At
have to hunt back and forth through the budget form, flipping pages until a law firm, people think in terms of clients, since that's where the money

256
is. So if the law firm of Abreck & Dabra was working on a problem for reaching for forms, stapling, typing, and making all the other little
the Downdatoobs Savings & Loan Association when it went bust and the motions that went into a hard day's work shuffling papers.
RTC took it over, then the lawyers at Abreck might think that the RTC I was so motivated that I actually considered working overtime,
was the client now, and that the RTC should be sending them a check, which would have ruined my nearly perfect record (only two hours of
when in fact the check was going to come from a SAMDA. overtime during my entire RTC career), and in fact I did come in a few
This situation brought much amusement to the lives of Hope, Noel, minutes early some mornings and work a bit late some evenings, for free,
and me. A lawyer would call up and ask, “Where's my check?” We just to get caught up. I honestly found the whole thing kind of interesting.
would ask, “Have you called the SAMDA yet?” The lawyer would say, During my first weeks on the job, new papers were piling up in my
“What's a SAMDA?” “in” tray, but I mostly ignored them. I felt that it was important to clear
We would then proceed to educate that lawyer on the whys and out this long-overdue stuff before trying to tackle the new things.
wherefores of SAMDA-land. Once this was done, the law firm would Not everybody enjoyed being ignored, however. People started
make sure, next time, to have a different lawyer call us, so that we could pestering me right from the start. I quickly learned that, if you let them,
go through the same thing all over again. Eventually, every lawyer in the they would have you running around, worrying about one little piece of
firm would understand our rules, and we would know that it was about paper and meanwhile neglecting a whole pile of work on your desk.
time to change the rules and start over. The big firms were the worst. They would send us dozens of bills
The simplest possible way of explaining our rules was something at once, and then complain if we delayed them. But they didn't need that
like this: law firms send their bills to the RTC. If the bills are for money as badly as the small firm, the lawyer who couldn't pay the rent if
SAMDA matters, the check comes from the SAMDA. If a bill is wrong we didn't get through our paperwork and discover his or her puny little
or overbudget, it gets bounced back to the law firm. If the budget is one-page bill, buried somewhere among all the others.
wrong, it gets bounced back to the SAMDA. I learned this very quickly, first day on the job. I got a call from a
Or at least that was one version of the rules. Hope and I disagreed lawyer at a big firm who kept me on the phone for a half-hour. I was
about it one time, and after ten minutes of debating, she looked down at trying to be helpful, but he overdid it, insisting that I look everywhere for
her shoes and admitted, “To tell the truth, I forget which way the rule his bills ) in my stack, Noel's stack, Hope's stack, etc. It turned out that
goes.” At that time, I was sure she was wrong; but then, later, I wasn't so someone else had them and everything was proceeding normally. I really
sure after all. tried to help him. But then, after all that, instead of being grateful or
friendly, he ended the call by insulting my competence and the good name
of my ancestors.
Digging My Way Out Then I got a call from a woman who said she was calling on behalf
of “Attorney Oglethorpe,” saying it as though “Attorney” was a title like
I was surprised and pleased to discover that I did not need to take
“Doctor” or “Judge.” “Yeah, OK,” I replied, “what can I do for you?”
naps as often in my new SAMDA job. Mentally, I was stimulated by the
This woman said she was calling to see how soon we would be paying
goal of figuring out a way to computerize things, which would help me
Attorney Oglethorpe's bills. “When were the bills sent in?” I asked. It
get my work done quicker and have more free time for myself. After all,
turned out that the bills were less than four months old. I was thinking to
if I was going to be paid to accomplish nothing, I preferred to accomplish
myself, this lady's got a lot of nerve, pestering me about bills that are only
nothing in ways of my own choosing. And physically, I was being kept
three months old.
awake by the need to roll my chair back and forth across my cube,

258
And then there were the bills for two dollars, eight dollars, seventy- For a while, I was also throwing away the law firms' cover letters.
nine cents, etc. Someone had calculated that, every time we processed a They just said something like, “Enclosed please find five bills.” It was
bill, it cost the RTC $50 for our salaries and administrative expenses. fast to throw them away. No filing required. But then I remembered the
After a couple years of this, management decided that it probably was not Gestapo raid in the Dallas RTC office, when they nailed someone for
cost-effective to require every law firm to send us their bills every month throwing away documents. I didn't want anyone saying that I was a bad
if they were only going to charge us a small amount. Management employee. So instead, I started placing these useless cover letters in a bin
eventually sent a letter to the law firms, telling them this. But there were in the hallway outside my cube, marked “File,” and one of the temps
still those law firms that wanted their three dollars, and now they were would dispose of them somewhere in our vast filing cabinets. Really, for
calling me. me, this was almost as fast as throwing them away.
I finally got tired of all these silly phone calls, so I unplugged my Finally, I found it especially easy to process the bills that had already
phone. Suddenly, things calmed down, and I was able to focus. It's been processed. Eight months earlier, a previous RLIS tech had put a
amazing how much you can get done if you're not interrupted. I couldn't large number of bills onto the system, but then had forgotten to mail them
leave the phone unplugged all the time, for fear that someone would catch out to the SAMDAs. So they were still here, and everything was done
on and report me to the authorities. But I did manage to carve out many except for one little thing: the SAMDAs had not been informed, and
tranquil hours for myself, just by using this simple technique. therefore the law firms had not yet been paid. I found that I was very
good at taking these bills from the stack, seeing that they were on RLIS,
and then inserting them into the envelopes that I would be sending to the
Get It Over With SAMDAs.
I was pretty focused when I was working through the four-foot-tall
stack of documents that I started with. My primary goal was to get paper By Jove, I Think He's ...
out of my cube, whatever it took. I was helped, in this pursuit, by a
couple of special factors. The RLIS system would reject budgets and bills if they were lacking
First, my approach was different than that of some other SAMDA certain items. The law firms didn't have to fill in everything, but there
and non-SAMDA techs. They didn't like to go to the trouble of bouncing were some things ) like the firm's name and the dollar amounts ) that the
bills that exceeded the firm's budget for a matter. Instead, they'd just hold system just couldn't live without.
onto the bills until the firm got around to getting a new budget approved. It wasn't much fun to process budgets. But once I knew which items
So the paper would pile up in their cubes. Unfortunately, since the firms of information were absolutely essential, I was able to go through my
weren't receiving any rejection notices, they would have no idea that there stack of budgets and bounce a whole bunch of them that were missing
was a problem. My approach: bounce them and get that paper out of vital information. I was pleased to discover that bouncing a budget was
here. much faster and easier than typing all those items of information into the
I also found that I had a lot of extra copies of the same bills. When computer.
months passed with no check in the mail, law firms assumed that we had Once I made that discovery about budgets, I applied the same
lost their bills. So they sent more copies, and all those copies wound up approach to bills. Then I prepared form letters, to explain why I was
here in my big stack. I asked around to see if anybody needed any extra bouncing these budgets and bills. I showed one of my cover letters to
copies of my bills, but I got no takers, so I dumped them. Hope, and she said it looked good.

260
That took care of the bad budgets and bills. The only thing left was So as far as Tara was concerned, that was a screwup. I did feel a
to deal with the good ones. For these, there was no way around it: I had little better, though, when I saw that Tara's boss Lucy heard about the
to type in all that data. But then they were done and out of my life, whole thing and approved the FedEx shipment after all.
almost. Then, a couple days later, Hope came over to my cube and whis-
pered that Tara had called her into her office and asked her why I was
writing my own letters to law firms, instead of using the standard form
... Oops letters that Tara had approved. According to Hope, Tara said that the law
firms would find my letters confusing.
It took three weeks, but I finally got through that four-foot stack of
Until now, I hadn't known that there were any such standard form
budgets and bills. I mailed the rejected bills back to the law firms; I typed
letters, and I was irritated with Hope for not telling me about them two
a lot of information into the computer; and I added thousands of sheets of
weeks earlier, when I showed her the ones I was going to send. But Hope
paper to our files. This gave me a solid feeling of accomplishment.
tended to be meek, and maybe she thought I was just preferring to do it
There was just one more thing, before I'd be done with that first big
my own way.
stack of papers: I had to send things to the SAMDAs. I had to send them
So now Hope did show me Tara's standard letters. They had a dozen
the rejected budgets, so they'd know they had to try again; and I had to
different boxes that the technician could check, to indicate what was
send them the approved bills, so they'd know it was safe to pay them.
wrong with the bill. But the boxes didn't say anything about SAMDA
All those papers went into six packages, one to each of the six
situations. I asked Hope how I could use a standard form letter that didn't
SAMDAs that I was responsible for. Stacked up, the packages made a
fit our needs. She said we were supposed to write an explanation by hand
pile about a foot high, SWAS (sealed with a stapler).
in the “Other Problems” section at the bottom of the letter. Evidently
I decided to send the packages by Federal Express, which is faster
Tara thought that those handwritten messages would be less confusing.
but more expensive than regular mail. I dropped them off at the mail
So this was another thing that I screwed up.
room on my way home one afternoon. This led to the following e-mails
And then the SAMDA coordinators and RTC paralegals started
later that day, which I saw when I came to work the next morning:
calling me and sending me e-mails to say that I was not supposed to
bounce the rejected budgets back to the SAMDAs. I was just supposed
ALETA [to Tara, with a copy to me]: Tara, I have some to send them to the in-house paralegals, who could fix the problems more
Federal Express packages from Ray here. I tried quickly. Oy, I was thinking to myself. But at least the paper was out of
to call him, but he must have left for the day.
They require supervisor approval, so I'm holding my cube.
them until I get instructions from someone.
TARA [to me]: You are not authorized to send correspon-
dence or invoices to contractors via FED EX.
Confusion
Unless you are given specific directions by me
or someone acting in the appropriate capacity of Before long, I started seeing times when law firms were confused,
Manager of Information Systems, no further or maybe even dishonest. We talked about it often, like in this discussion
correspondence or invoices should be sent FED
EX. during one of our RLIS meetings:

262
TARA
[thundering]: If those invoices aren't complete, send 'em back! don't know how they can have a budget with no asset infor-
We're not here to do their billing for them. mation. I wouldn't put it on the system.

TRUDY: So many of these law firms screw up their basic paperwork. TARA: No. Definitely not.
No invoice numbers on their invoices? We're talking Book-
keeping 101.
Some law firms were just mixed up. They were thinking that they
TARA: We've been doing firms' work for them: writing up invoices, could just deal with the RTC directly. They'd try sending us a budget for
filling in missing information ... We just do not have that a new matter, but we'd bounce it because it required the signature of
luxury anymore. someone at the SAMDA. So now they'd understand that they were
supposed to work through the SAMDA, and they'd start sending their
SHARPE: What do you recommend that I do with the Weefer Gott & papers to the SAMDA. But they'd send all their papers to the one
Estulate problem? SAMDA, instead of sending them to the different SAMDAs that were
actually responsible. Then the SAMDA would send a bunch of papers to
TARA: Refresh my memory. Weefer is a congressional inquiry, me, and I'd send them back to the firm, with a note to tell them to send the
right? papers to the appropriate SAMDAs. The firm, baffled, would call to ask
me which SAMDAs were responsible. But sometimes that information
SHARPE: Yeah. Their congressman wants to know why they haven't wasn't on RLIS, and in that case I'd have no way of knowing what to tell
been paid. them. So then, basically, they couldn't be paid.
Even when the firms finally got everything straight, and gave me
TARA: And why haven't they been paid? bills that were accurate, complete, and ready to be paid, there was still no
guarantee that people at the SAMDAs would respond to them. You may
SHARPE: Because they can't find their own invoices and they want to think the RTC was screwed up, so you know how bad it was if I tell you
know if we might happen to have our copies lying around in that some firms actually begged us to deal with them directly, instead of
a back room somewhere so we can pay them. making them work with the SAMDAs.
Not all firms were innocently confused, though. Some seemed to be
TARA: We aren't going to go looking up their invoices for them. And playing games with us. Sometimes I bounced bills back to the law firms
they've got to have invoices. They may be a congressional, with error messages like these:
but we can't pay them just on their say-so.

ME: How about the firms who send me these budget forms without • You have submitted a bill for a legal matter that is being handled by
indicating what assets they're working on? Am I supposed to enter another law firm.
those budgets onto the system?
• You have already submitted a bill, in the same amount, for the same
CANDY: The purpose of a SAMDA is for them to manage assets, so I billing period. We believe this is not a mere copy of that bill

264
because it bears a different invoice number. • RLIS would also check, automatically, to see if the bill had the same
invoice number as a bill that the firm had already submitted. If it
• We have been informed by the SAMDA Coordinator that your firm had the same number as something we'd already paid, that might be
has not yet done the work for which you are billing us. because it was the same bill and we were now trying to pay it again.
Our reaction? We were so eager to pay firms that we would tell
them that we could go ahead and pay this bill if they'd just change
Other techs complained that some law firms' bills always arrived in that number. Sometimes we'd even go ahead and change it for them.
a shambles, or always tried to overcharge us. Yet Lucy's OCM depart-
ment would go ahead and renew those firms' Agreements and sign them • A law firm would work on a legal matter. They would send us bills
up for more work. for that matter, and we'd pay them and put the bills in the file. But
Firms also took advantage of weird exceptions in our billing rules. then, at various times, someone would tell us that those bills really
For instance, when word leaked out that there was no limit on what the belonged to a different legal matter. So we would be ordered to
SAMDAs were allowed to pay for faxes, some firms upped their price delete those bills from the first matter, on RLIS, and put them under
from thirty cents to as much as four dollars per faxed page. Or, as another the second matter. But nobody would go to the first paper file and
example, we required the firms to provide full documentation for each move the paper bills to the second paper file. So RLIS would say
single fax. But for using computer research services like LEXIS and that we paid bills under this legal matter, but then you'd go to the
Westlaw ) which could charge more than $100 per hour ) we just asked paper file and there'd be nothing to explain what you'd paid or why,
for the date and the total charge. We didn't require them to explain what and no way of tracing it back.
the computer research was for or why it was necessary.
We techs all saw examples of this kind of thing, and I think we had
the feeling that a lot of firms would be glad to take everything they could I could go on and on. Management wasn't making RLIS right
get from us. because our managers weren't accountants and they weren't computer
Then again, we did a good job of confusing things without any people. So RLIS was screwy. But even when RLIS did have some kind
assistance from the law firms. We had many methods in which to help of order or logic to it, we were allowed or expected to try to get around it.
complicate matters. Here are just a few examples: The whole emphasis was on making sure that law firms got paid, probably
because everybody felt guilty for yanking them around for so long before
we did pay them. But we went to the opposite extreme. It was like the
• RLIS was designed to prevent firms from getting paid twice for the RTC was working for the law firms, instead of the other way around.
same time period. So when we put a bill onto the system, RLIS
would check to see if it covered the same dates as another bill on the
system. If it did, RLIS would give us an error message: “Duplicate The Stamp of Approval
Billing Period.” But the computer wouldn't refuse to take the bill )
My absolutely favorite part of my new SAMDA job was the rubber
it would just give us the error message ) and we were told to ignore
stamps.
this message and put the bill on the system. So we paid many bills
During my first week on the job, I went down to the supply room
that covered overlapping time periods.
and got myself a whole set of pre-made rubber stamps, like you can buy

266
in any stationery store. The ones I selected were RECEIVED, EN- original and the copy. Each of these stamps ) RECEIVED, ENTERED,
TERED, REJECTED, FILE, ORIGINAL, COPY, and PAID. I also got etc. ) left a blank space where, if you had a one-line date stamp as I did,
a little one-line date stamp that I could change each morning to show the you could use it to show exactly when the document had gone through
new date. that stage of the process.
Then one of my friends from outside the RLIS department came Up to this point, the originals and the copies were kept together. If
over to visit, and I showed him my collection. He said, “They're very copies got separated, they might show up later and be processed as though
nice.” Then he asked, “What will you do with them all?” I said, “I'll they were originals. RLIS kept us from entering two bills with the same
stamp things.” He chuckled, but I meant it. If things came near me, I invoice number, so if we put the original on the system, and then later
would. tried to put the copy on the system, the original would get paid and the
I liked them. The RECEIVED stamp was not self-inking, which copy would bounce. This, by itself, was OK, but the law firm would get
means it required an ink pad. But it gave a very satisfying click-WHUMP confused by what happened next. The original, being approved, would
noise every time I used it. The others were smaller, but they were self- be paid by the SAMDA, which would send a check to the firm. But at the
inking, so they made a nifty little click-clack noise as the stamper hit the same time, we would send the copy back to the firm, with a reject letter
page and then re-inked itself. telling them that we couldn't process the copy because it was a duplicate
This rubber-stamp thing was actually a very important aspect of my ) which was, of course, exactly what most people would expect a copy to
position, as I had learned during a trip to Poland one time back in the be.
1980s, before they knocked down the Berlin Wall. At a train station in Anyway, once I entered a bill into the system, it was safe to separate
southern Poland, I had seen how it was possible for a whole team of clerks the original and the copy. This called for a rubber stamp, or actually two
to spend nearly two hours stamping, copying, notating, and filing the rubber stamps. I'd hit each original with my ORIGINAL stamp, and each
documents that were required before they could sell train tickets to each copy with the COPY stamp. (If a bill bounced, I'd use my REJECTED
of the six people ahead of me in line. I actually felt like I had missed out stamp ) on the original only, to avoid unnecessary extra work ) and put
on something when they were able to process my own transaction in about it on the pile of materials to be returned to the law firms.)
three minutes, with hardly any rubber stamping at all. Then again, the Next, the copies were supposed to go to our files, so I could go
other people were going to other towns in Poland, whereas I was just ahead and stamp all of them with the FILE stamp and toss them into the
leaving the country, which may have been a preferred activity that they File bin outside my cube. The originals went on the pile of materials
wanted to encourage by making it as easy as possible. going to the SAMDAs, which would pay the bills. After paying the bills,
Applying the Poland lesson here at the RTC, I realized, first of all, some of the SAMDAs would then return those originals to me; at that
that it was very important for every piece of paper to be stamped with the point, I could use my PAID stamp before hitting them with the FILE
RECEIVED stamp. Tara wanted this stamp's original blue ink on every stamp and the one-line date stamp and sending them to our files.
document, so if the law firm forgot to send a duplicate copy of its bill, I At first, when I was doing my rubber stamping, I would stamp one
couldn't stamp the original and then photocopy it, because the ink on the document at a time, take it off the stack, and stamp the next one. But then
copy would be black, not blue. So instead I would have to make a copy I discovered a faster way. I could spread the documents across my desk,
first, and then stamp the original and the copy separately. fanned out like the way you would hold your cards during a poker game,
Next, I would enter the documents into the system and stamp them displaying enough of each one to allow room for stamping. Then I'd grab
with the ENTERED stamp, click-clack. Again, I would stamp both the the stamp, start at the left side of my cube, and roll across to the right side,

268
stamping each document, going click-clack all the way down the line. attorney” ) who's responsible for your dealings with that SAMDA.
Then, if I needed to use another stamp, I'd click-clack my way back up the Don't call me.
line again. When I was done, I'd again use the playing-card approach,
collapsing all the documents into a single stack and tossing them onto the
pile where they belonged. This technique helped to make me one of the Once I reached this point, I did not have to leave my phone
RLIS department's most efficient rubber stampers. unplugged, anymore, to avoid being harassed. If the firm had a legitimate
complaint, I was now able to do something about it.
But if they were just calling to find out if I had their bills in my
No More Mr. Nice Guy stack, I wasn't interested in being their best friend. I did my job, but there
was only so much I could do. And there was only so much I wanted to
I admit, I started this SAMDA job with a bad attitude. I had been
do. I saw other techs playing around, getting bogged down, delaying
working in the LOC area for quite a while, and I had seen law firms that
things, and irritating a lot more people than they would have if they'd just
really jerked us around. It seemed like Lucy and Ann Thrax were always
set up a simple system and made it stick.
apologizing for the law firms, as though they weren't full of big boys and
So now, my phone conversations and other contacts with law firms
girls who could read their own Legal Services Agreements and figure out
started to sound a little different:
what they had to do if they wanted to make tens of thousands of dollars
from us.
But now, in this SAMDA job, I saw that we were to blame for a lot
WOMAN: I'm calling to ask why we haven't been paid on bills that are
of the unpaid bills, I felt guilty, and at first I didn't have anything to say
nearly two years old.
to law firms other than “I'm sorry,” which quickly gets tiresome for a
person who wants to collect money that you owe them.
ME: I can only tell you that I've processed all my paper.
Fortunately, after a few weeks, I had finally chased all the old paper
out of my cube, and I had set up a system and was keeping up with my
WOMAN: Processed ) what does that mean?
work, so I didn't have to be holding my hat in my hand and apologizing
any more.
ME: It means that, if I had the paper, either you'll be getting a check from
Instead, I knew my job, and now I had some very simple instructions
your SAMDA, or else I've bounced it back to you with a letter
for the law firms:
explaining what was wrong.

WOMAN: But you can't tell me which it is, bounced or not?


1. Send your bills to me.
2. If I don't like them, I will promptly bounce them back
ME: You say the bills haven't been paid for two years. Your mail will
to you with an explanation of what you need to fix.
arrive in two more days. You want me to drop everything right
3. If I do like them, I will forward them to the SAMDA,
now? Just call me at this time next week if you or the SAMDA still
and the SAMDA will send you a check.
haven't heard from me.
4. If the SAMDA doesn't send you a check, you need to
call the SAMDA, or else the RTC staff attorney ) the “oversight

270
***** *****

MAN: I'm an attorney ) a partner ) here at an important Wall Street MAN [a bit hyperactive, won't stop talking]: ... so then they told us to
law firm, and you're telling me you won't help me? call the SAMDA, and we tried calling the SAMDA, but the
person who is supposed to be our coordinator wasn't there, so
ME: This morning, you spoke to Larry Engitis over at the SAMDA, didn't ...
you?
ME: Uh, yes, but ...
MAN: Yes, I did. How did you know?
MAN: ... so I left a message, two different times, and they promised
ME: Because he called me and told me that you expected him to look that he would call us back, but he didn't, so then ...
things up for you without giving him your LDID numbers.
ME: But I don't care about any of that.
MAN: I don't know what those numbers are.
MAN: ... so then we tried calling the other number that they gave us,
ME: They're not hard to find. They're on every billing document we send but that didn't ...
you.
ME [hanging up]: [Click.]
MAN: Why can't you just look up the answers to my questions
without those numbers? Can't you help me figure out what [A moment passes, and then my phone rings again.]
those numbers are?
ME: Hello?
ME: Sure, I can help you. Let me write down your request, and I'll get to
it in its turn. MAN [much calmer]: Uh, Mr. Woodcock, I'm not sure what happened.
I was talking to you, and suddenly the phone went dead, and
MAN: I thought you said you've already processed everything. In ...
that case, this should be the next thing you have to do.
ME: I'm going to tell you what to do. I'll tell you very clearly, but I'll
ME: No, I said I processed all of the bills and budgets. What you're only tell you once.
asking me now is not a bill or a budget. It is a Thing To Do. I've
got lots of Things to Do. If this goes on the Things To Do stack, it'll MAN: Oh. [Pause.] OK.
get done in turn. It's up to you.

*****

272
your offices.
ME [repeating what I've said several times already]: I don't know what
else to say. Like it or not, the RLIS system requires each of ME: You've been talking to Candy? Excellent. Just a moment, and I will
your invoices to be numbered. transfer you. [I put her on hold and transfer her to Candy.]

WOMAN: And I'm telling you, we've never had that problem before.
Tara has always handled our problems for us in the past. At this point, things started to become very clear, between me and
the law firms. They'd call up, mad, looking for their money. I'd explain
ME: Tara, eh? Why didn't you say so before? Let me transfer you to to them what my job was: people give me the bills and I put them on the
Tara. [I put her on hold and transfer her before she can object. But system and then ship them out. That's all. I'd say, “I have processed all
Tara is not in her office, and after four rings, the call bounces to of the bills that anybody has given me. So what can I do for you now?”
Jay's cube, just down the hall from me.] And it worked every time: they'd stop and then say, “Nothing, I guess,”
and that would be the end of the conversation.
JAY [answering the call and then putting it on hold]: Ray, are you back
there?
Old Government Computer Programs Never Die
ME: It depends what you mean.
Some of us believed that the RLIS system would live forever, and
that it would be there after we died, to welcome us in the next life.
JAY: I'm transferring a call to you. What's your extension?
Certainly our management did not show any signs of letting RLIS settle
down and gather dust. On the contrary, there was an active committee of
ME: It's 1-2-3-4. [This doesn't fool Jay. He looks up the correct
managers and programmers who were always working on ways to
extension and transfers the call.]
improve RLIS, even though the whole RTC was going to be shut down in
the not-too-distant future.
ME: Hello?
On paper, it sounded sensible to “improve” RLIS, because it needed
improving. And the programmers definitely did make improvements.
WOMAN: Is this Ray Woodcock?
Unfortunately, there were also a lot of screwups, and there were always
changes that kept everything in a half-baked, unfinished state. For
ME: Yes. Weren't you just calling for Tara?
instance, after years of adjustments, RLIS still wasn't able to add up the
all the bills that a law firm had submitted, to show you how close the firm
WOMAN: Yes, but nobody answered after you transferred my call.
was to being overbudget; so, instead, you had to add them up by hand.
Worse, in some cases RLIS would bounce bills even if they weren't
ME: Evidently Tara is not available.
overbudget, for some reason that I never understood.
Or, as another example, there were screens in RLIS that required you
WOMAN: I don't understand the problem here. We never had this
to hit your “Enter” key twice, not just once as you'd normally do. If you
problem when we were dealing with Candy Tenuff there in
didn't hit it twice, you'd lose all the data that you had just entered. But

274
you wouldn't know that you'd lost it unless you went back to check, everyone or everything else who had anything to do with that matter. My
because RLIS would just smoothly take you on to the next step, like little system would spit out all the relevant information and put it into a
everything was fine. In another place, RLIS would add numbers instead cover letter automatically. So now I could give the law firms everything
of subtracting them. And as another example, we were told to make a they needed to harass other people and leave me alone.
certain kind of notation on RLIS, but then it turned out that the program- Next, I had to decide what I wanted my cover letters to say. I had
mers had accidentally removed the place where that notation was been keeping a list of all the things that could go wrong with law firm
supposed to go. bills. But Tara had already made clear that she wanted us to use her
There are two ways to build a car. You can pay someone like canned letters, which had nothing to do with our SAMDA work.
General Motors or Toyota to do it for you; or you can build it yourself. I didn't like that option, so I waited until a day when Tara was out of
If you build it yourself, you might learn a lot about cars, and someday you the office. Then I sent my list of error messages to Candy, who was
might even get one that works. But it would be tremendously expensive, acting as our manager in Tara's absence. It was a gamble, because Candy
it would take a huge amount of time, and you'd wind up with something could be awfully cranky, but at least there was a chance that she would
that probably wouldn't be as safe, reliable, or capable as the car you could see the need for letters that were different from Tara's form letters.
have bought from the dealer. Moral of the story: if you want to create a It worked. Candy didn't tell me not to write my own error messages.
specialized computer program to help a thousand RTC employees spend Instead, she came back with some suggestions on how to improve them.
a billion dollars, you'd better hire enough programmers to make it damn I took this as permission to use my own error messages, and I went ahead
good. Otherwise, don't re-invent the wheel. Just go down to the computer and put them into my new Paradox program. I had 24 different error
store and spend $99 on one of the excellent programs that already exist. messages, and now I could just type a number between 1 and 24, and the
computer would automatically select the proper error message and put it
into the letter.
Get with the Program I also made sure that the program would save the information from
each letter. Now I could use the computer to look up everything that I had
I didn't have the option of going out and buying a good computer
told the firm, in case I needed to know that for some reason.
program for the RTC. I just had to work with what they gave me.
I did all this for bills; then I did more or less the same thing for
In an ideal world, RLIS would have been designed to handle the data
budgets, so that our in-house paralegals would understand why I was
that we SAMDA techs needed. But as Tara said, “The environment is
bouncing budgets back to them. There was a different list of reasons for
changing, and it keeps on changing.” No human programmer could ever
why the budget was bouncing, but the basic programming was the same.
have taught RLIS to keep up with all the things that management was
Finally, I made the program so that it would produce mailing labels too.
deciding. So by the end of January ) after a month on the SAMDA job
And just like that, my operation was automated. Once I got this
) I knew enough about my duties to computerize the operation myself,
system up and running, I could get rid of a week's worth of rejected bills
using the Paradox database language that the RTC made available to us.
in just a couple of hours, and I decided to devote my Monday mornings,
I did a little programming and came up with a system that would
which were miserable anyway, to this task of catching up on the last
allow me to type in the ID number for a particular legal matter. Once I
week's work.
did that, the computer would look it up and supply the names, addresses,
phone numbers, ID numbers, and other information for the law firm, the
SAMDA, the RTC oversight attorney, the RTC paralegal, the asset, and

276
LARRY ENGITIS [on phone]: Ray, why haven't I received any ap-
Equilibrium proved bills from you recently? The law firms are starting to
complain.
Before long, I got to know some of the people at the SAMDAs and
the law firms. I knew that the firms wanted to be paid as quickly as
ME: Be patient and I will promise great things, maybe. The problem has
possible, and they knew that I was bullheaded and that I would sooner
been all these bad-weather closings. We haven't been in the office
burn their bills than waste a lot of time fooling with them.
much lately, you know. But I should be catching up now.
On this basis, we were able to develop a working relationship. The
deal was like this: they would leave me alone; or if they had to call me,
LARRY: Have you entered a budget yet for Arse & Ick?
they would be nice to me; and I would get the paper out of my cube as
quickly as possible.
ME [looking on my computer]: Nothing for them yet. Why?
In fact, I actually pushed the rules for them sometimes. For instance,
management had produced a book of new forms that were supposed to be
LARRY: Because I sent it to the paralegal there two weeks ago. It
effective January 1. Tara ordered us to reject any bills or budgets, from
seems like everything I send to the RTC gets lost.
now on, that weren't on those new forms. But I was dealing with firms
who had been trying to get their old paperwork processed for a very long
ME: Larry, I regularly receive ) here, at the top of the stack, a bill from
time. There were thousands of pages of their old bills and budgets
the firm of Eighwood Taykett & Runn. I've been keeping my “in”
floating around. I knew that the procedures would be changing again
tray empty. This stack arrived just this morning. But this bill is
anyway, as they always did. Therefore, when a firm finally made it to the
dated last October, and I have no idea where it came from.
finish line, and an accurate and complete bill landed on my desk, I just
didn't have the heart to tell them that our forms had changed and now they
LARRY: Would you transfer me to the paralegal?
had to re-type them and try again.
Of course, I didn't want to just ignore a direct order from my
ME: Which paralegal?
commanding officer, either. But I was able to find a way out of this
dilemma. Within a week or so after Tara ordered us to reject the old
LARRY: Let me see ... Tom Morrow.
forms, I saw that she, herself, had made a half-dozen arbitrary exceptions
to her own rule. Once that happened, I felt that there was such a thing as
ME: Sure. Hold on.
a reasonable exception to the rule. I put a note in my form letter, telling
the firms to start using the new forms, but otherwise I just went ahead and
let them slide. (This, by the way, was typical. I wouldn't be surprised if
[I go back to processing invoices. I see one from the big law firm that
75% of the work that we actually got done was against one rule or
gave me such a hard time in my first day on the job, making me run all
another.)
over and then insulting me after all my good efforts. I examine this bill
In short, at this point in my RTC career, the players and I came to
with extra care. I detect a flaw in it, hit a couple of keys on the computer,
understand each other, and things pretty much stabilized. A typical
and my form letter is processed. I toss the rejected bill into the reject
afternoon in my cube might go like this:

278
stack.] ME: Ray Woodcock speaking.

RON: Ray, this is Ron Paydabad, over at Kildagood & Paydabad.


HOPE [from across the hall]: This lady at the SAMDA isn't reviewing There's something I don't understand about the new manual
bills. She called and asked me why there was a note with this that the RTC just sent us.
one bill.
ME: Yeah? Fire away.
ME: Why was there a note?
RON: They used to have a thing called a Narrative Status Report.
HOPE: Oh, because Sue Flay [one of our regular bill-paying techs] But they don't have one in this latest manual. Does that mean
worked her way through it before she noticed that it was a we're not supposed to fill out those Reports anymore?
SAMDA bill and sent it to me.
ME: I have no idea. I know that I, myself, do not ever receive them.
ME: Sue does that a lot. How come? Why don't I transfer you to Candy Tenuff? She knows more about
that manual than I do.
HOPE: I think she does it on purpose. I think she wants the SAMDA
to notice when a firm is really ripping us off. But they don't. RON: Thanks for your help. [I transfer him.]
This lady at the SAMDA just now said that they throw away
these extra notes and process the bill as usual. ME [to Hope]: I really don't like it when firms are friendly to me,
because then I feel like I have to help them.
ME: Ha. We think they're examining the bills, and they think we're
examining the bills.
[I go back to my work. Here's a bill stamped RECEIVED IN RLIS twice.
HOPE: I could tell Tara about it, but I already did that once, and all The first time was two months before the second time. It probably came
she said was, “I don't care. There's nothing we can do about to us, went to our staff attorney, got mailed back to the firm for a fix, and
that. It's not our problem.” is back again at my desk. But none of that appears on the form. It just
looks like we've been keeping it around and stamping it every couple of
months. I start to process the bill, but then I stop.]
[I go back to my work. I pick up a budget form I've just received. I know
a little about this one. The firm and the SAMDA and our staff attorney
and paralegal have gone to a lot of trouble to get it to me as quickly as ME: No signature! Yes!
possible. So I put the budget onto the system. It's for $25,000. Then I try
to add the bill they want to pay, but it's no use: it's for $27,000. They're HOPE: A reject! Back to the firm!
going to have to try again. I bounce the bill. My phone rings.]

280
[I put it into the reject pile, because I know that the signature is crucial
in case the firm ever tries to claim that we did not owe them this money.
This bill is going to have not one, not two, but three RECEIVED IN RLIS
Bliss Redux
stamps before it's done.]

[Then I turn to the next bill. It's stamped ENTERED. Somebody already
entered it? I look on RLIS. If they entered it, they didn't enter it in the
What a waste it is to lose one's mind, or not to have a mind.
right place. They must have given it to another law firm. There's no way
How true that is.
to find out where they might have put it, so that other firm will get a
freebie. I enter it where it belongs. When RLIS asks for the “Date
) Dan Quayle (speech to United Negro College Fund)
Received,” I type the date when I received the thing, not the date shown
by the RECEIVED IN RLIS stamp. No way am I going to have people
saying that I sat on the thing for two months before doing anything with
it. I have no idea where it's been all this time.]
When Tara moved me to the SAMDA job and to my new cube, she
[I finish entering bills and then line them up, across the desk, for rubber
really moved me to a new world there at the RTC. Instead of being off by
stamping. I hit the first one, click-clack, but then I stop myself and say,
myself, I was now sitting with a number of other RLIS techs. And since
“Uh-oh. Wrong stamp.” Hope snickers. I grab the other stamp and go
we were all doing similar kinds of work, I now had people to talk to about
back at it.]
my daily tasks. The whole place had a more upbeat feel, and I responded
by decorating my cube with happy things like this:

• A list of quotations from insurance forms, where people were


trying to explain their auto accidents, such as:

The pedestrian had no idea which way to go, so I ran


over him.

The other car collided with mine without giving warning


of its intentions.

The guy was all over the road. I had to swerve a num-
ber of times before I hit him.

I was on my way to the doctor with rear end trouble

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when my universal joint gave way, causing me to have • A cartoon from the Village Voice, demonstrating the difference
an accident. between a schlemiel and a schlimazel. (The schlemiel spills
soup on the schlimazel; as this happens, both are thinking,
An invisible car came out of nowhere and struck my car “Oh, shit.”)
and vanished.
• A greeting card that says, “Jesus loves you.” When you open
I saw a slow-moving, sad-faced old gentleman as he it, it says, “Everyone else thinks you're a jerk.”
bounced off the roof of my car.
• A list of things that people have named their kids, including
• A cartoon of a kid who looked something like Charlie Brown, these:
with this caption: “God put me on Earth to accomplish a
certain number of things. Right now, I am so far behind, I will Lemonjello and Orangello (twins)
never die.” Dorito
Meconium
• A horoscope with helpful information: Arson (a boy)

Aries. You are the pioneer type and hold most people in • Assorted other similar items.
contempt. You are quick-tempered, impatient, and
scornful of advice. You are a prick.
I had got my stuff moved OK from the old cube to the new one.
• Three different posters containing useful adages, following They were almost identical, so it wasn't much of a job. I had a new
Buddy Fermi's example: munchies drawer and everything. So I settled in and made myself
comfortable.
Better to be the butt of jokes than to have one.

If we can't fix it, it must be broken. Looking Around


I've already mentioned that Hope Ferdabest sat right across the
If I want your opinion, I'll ask you to fill out the appropriate
hallway from my new cube. But I haven't mentioned how much of a
form.
problem this was for me.
Basically, Hope was very attractive, and if I let myself look her way,
• An RLIS Certificate of Achievement, showing that I had
I could easily fall into a trance and just sit there with my tongue hanging
successfully completed an operations workshop in Dallas.
out, gazing at her.
(Nobody else seemed to think this one was particularly
Unfortunately, she was also a really decent woman, and I felt like a
humorous.)
schmuck for staring at her, so after a while I learned to behave like a
normal human being and not think so much about her body. Eventually,

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I became pretty good at this, and I realized that I was actually treating her “Huh?”
as a professional and an equal and a friend, which is a pretty scary attitude Like many other RTC employees, Noel assumed that there was
to have when you're dealing with someone that good-looking. someone, somewhere, who knew what was going on. He'd say, “Why
Even if she hadn't been a friend, I would have had to be careful. doesn't anybody tell me these things?” or “Why don't they just come out
Nobody wants to be sued for sexual harassment. We had all recently and explain all this to us?”
taken a class that went into detail on that subject, and it taught me to In that regard, I had an advantage. Until now, I had been an LOC
watch my step when dealing with women in the office, which is exactly tech, which kept me in touch with people in all the other RTC offices,
what I did. I was probably OK in this case, though, because I think the including Washington. I had learned that everybody was just groping
rule is that it's legal to stare at a woman and drool, as long as you don't along in the dark, one step at a time, trying to figure out what to do next.
drool on her without her consent. Something like that, anyway. As one LOC tech put it, “Management isn't going anywhere, so if you're
following them, you must be backing up.”
Even so, I was really surprised that Tara or Candy didn't come down
My Brother's Keeper and visit Noel once in a while, to help him out. They knew he was having
a hard time. The only explanation I can think of is that they didn't know
My other new neighbor in our little SAMDA area was, of course,
much more about the SAMDA job than he did.
Noel Oakentender. I couldn't see Noel like I could see Hope, but that's
Since nobody else was helping Noel, Hope and I would step into his
only because his cube was on the same side of the hallway as mine, right
cube sometimes and see if he was OK with things. He didn't really like
next to mine, separated only by a six-foot-high cube divider.
to ask for assistance, but if it looked like he was stuck on something, we'd
Noel, unlike Hope, was not someone who inspired me to drool on
try to help him through it.
him, partly because he drooled on himself and didn't need that from me.
To tell the truth, I'm not sure it was a brainpower problem.
As Noel put it, he couldn't walk down the street without falling into the
Sometimes, Noel would get sidetracked on writing a big, detailed letter to
gutter. But that was OK. We all pretty much accepted him for what he
a law firm, or I'd hear him in long telephone conversations, trying to be
was.
helpful. Maybe he was afraid he'd leave firms in the lurch if he moved
Noel and I were both new at the SAMDA game. I guess I caught on
any faster. I don't know.
to the basic rules quickly enough. Unfortunately, he didn't.
Everybody had said that SAMDA work was boring. Maybe they put
Noel into this job because they thought he'd be comfortable with it. “I Making Time
like brainless work,” he said. “Always have.”
As Noel was discovering, however, even brainless work can be One of the best things about being a soon-to-be-departed employee
difficult if you make it complicated enough. At this point, there were lots was that I was now entitled to receive four hours of administrative leave,
of changes going on in the SAMDA world, lots of special situations, and each week, for the next three months. I thought this was hilarious,
some of our work wasn't all that easy. because it was more time off than they would give to people who were
So Noel sat there, working away, and the pile of work in his cube named Employee of the Month.
kept getting bigger. Every now and then, we'd hear him talking to The main purpose of this administrative leave was to let me look for
someone in his cube, saying things like, “I'm pretty much caught up now,” a job. I immediately realized, however, that I was an odd duck and,
and Hope and I would look across the hall at each other as if to say, moreover, that employers were not dying to hire a former government

286
employee whose present job, as a data entry technician, was overpaid by getting involved in interesting Paradox projects, or doing other things that
about $10,000 a year. made me want to get to the office and go to work. For another thing, I felt
We were allowed to use those four hours to do anything that had to guilty about it.
do with jobhunting. This included things like working on your résumé I also adopted a liberal definition of “sickness,” so as to use up my
and researching potential job opportunities. So that's what I did. I started sick time, but I felt bad about that too, and I wasn't really able to complete
working on this book, which is as good as a résumé if it helps me get my the project. So after maybe a month of asserting my freedom, I settled
next job. And at this point, if you don't mind, I'll make it formal: I hereby down, and from then on, the best I could manage was to be five or ten
announce that I need a job. I hope you will hire me if you've got a screwy minutes late to work each day, and to take the occasional morning or
organization that could use someone like me. This thing of being a writer afternoon off to recuperate from my various illnesses ) not that anybody
is damn expensive. was paying much attention, one way or the other.
Anyway, the challenge was to figure out the best way to schedule
those four hours of jobhunting leave. After a few weeks, I had it down to
a science. I would take lunch from 12:45 to 1:45, and then take my Weathering the Storm
fifteen-minute afternoon break, and then take jobhunting leave from 2:00
I started the SAMDA job at the beginning of January. This was
to 4:00 PM. Since this required only two of the four hours allotted to me,
turning out to be a nasty winter, with lots of really cold days and ice
I could do this two times each week. So I basically got to leave the office
storms.
twice a week at 12:45. As I was leaving on those days, I'd try to think of
You may recall that I, the expert, had developed the art of knowing
new obnoxious things to say to Hope on my way out, like “I'm sorry I
whether to go into the office on a bad day or whether, instead, to stay in
have to go, because it's so wonderful outside” or “Gee, I was thinking of
bed and wait for management to get their act together and announce, at
working this afternoon, but now I guess maybe I'll take off instead.”
9:00 or 10:00 AM, that they were closing the office for the day. But just
I had another thing going for me, during those last few months at the
because I was the expert doesn't mean that I, myself, would actually
RTC. As a short-timer, I could not really be expected to have the same
remember any of my expert techniques from one year to the next. It was
hard-working attitude as before. I mean, I pretty much did have that
a sort of divine justice: at the start of each new winter, our managers
attitude anyway, but I still tried my best to be a screwoff within estab-
would forget that it's OK to close the office during horrible weather, and
lished government parameters.
I would forget that they would forget this.
I noticed that most of the people over in my new cube location
So there I am, one morning in early January. I discover later that it's
seemed to come in later and leave earlier than they were supposed to, by
the coldest day in ten years, with a wind chill of 38 below zero. It's cold
as much as a half-hour or more sometimes. I knew a few people at the
enough to freeze reindeer, dead or alive, and so what do I do? Naturally,
RTC who went much further with this, being absent from the office for
I get dressed and go to work.
hours on end.
There are two-foot-high snow drifts on the road to the office, but this
As a person who had been wrongfully terminated and who therefore
does not cause me to stop the truck and say, “What am I doing out here?”
had a right to be angry and resentful, I felt that I should do this sort of
I fight my way into the parking lot, and there's only one other car there,
thing too. So I started coming in fifteen or twenty minutes late and
probably containing someone who froze to death before he could make it
leaving ten or fifteen minutes early.
into the building. I cut a couple of donuts on the ice and park the truck,
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to keep it up. For one thing, I kept
facing where the sun will be in a couple of hours when I come out for a

288
nap, assuming the sun isn't frozen over by then. Valley Forge employees. In a mild understatement, this memo said, “The
I go inside the building. The place is dark. Everybody here is gone. weather has given rise to numerous questions with respect to timesheets.”
I'm thinking to myself, Bloody hell. Not even Jay has arrived, and he's The memo explained that management had finally decided which days we
always the fool who comes in when the office is closed. I grope around, were officially open all day, part-day, or not at all; and then this memo
bumping into things. Where's the fricking light switch? There's always gave us the blow-by-blow explanation on how to change our timesheets
someone else here before me to take care of these things. What a saint I for the past six weeks, so that we could give Washington an accurate list
am, coming to work on a day like this. of which days our regional office had been closed, because otherwise
I go to the cafeteria for my morning sugar snack. Nobody is there Washington would have no idea.
yet. I go to my cube and turn on the radio. They're announcing closed I started making those changes, but I admit, I had never really gone
schools, hundreds of them. Even if they do announce that the office is to the trouble of figuring out all these different timekeeping notes and
closed, I'll probably miss the announcement. forms that management was always sending us. So now it was the final
I can't remember the local number for our switchboard upstairs, exam, and I was thoroughly confused. I made a few changes on one of
partly because the 800 number is so much easier to remember: 1-800- my timesheets, and then showed Hope what I had done, and asked her if
RTC-NECO, which is short for North East Consolidated Office. Some I was on the right track.
people get confused and call 1-800-RTC-LEGAL, which at that time She looked at it and asked, “Have you compared that against your
would put you onto the come-on advertisement for a 900 sex advice line. Time & Attendance Report for Certification?”
I don't know why the sex advice people chose that number. Maybe they I said, “Oh. No. Am I supposed to do that?”
got their loan from a bank that went bust and was now owned by the RTC. “You'd better. And then what about the printout of Hours Used?”
This was probably all worked out in special negotiations with one of our “Where's that?”
approved law firms. “On your payroll printout.”
On the 800 number, I reach the switchboard's regular announcement. “The one that comes with your check?”
Nothing special about closing for bad weather. So why am I the only one “It doesn't come with your check. It comes separately.”
here? “Right. That's what I meant. Do I need to do that now?”
I wait a half-hour. Nobody else shows up. Eventually, I quit and go “Yes. It tells you what your paycheck is going to be.”
home, where I belong. “A goddam ship of fools,” I'm muttering, feeling “Oh. Well, I'm not doing my paycheck now. I'm just trying to
like the Prince of Fools myself. By the time I got home, they had put an figure out my timesheet.”
announcement onto the 800 number, telling us that the office would open “Yeah, but your payroll printout also shows how many hours of
at 10:00 AM. But by then, I didn't care. One trip was enough. If they vacation and sick time you have left.”
wanted me to come to work today, they had their chance. “Why would that number be different from what's on the Time &
This was the story for one of my days as a SAMDA tech. During Attendance Report for Certification?”
that particular winter, we had a whole series of days like this, where “Because the T&A is done here, and the other one comes from
people were coming in or not coming in, hearing announcements or Washington.”
imagining announcements or making up their own. There was no telling “OK, well, I'll do that. One other problem: I can't figure out which
who would be in the office or absent, or why. of these copies of my timesheet is the most recent one.”
In mid-February, management finally came out with a memo to all “The most recent one will have the word ‘Amended’ in the upper

290
right corner.” magnetic personality. In that case you're like a black hole, and you draw
“But I have two amended ones.” people to you in a crushing embrace. I did not have a strong magnetic
“Why? You should only have one.” personality, and therefore I had to rely on my charm, which meant that I
“No, they told us to go back and amend again because they changed almost never had visitors in my old LOC cube, and I had to get most of
their minds about how to account for those snow days.” my social contact through e-mail, which was OK until word got out that
“No, that's not what you were supposed to do ...” our managers were reading our e-mails, at which point the e-mail dried
Hope and I went on like that for a while. I really didn't get it, but I up.
didn't want to look stupid, so eventually I said, “Oh, I get it,” and I gave All that changed when I got this new SAMDA cube. Over here,
up and went back to my cube and started doing something else instead. there were these eight other cubes containing RLIS techs: Buddy and Jay
Hope kept working on it, doing everything exactly by the book. She and all the rest. Therefore, I was able to combine my own weak magnetic
spent about two hours making all those changes to her timesheets, adding force with theirs, and together we formed a strong collective magnetism
everything up, and verifying that it was right. When she was done, I that attracted many visitors who helped us to while away the hours.
asked her if I could just copy her timesheet, now that she had it all figured The collective magnetic force made a real difference. I am sure that
out. Much to my surprise, she said, “No. Figure it out yourself.” Hope, by herself, would not have been able to attract the young men who
To make me feel better, though, she told me they probably wouldn't would come back to the cul-de-sac and hang out there, telling her stories
notice if I didn't bother changing my timesheets at all. That sounded and ignoring me. Likewise, if Hope and Buddy and all the others had not
pretty good, so I just threw out the memo and skipped to the next official been there, I probably would not have had the experience in which certain
duty for the day. Turned out she was right, and nobody ever came around women in the office, married and otherwise, discovered that I was “safe”
to tell me that I had forgotten to revise my timesheet as management and therefore felt free to come to my cube and lean on me, rub up against
instructed. my legs, and otherwise take physical liberties with my person while
inventing job-related problems to talk about.
Sometimes, the visitors did not seem entirely sincere. I noticed that
Visitors people would come back to our dead-end, real friendly, and start up a
conversation with me; but then, as soon as Hope got off the phone, they'd
My new cube was located at the dead end of a short hallway. Hope
drop me in mid-sentence and go over to talk to her.
and I were back in the cul-de-sac; Noel was next to me and Jay Gundus
Also, we had some unwelcome visitors, including Tara, who came
was next to Hope; and then Trudy Mill and Buddy Fermi rounded out our
back to the cul-de-sac about once a day to tell us the latest thing on her
little six-pack. Right on the other side of Hope and Jay and Trudy, there
mind. And every now and then Barry, or his secretary Allie, would wait
were another three cubes, containing three more RLIS techs.
until one of us was out of the office; then I'd hear them in Hope's or Noel's
As I sat in my new cube, I discovered an important sociological
cubes, talking to each other, saying things like, “Should I assume that she
principle, known as the Principle of Collective Magnetism. Basically, it
has lost the papers?” or “Noel has stacks of stuff here. Bills, bills, bills.
works like this. If you're sitting in a distant cube, off by yourself, as I had
Let's see how many budgets.”
been doing before I got the SAMDA job, then you have a very weak
To deal with unwelcome visitors like that, maybe we should have
collective force. Or, if you are not familiar with this scientific terminol-
done what one RTC lawyer did. His boss was named Earnest, and so this
ogy, the same idea in lay terms would be that nobody likes a loner.
lawyer put little signs in his desk drawers saying, “Hi, Ernie!” to greet his
The only exception is if you're a very powerful loner, with a

292
nosy boss when he went through the drawers. like Mia Friend. In their natural habitat, these people could be heard
In one rare revival of the good old days on the e-mail system, a saying things like, “Oh, I don't need a copy” or “I'm sure it will all work
couple of us discussed this problem one time: out fine.” Once in a while, they would even send the RLIS department
these sweet, thankful e-mails, telling us what a wonderful job we were
doing.
ME: I don't really like the fact that Tara and Barry The only problem I had with the decent paralegals was that they
are always prying around in our cubes. I'm
thinking of installing a security camera and would be too nice to me. They'd arrive in my cube at just about the time
maybe a turnstile, to control access. when I was tossing papers on the floor because I had run out of desk
WARREN: Cameras are OK, but what you really need is a space, and they'd see the papers on the floor, assume that I had dropped
spring gun. them, and pick them all up for me. So I'd have to say thank you and hold
GREG: Booby traps work. They're perfectly safe,
the papers until they left, when it would be safe to throw them on the floor
unless you happen to be a booby, which means again.
that your RLIS managers would be in mortal One other category of visitors was the temps. Temps were only
danger.
supposed to stay at the RTC for ninety days; but one of the temps, José
Canusi, managed to stay around for at least six months. “He's pretty
In the category of unwelcome visitors, I guess I'd have to include sharp,” Hope said. “It's a fault he'll have to overcome,” Buddy replied.
paralegals who were trying to do their jobs. I had several problems with But even though we all liked José, somehow we weren't able to treat the
those visitors in particular. temps as equals. “We never get invited to the birthday parties,” José said
First of all, the paralegals did not seem to believe that they could use one time, and I realized that I hadn't even noticed.
the RTC's “interoffice mail.” There were interoffice mail bins all over the Around this time, other new temps were arriving too. Or at least I
office. If you wanted to send something to someone in the office, all you think they were temps. Whatever they were, they emptied out the “File”
had to do was toss it into one of those bins, in an envelope addressed to bins and put things into files and sat around, shooting the breeze while
that person, and a day or two later, it would usually arrive. Instead of this, they were opening our mail and stamping it “RECEIVED IN RLIS.” One
the paralegals would walk the length of the building to deliver one of them claimed that she never took breaks, which was hard to believe
document to me. Every time I turned around, I was getting another couple until you realized that, for her, a “break” would be a time when she would
of pages in my “in” tray. I guess it gave the paralegals a feeling of not be pretending to work.
accomplishment to do all that walking. As time passed, further speculation revealed that these people did
Secondly, some of the paralegals were nasty. They acted like they not like sitting around with nothing to do. Hence, I started giving them
wanted to be lawyers. Take, for example, this one paralegal, a woman my stacks of bills to rubber-stamp with my ORIGINAL and COPY and
named Di Ochsen: she'd show me things that I had screwed up, just to let RECEIVED and ENTERED and FILE stamps. Once in a while, they'd
me know that she had something on me that she could report to the boss; knock one of the stacks over or drop them, and then the papers would get
she'd write up these e-mails, accusing me of all kinds of terrible things, kind of mixed up, but the main thing is that these assistants made it much
and send copies to a bunch of different people; and she'd be really sharp easier for me to get my week's work done in a few hours each Monday.
when she came to my cube personally to complain about something.
In fairness, though, there were some really decent paralegals too,

294
“So they're skipping today because of a meeting yesterday?”
It didn't make sense at first. But then, as I thought about it, I got a
Moxie grasp of what was going on.
There was a lot of turnover in our RLIS department. I probably
Once I settled into my new cube, Hope and I reached a mutual
knew twenty-five RLIS techs during my time at the RTC. Almost all of
understanding to cover for each other if necessary. Allie or Tara would
them said things to me, at one time or another, to let me know that they
sometimes come looking for her while she was out shopping, and
were frustrated with our long, pointless RLIS meetings (not to mention
although I didn't like to do it, there was no question where my loyalties
the Help Desk and other goofy assignments). And yet, to my knowledge,
lay: “She must be at lunch,” I said.
not one of those techs actually attempted to persuade Tara to shorten or
Hope, for her part, said that the other techs were always coming back
improve the meetings. They all just sat there and suffered.
and asking how I could manage to take all these afternoons off.
I guess their approach made some sense. They did not believe that
“What do you tell them?” I asked.
their complaints would make a difference, and they knew that there were
“I just say that I'm not really familiar with Ray's vacation and sick
penalties for rocking the boat. Many good employees had been harassed
time situation.”
and driven out by people like Barry, Allie, and Tara.
“Besides,” I said, “I'm not necessarily spending all that much time
I must say, however, that some of my fellow techs did show signs of
away from the office. It's just three hours a day.”
courage, when the wiser course was to remain silent. One time, I took a
Hope knew more than I did about what was happening with some of
poll, and several gave me permission to use their names to show that I was
the other techs. She'd tell me how this one or that one was taking the day
not the only person who felt that way about a certain problem. The
off, to strike back in their own quiet way. One day, she told me that three
remarkable thing is that they gave their permission despite their fear. One
techs had called in sick, knowing that Tara had scheduled an RLIS
woman had a look of genuine terror in her eyes. “I was a temp worker for
meeting for that afternoon. But Tara was too clever for them. She
years before I landed this job,” she said. “I hated it. I can't bear the
invented a scheduling conflict and sent us all an e-mail, telling us that the
thought of losing this one. But, yes, you can use my name.” Ultimately,
meeting would happen tomorrow instead. Those techs came in the next
I felt bad about exposing these people to this kind of risk, and I gave them
day and the meeting went ahead. “They must be so mad,” Hope said.
all a chance to reconsider, which they all did. But even that glimmer of
One time Hope asked me, “Did you notice how many people are out
nerve, likely to accomplish nothing and to cause them grief, was quite
today?”
impressive.
I hadn't noticed, but I started thinking about it. “Let's see. Trudy
I guess the situation with the techs was that most of them were afraid
and Jay ... ”
to confront Tara directly by skipping work on the day of her meetings.
Hope went down the list. “There are seven RLIS techs out today!”
But they could still prove a point, at least to themselves, by skipping the
she said. “And do you know why?”
next day instead. If ever there's a revolution, these will be the ones to
“No. Why?”
watch out for, these quiet, frustrated ones.
“They're getting even for that meeting yesterday.”
Techs weren't the only timid employees. One of the staff attorneys
“Why? What happened?” I had missed the meeting.
was really interested in my conflicts with Barry and Tara. At first, he
“Dawn Avett brought in her list of questions. We spent more than
thanked me for sending him copies of various e-mails to keep him posted
an hour on her questions alone. Nobody said anything, but you could just
on what was happening in the battle. But then he got spooked and asked
tell they were sick of it.”

296
me to stop sending him e-mails. “I can't afford to get into a pissing helping me with that problem.
contest with Barry,” he said. Instead, this guy switched to a sweetheart
approach, saying that he wished he could get Barry and me to sit down JAY: Me? What did I do to help?
and have a beer and resolve our differences. I replied, “That ain't Barry.”
And I noticed that, despite all these fond wishes, the guy didn't actually BUDDY: Nothing. That's why it worked out right.
do anything to improve the situation.
So after all this, it was truly inspiring to see a genuine whistleblower JAY [looking across the hall into Noel's cube]: Noel, why do you have
in action. Bernadette Alldowne was a staff lawyer who had previously that blue light in your cube?
told me, in private, about some shady dealings that the RTC was
approving. But Bernadette had gotten onto Barry's hit list somehow, and BUDDY: Aw, don't wake Noel up. Let him sleep.
now she was mad, and it was no longer a secret that she was speaking out
against what she saw as mismanagement and fraud. She was having NOEL: I brought it in because I needed a reading lamp. It used to be
shouting matches with Barry, and we could hear her calling him a worm good, but it doesn't seem to be working so well anymore. [He
and a weasel. I don't think there were five people in the place who weren't raps it a couple of times.]
rooting for her.
[Buddy and I come out of our cubes to look at Noel's lamp.]
Socializing BUDDY: Whoa! It's a lamp from a submarine! Dive! Dive!
The best social life in my new cube did not come from paralegals
NOEL: No, it's not. It's just a reading lamp.
and other unwelcome visitors. It came from the RLIS techs who shared
our little hallway with Hope and me. The ringleader was Buddy Fermi,
BUDDY: Why do you need a lamp?
who liked to come back to the cul-de-sac and hang out there at the dead
end, between my cube and Hope's. But even when he was working in his
NOEL: Because I don't get such good light here in this cube.
own cube, he was yelling at other techs, chatting and bellyaching. After
five or six weeks of being in this new cube, I was one of the gang,
BUDDY: You know why that is?
carrying on with the rest of them:
NOEL: Yeah. It's these overhead cabinets that block the light from
the ceiling.
BUDDY [on the phone]: Yeah, well, you're the prince of weirdos.
BUDDY: And do you know what's on the underside of those cabinets?
HOPE: Takes one to know one. [Her next-door neighbor Jay bursts
into a cheer.]
NOEL: No ... oh.
BUDDY [speaking from his cube, after his phone conversation]:
BUDDY: Fluorescent lights for your desk.
Another satisfied customer. Jay, I want to thank you for

298
NOEL: Right. I see. [Nobody responds. A moment passes.]

JAY: It's a nice lamp anyway, Noel. NOEL [to no one in particular]: It's not easy being me.

NOEL: Thanks. [He sneezes.] JAY: I suppose not.

ME: Gesundheit! NOEL: Especially for anyone other than me.

NOEL: Thanks. It never bothers me until I come in here. JAY: Huh?

ME: Allergic to work, eh? NOEL: I mean, sometimes on this job I just don't feel myself.

NOEL: Maybe I'll just have to stop breathing. BUDDY: I feel myself sometimes, but I try not to tell anyone.

BUDDY: Not until the end of the day. You haven't completed your ME: I feel different things. Right now, I feel that Hope should get back
assigned shift. to work instead of planning her wedding. Imagine her marrying that
gorilla.
[Buddy and I go back to our cubes.]
HOPE: You be quiet.
NOEL: Something in the air in this place makes me cough, irritates
my sarcophagus. ME: Hope, I'm telling you, this could be your last chance to elope with a
ne'er-do-well like me.
JAY: Something in the air? I don't smell anything.
HOPE: I didn't think you were in a position to be eloping with
NOEL: No, it's tasteless, colorless ... anyone. Weren't you dating Sharon Jirmes for a while? What
ever happened to her?
BUDDY [from his cube]: Don't talk about our managers that way!
[The sky grows dark. Lightning flickers in the west. Sweat breaks out
HOPE [whispering across the hall to me]: Buddy doesn't have enough along my lip.]
work to do, but he doesn't want anyone to know that.
ME: To tell the truth, Sharon and I broke up.
[Pause. Everyone is occupied with something or other.]
NOEL: I'm sorry to hear that.
NOEL: Oh, darn. I hate it when I get halfway through a budget and
then see it's not right. ME: I haven't really been broadcasting the whole story to everybody.

300
NOEL: No, I mean it. My girlfriend dumped me too, not long ago. ME: Is that why you're here?
She said it was mostly just physical. She was more attracted
to the mesodork body type, and she said I'm basically an NOEL: I guess I'm mostly just here to help. I always try to be
ectodorphan. available if people have questions, so that I can steer them to
someone who can help them.
HOPE: Ah, I guess I did hear something about you and Sharon. Kind
of a nasty breakup, wasn't it? [The mention of Sharon has distracted me, and now I'm fiddling with my
pen. A few minutes pass, and then Buddy walks back to our dead end, to
ME: I guess a few people were alienated. Or at least they seemed alien put something in the File bin outside my cube.]
to me.
BUDDY: Ray, what are you doing on top of the cabinet?
HOPE: From what I heard, you handled the situation like a bull in a
tea shop. ME: I dropped my pen.

ME: Yeah, well, just because the bull breaks all the china and knocks NOEL: If you dropped it and it went up, then you must have been
down the shelves doesn't mean that it's not, in all other regards, a standing on your head.
very decent bull.
ME: No, I was experimenting with flipping it off my desk. I hit it too
NOEL: To me, being decent is important too. I think it's a big part of hard.
why we're here. Do you ever think about that?
HOPE: You're lucky you didn't take an eye out.
ME: About what ) why we're here?
BUDDY: You could have just left it up there. It's just a pen. You'd
NOEL: Yeah. never know it was there.

ME: You mean, what's our purpose in life? ME: If it wasn't there.

NOEL: No, I mean, why we're at the RTC. BUDDY: Right.

ME: Well, I'm here because being an RTC tech helps me to support my [I get back down into my chair. Buddy leans against the wall in his usual
effort to write books. spot at the dead end.]

NOEL: That's what they say: do what you love, and the money will BUDDY: Did anybody notice Noel's tan?
follow.
HOPE: Noel is tanned? [She gets out of her chair and goes to his

302
cube.] He is! Noel, how did you get so much color in one BUDDY: You should have heard Dawn this morning. When she found
weekend? It's still winter out there! out the computer wasn't working, she panicked.

NOEL: I tried something new this weekend. HOPE: Ssshh! [We listen again.]

ME: What, skiing? Sometimes I get a little red from that. DAWN [talking to the law firm]: Yes, I have your ... uh, your ... uh, your
... bill.
NOEL: Nope. This is a full-body tan.
ME: Nothing special going on over there, Hope.
ME: Well, I know you didn't go to the Caribbean.
HOPE: Well, sometimes that person says funny things, though, like
NOEL [triumphantly]: Much simpler than that! All you have to do is “If you have any questions, I'm more than helpful.”
take a tube of that Q.T. tanning lotion and smear your tub
with it, and then go in and roll around for a while. ME: I prefer that attitude to Barry Amenama, who just dismisses it all.
He says, and I quote, “The RTC is the biggest f___ing boondoggle.”
HOPE [returning to her cube]: Oh, yecch.
BUDDY: Not far off the target.
BUDDY [going to look again]: Now that you mention it, you do have
that telltale orange tint to you. ME: Yeah, but it's discouraging. It's not what your manager should be
saying.
ME: Ah, you can't blame him for trying. We're all sick of winter already.
What I want to know is, what's wrong with the groundhog that BUDDY: Well, it's not going to last forever. One day, they'll be
predicted that winter was ending? That was weeks ago, and we're shutting this place down.
still buried in snow!
NOEL: Yeah. The politicians won't be spending money on bailing
BUDDY: You just don't understand. The groundhog has a sense of out a bunch of banks anymore. They'll be spending it on
humor. That's part of the magic of Groundhog Day. other stuff that society needs.

HOPE: You guys, ssshh ) listen. ME: Like what?

[We listen. Dawn Avett is talking to a law firm on the phone in her cube, NOEL: Oh, I don't know. Lots of things. Cops on the street. New
not far away.] prisons and other penal erections. All kinds of things.

DAWN: Your bill went to Bud Kizzer, but then he switched jobs, so it BUDDY: More GOOP.
went to June Saypah, but that wasn't right, so it went to ...

304
ME: Goop? HUGH D'ALLEMIGH: This is the RTC. Can I help you?

BUDDY: Government-Owned and Operated Projects. HOPE: Excellent. That person is new. It will take him a long time to
find out that he can get it changed away from him by com-
HOPE: But, you know, the RTC has done some good too. plaining.

BUDDY: Yeah. How else could all those guys have made so much ME: Until then, we don't get stuck with answering phones anymore.
money, if we hadn't helped them?
HOPE: I'm getting out of practice. The Help Desk gave me lots of
[Di Ochsen, one of the nastiest paralegals, appears at my cube.] experience.

DI: Good morning, Mr. Woodcock. [She drops some papers in ME: Yeah. Now those calls could liven up your day. Like the time when
my “in” tray, then leaves.] the guy called and said he needed to know who to talk to about his
mother's loan. He said she was in jail and couldn't make her
ME: Is that all? [I lean out of my cube. Yes, she really is leaving. I yell payments. Without the Help Desk, it's not as easy to pass the time.
after her.] Hey, Di, you playing with my mind? What are you
trying to pull, being friendly to me? BUDDY: Oh, I don't know. If I want entertainment, I can get it right on
the job. It's always entertaining to try to guess what will
BUDDY: Di knows how to behave, if she puts her mind to it. Tough happen next when I send bills to one of the staff attorneys.
but fair. That's the rule I inherited from my forefathers. Like Lee Sard ) the guy needs a trainer.

NOEL: You had how many fathers? HOPE: He's always mixing up his papers.

[Trudy's phone rings. Trudy is out sick, getting even for the fact that she BUDDY: I'll say. He approves bills and then, after he's signed them, he
had to work this weekend.] sends them to the files, so they'll be permanently lost. Does
he think we examine the files daily, to see what new papers he
HOPE: Alright. Let's see where it rings next. has put in there? Sending him stuff ) ha! I may as well mail
it to Pluto.
BUDDY: It's going to ring in Ray's cube.
NOEL: Maybe the bills are too complicated for him.
HOPE: No, it's not. It was ringing in Ray's cube, but he complained.
They said someone else would be taking the messages now. BUDDY: Complicated! He sat on a $175 bill for four months. You
think he didn't know what to do with a lousy $175 bill?
[The phone rings four times in Trudy's cube. Then there is a pause. Then,
some distance away, we hear the voice of the new guy.] ME: Huh. Maybe he could lighten my workload. I'll just send him a

306
bunch of bills and see how long it takes him to realize they don't BUDDY: I tell you, it works.
belong with him. It could be a long time before they come back to
my desk. ME: I'll keep it in mind.

BUDDY: Aw, if you want to do that, just put them in a box marked HOPE: Ray would never do something like that.
“Asset Disposition Department.” Nobody will touch them for
four months, guaranteed. ME: Probably not. I don't like breaking the rules. If I can't get the
system to work for me, I just make more rules so that it does.
HOPE: Maybe that's what happened to Allie's invoices.
BUDDY: That works too. Like a friend of mine, lives in California. He
ME: Invoices? What? buys a fixer-upper house and starts working on it. A month
or two later, he's still working on it, hasn't moved in yet, but
HOPE: Didn't you see Tara's e-mail, asking if anybody had seen a now interest rates have dropped a lot and he wants to refi-
box of invoices from Allie Gaytor? Tara said she got them nance. The bank won't refinance unless he lives there. So
from Allie and sent them to somebody else. he's ready to move in, but he needs electricity and water. The
house is across the street from a park, so the city won't let him
ME: Yeah? Who? connect his electric and water service until he plants a tree out
front, as required by the park district. So he has to plant a tree
HOPE: She didn't remember. She just wrote down that she sent them to get a loan from the bank.
to “tech.” We're all “tech.” It could have been anybody.
HOPE: What a mess.
BUDDY: It wasn't me.
BUDDY: There's more. He's on the phone with the park department,
ME: You sure? Maybe we should inspect your cube. and they say he can't plant the tree without a permit from
them. They'll only give him a permit if he agrees to plant a
BUDDY: You won't find anything there. If I have excess papers that I tree from their list of approved trees. They ask which kind he
don't want, I just put them in a box, like I say. Or sometimes wants to plant. He says he'd like to plant a maple tree.
I mail them to myself. They're out of sight for a week or so, “Can't,” they say, “it's not on the list.”
and then, by the time they get back to me, I have more time
to deal with them. HOPE: Geez.

ME: This would explain why some of these documents are stamped BUDDY: So he asks them to send him a copy of the list. They do so.
“RECEIVED IN RLIS” two or three different times, like we kept The list has twenty different kinds of trees. He chooses an
receiving them over and over again. Australian willow. So now the park department inspector is
happy. Now he tells the city inspector that he's going to plant

308
a tree, so they can go ahead and schedule him for electrical always seeing these letters addressed, “Buddy Fermi, Attorney.”
and water hookups. The city asks which kind of tree he's They all think you're a lawyer, you're in charge. How do you do it?
going to plant. He says, “Australian willow.” They say he
can't plant an Australian willow on that street. Instead, he has BUDDY: I give them straight answers. They don't always like what I
to plant a Cocos palm tree. He reads the description and sees say, but at least they know where they stand.
that these are the ones that drop nuts on the sidewalk that
people slip and fall on. The description also says that these ME: We've got our own version of that approach back here in SAMDA-
trees are “otherwise unsightly.” land. Hope tells the firms that I am handling their problem and will
get back to them soon. So they call me, and I tell them I've never
HOPE: What a nightmare! heard of them. We're both telling the truth. My words are true now,
and Hope's will be true later.
BUDDY: So he complains that they should have let him know of these
requirements when he was filling out the forms to buy the [The conversation tapers off. Buddy goes back to his cube. I grab my
house in the first place. They say they told everybody in the trusty paper airplane and toss it over the cube divider. I hear Noel snort,
city about these rules. He asks when. They say, “January “What ...” An empty styrofoam cup sails back over the divider and lands
1994.” He says, “But I didn't even own the property then!” on my keyboard. A few minutes pass, and then Gloria Thunrythe, the
They say OK, but you still have to get a tree. paralegal, arrives at my cube.]

ME: Yeah. That's the RTC. I've got a bunch of letters like that in my GLORIA: Ray, I've got a pre-SAMDA budget here dated before Febru-
stack. Like this one ... let's see ... here it is. It says, “The steps to ary 1. The SAMDA didn't sign it. Do they have to?
get this bill paid have been unbelievable. I am again enclosing the
documentation requested. Please do not request any further docu- ME: I don't know. Hey, Hope ) [I lean back and look past Gloria, across
mentation.” the hall] ) Do the SAMDAs have to sign pre-SAMDA budgets
dated before February 1?
NOEL [coming into my cube]: Ray, I have something here for Ahmet &
Mathom. That's your SAMDA, right? HOPE: I don't know.

ME: No, Noel, that's yours. [He retreats, muttering about being con- ME: Gloria, we don't have a clue. Why don't you go ask Tara?
fused. Hope snickers.]
GLORIA: Maybe I'll just send it back to the SAMDA.
BUDDY [returning to the previous topic]: It's the classic line. They call
and complain, and I say, “I'd like to help you. I just don't ME: Hope, why doesn't anyone go to Tara with these questions when we
have the authority.” suggest it?

ME: But you still seem to get along with these firms pretty well. I'm [Hope shrugs. Gloria thanks us and leaves. A minute later, Jay comes

310
back to my cube, to drop something in my in-tray. He stops and looks and tion. I went through them and organized them alphabetically,
me. Pretending to be surprised, he does a double-take.] by law firm. Everybody thought this was an amazing idea.
There were no filing cabinets or anything. Just stacks. The
JAY: Wow. Ray, you look really happy today. law firms were going wild.

ME: I do? Oh, good, I guess. [Jay pauses, and then I discover why: Tara has arrived in Noel's cube.
Jay was going to say more, but he stops and goes back to his cube.]
JAY: I think it's because I've been praying for you.
TARA: Noel, this hasn't been signed yet by Lucy.
ME: You've been praying for me?
NOEL: Lucy who?
JAY: Yes, Ray, I have. I've been concerned about you. And you
should be concerned about me too. TARA: Lucy Tania.

ME: Really? Why's that? NOEL: Oh, Lucy Tania.

JAY: Because I do not have a cowboy hat like yours. TARA: Yes, Lucy Tania.

ME: Oh. Yeah, you should go buy one. [They continue their meaningful discussion. I go back to my Paradox
programming. I've been working on a program that I can use to manage
JAY: Or perhaps, since I have been spiritually concerned about you, my personal to-do list. Just in case Tara comes around the corner, I am
you should give me yours. Is that really too much to ask? prepared to switch the computer to a work-related task instantly, and I
have some RTC papers beside my keyboard.]
ME: What's too much to ask is that you tell me what you want and let me
go back to work.

HOPE: Yeah. Otherwise, we'll never get caught up in time for them
to change the rules and bury us again.

JAY [turning toward Hope]: We're not buried now. Not like it was
when they were first setting up the RLIS department.

ME: I can only imagine.

JAY: There were huge stacks of paper everywhere. No organiza-

312
drew a cutoff date back at February 1, and said that everything approved
before then could continue to be handled by the SAMDAs.
This confused the law firms that had started out working for the
Adieu What I Have to Dieu
banks and had then been inherited by the RTC and were then told that
they worked for the SAMDAs who worked for the RTC and were now
told that the SAMDAs didn't work for the RTC anymore. It also
guaranteed that our staff attorneys and people from the SAMDAs would
We don't see the end of the tunnel, but I must say I don't think it is
be running around, trying to make sure that every possible thing looked
darker than it was a year ago, and in some ways lighter.
like it had been started before February 1, because the SAMDAs wanted
the work and the staff lawyers didn't.
) John F. Kennedy (press conference)
Eliminating SAMDAs meant that there wouldn't be much need for
special SAMDA techs like Hope and Noel and me anymore. So the
SAMDA area didn't turn out to be quite the hot spot that Lucy said it
would. But we still had some clean-up work to take care of for a while,
and therefore, just in case we might actually have enough work to keep us
About six weeks into my new job as a SAMDA tech, I had a good,
busy, Tara decided to hire another temp worker to help us out. She hired
working system going. I was getting along just fine with the law firms,
a guy named Buford and put him into a room by himself and made him
SAMDAs, paralegals, and temps. I think Noel and Hope were a little
responsible for putting all of our budgets onto the RLIS system.
irritated with me, because I'd say things like, “Oh, rats. It's Monday, so
“He's real bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” I observed, talking about
I'll have to work a couple of hours this morning to get caught up for the
Buford.
week.”
“We'll fix him,” Hope replied.
I suspected that a system like mine could be maintained with as few
Then Tara went through one of those difficult, agonizing periods that
as three employees, rather than the fifteen techs we had in the RLIS unit.
managers have, where they have to make many important and complex
There really wasn't enough work to keep all those people busy. And it
decisions. Of course, Tara shared her agony with the rest of us, and we
was only going to get worse, as the RTC continued selling off assets and
all sat through four or five meetings in which she kept repeating the same
cleaning up its remaining problems.
things from the last meetings. Sometimes, though, to make each meeting
Management was still hoping that the RTC's life would be extended,
unique, she would change her mind and say the opposite of what she had
or at least that their own departments would survive to the bitter end. But
been saying before. Finally, she came up with a new procedure for
the only way anybody would want to save the RTC or any of its depart-
budgets, which went like this:
ments was if they looked like they were doing important work.
One radical solution would have been to actually do important work.
I don't know that management ever went that far, but at least they decided
RESPONSIBLE PERSON ACTION
that they could do away with the SAMDAs, and that the RTC's own staff
could take over the job of supervising law firms and others who were
doing what needed to be done on the RTC's assets. They didn't take over 1. Referring staff attorney Prepares budget.
everything from the SAMDAs, though. Instead, in late February, they 2. Oversight attorney Approves budget.

314
3. Legal Services Approves budget. Tara. One day at an RLIS meeting she told the whole RLIS unit that we
Committee three SAMDA techs were falling down on the job. “A large number of
4. Referring staff attorney Gives budget to his/her paralegal. SAMDA budgets are not being filled out properly,” she said, “and it's the
job of the SAMDA techs to review them carefully before giving them to
5. Paralegal Logs budget. me.”
6. SAMDA tech (me) Reviews budget for completeness. We felt terrible and resolved to do better. My solution was to take
7. Tara Reviews budget for completeness. a yellow high-light marker and go through the budgets, armed with the
8. Buford Enters budget into RLIS, notes it in his Log assumption that there just had to be something wrong with them,
Book, and sends budget to Tara. somewhere, if I looked hard enough. And I was right. Out of the next
thirty budgets that I received, there wasn't a single one that met our high
9. Tara Sends budget to SAMDA tech. standards. I bounced them all. It was so predictable that I almost thought
10. SAMDA tech Photocopies budget, puts original in RLIS I should have a rubber stamp for this.
files, and sends copy to paralegal. Hope and Noel did more or less the same thing. The flow of budgets
11. Paralegal Notifies law firm, staff attorney, oversight to Tara and Buford dried up. Tara didn't seem to mind, but the staff
attorney, and Committee that budget has been attorneys and paralegals started complaining, because they were having
entered onto RLIS; sends copy of budget to to do the same paperwork over and over again. Tara asked Hope, “Why
RLIS files. are they complaining now? Haven't they been preparing the budgets
correctly all along?”
12. Law firm Begins work, runs into difficulties, files
When I heard that, I knew that Tara needed to spend a while longer
amended budget. Return to step 1.
in the reality tank. So we just kept on bouncing the budgets back to the
paralegals. But those paralegals weren't stupid. No, they were getting
better at this budget thing, and at one point, I said to Hope, “You're not
Hope and Noel and I weren't real clear on step 10 for a while,
going to believe this, but I have a budget here that's totally perfect and is
however. We thought Buford was taking care of the whole thing with the
ready to go onto the RLIS system!”
paralegals. So when the budgets came back to us after he'd entered them,
“No way!” she exclaimed. It was a rare moment.
we just sent them to the files. Therefore the paralegals got no word from
I knew that the attorneys and paralegals were really giving Tara hell
us and didn't tell the law firms that the budgets were in, and therefore the
by this time. They didn't like filling out forms to begin with, especially
law firms didn't begin work. We eventually figured out that this was
when the only purpose of the form was to go to the RLIS unit and then
happening. I hope somebody was able to figure out which firms we'd
come back to be filled out again.
missed, and then go back and tell those law firms to start working.
We gave it another week or so, and then I said to Hope, “I'm kind of
Once Tara had worked out this procedure, she called a meeting in
burned out on irritating the paralegals. Maybe Tara and Buford have
which we all sat there and listened while she explained Buford's job. She
loosened up a bit on the budgets. I think I'll send them another wad and
wanted us all to know what he did, when he put budgets on the system, in
see what happens.” And so, like Noah releasing the dove into the skies
case he was out sick one day and fell behind in his workload.
outside his ark, I sent a half-dozen budgets to Tara without even checking
Fortunately, there was no workload for Buford, because the next
them. Sure enough, not one of them came back, and I knew that our bird
problem was that Hope and Noel and I were not being precise enough for

316
had finally found land. locked drawer where I kept my microwave popcorn. I knew Tara could
get the key to that drawer from the maintenance guys if she wanted to, but
As you see, we went through some changes on the budget-processing I also figured she wouldn't have any reason to be getting into my drawers,
end, but we were able to adapt. We also had some new rules for unless maybe she wanted to grab a Twinkie.
processing bills. A couple of weeks went by. I kept adding to the stack of reject
I had free rein with my mass-produced, computerized Paradox letters in that drawer, the ones that I hoped to send out someday. The
system for a while. I was telling the SAMDAs to go ahead and pay pressure to do something about the situation grew stronger, because the
hundreds of law firm bills, but I also sent the firms a lot of rejection letters started picking up odors from being in that drawer with my
letters. Either way, things were running smoothly as far as I was munchies. For some reason, the microwave popcorn was making all those
concerned. papers smell like dirty socks. Besides, law firms were calling with
In late February, though, Tara announced that most of us would no questions that I wouldn't have had to answer if I'd been able to keep my
longer be allowed to use anything other than her form letters. Tara was system running.
exercising what the RTC called “managerial prerogative,” which means So unless I wanted to leave those papers in that drawer forever, I
that the boss gets her way. She told us all, at an RLIS meeting, that she pretty much had to come up with a solution. I decided to proceed one step
had given a few people permission to send their own letters, because she at a time. First, I got the papers out of the drawer. That solved the stink
knew they were capable of writing good letters; but she didn't have that problem. Then I put all those papers into envelopes, addressed to the law
kind of confidence in me, and therefore she had not told me I could send firms. That solved the problem of feeling guilty for not doing something
out my own letters. with those papers. Now I just had a hundred envelopes looking at me. I
As you may realize, this was a terrible blow, because I hoped that didn't know what to do next until I realized that I couldn't very well tear
someday I would be the writer of books, and I could hardly start a writing those envelopes open and take the papers back out, because that would be
career if my own manager (the reader of many memos from me on how a waste of the government envelopes they were in. In a way, I had
to improve her mangement style) believed that I wasn't a very good writer. already committed the sin, and there was nothing left to do but ride the
For that reason ) and also because I didn't feel like taking apart my storm out, and the only way of not wasting those government envelopes
nice computerized system that produced letters automatically, with was to send them to the law firms, as God intended. But since Tara had
twenty-four different error codes to tell law firms exactly what they were told me that I could not send out my own letters, I asked Noel to take
doing wrong; and because I feared that using Tara's standard form letters them down to the mail room instead, so that if anybody asked me if I had
would require me to write a great many things by hand, possibly mailed my own cover letters to the law firms, I could truthfully say no.
producing writer's cramp ) for these reasons, I decided to exercise what Ten days later, we had this exchange of e-mails:
we at the RTC called “employee prerogative,” which basically involved
ignoring Tara and processing the paper as usual. I looked at the bills, put
them onto the system if they were good, and printed the computerized PARALEGAL [to Tara]: I have a question about a letter
that Ray sent to one of my law firms ...
reject letters for the bad ones.
I may be rebellious, but I'm not insubordinate. Tara had not said that TARA [to me]: You have my instructions regarding corre-
spondence and permission to personally sign
I couldn't print the letters. She had just said I wasn't allowed to send letters. Unless my express authorization is
them, and I didn't. Instead, I put the rejected bills and the letters into the given technicians are not to sign their own
letters. These instructions were given previ-

318
ously and reiterated at the last weekly staff Of course, I could hardly wait to see how the new RLIS program
meeting. With this in mind, what is going on
here? worked. I turned it on and, sure enough, it was almost exactly the same
as the old one. The only change, for my purposes, involved one part of
ME: I'd have to see the letter that she's talking
about, but I don't think I've sent anything out the SAMDA process; fortunately, now that we had changed our proce-
to firms since the last weekly meeting. It is dures again, that part of this brand-new program was already obsolete
probably a letter I sent a while back, that before it even went into service, and Hope confirmed that Candy had said,
she's just getting around to.
in training, that we would not be using it.
I played around with the new version of RLIS for a few minutes and
I knew this wasn't exactly a straight answer, but technically speaking then got down to business. I had a week's work to catch up on, just like
it was true, and Tara didn't pursue it. So my system still worked, although any other Monday morning.
I knew its days were numbered. At about 10:00 AM, after I'd been processing bills for several hours,
we had this exchange of e-mails:

If All Else Fails, Take Another Class


CANDY [to Hope, Noel, and me]: Starting this morning,
At this point, the long-promised RLIS version 3.0 arrived, and Tara you will no longer use your Paradox tables for
transmitting invoices to SAMDAs or returning
announced that training would take place on a Friday, all day. They were invoices to law firms. All invoices you enter
not sure they would be able to arrange a professional trainer, though. starting today will appear on the weekly SAMDA
transmittal documents. DO NOT ENTER ANY IN-
They said that Candy might have to do the training. At that, a shudder VOICES TODAY OR TOMORROW, until I notify you
went through the entire RLIS unit, and we quaked in fear. otherwise.
I, myself, did not believe in RLIS training, and I knew that it would ME: You're a little late on this. You probably
be exceedingly difficult for me to remain awake for a full day of the stuff, should have said something last week. I've
unless I loaded up on large quantities of caffeine or skipped out for already entered a number of invoices this
morning. I'll stop at this point and wrap up
frequent naps. I was trying to go easy on the caffeine, and I also the shipment out.
suspected that Tara would not understand if I kept walking out of class for
CANDY: Delete all invoices you entered this morning and
a snooze. So it looked like it was going to be a very tough day, all around. await further instructions on those invoices
Fortunately, my roommate kept me awake half the night, and when only. Do not enter any SAMDA invoices until
notified to do so.
I awoke on the morning of the training, I realized that I felt that I might
be sick. So I called in sick and did not attend the training. ME: I have a better idea. I'll give you the stack
This turned out to be an advantage when I got back to work after the of invoices that I added because you didn't do
your job on time, and YOU can delete them, and
weekend, on Monday. Three or four RLIS techs had gathered in Noel's then re-add them when you've got your act
cube, and they were disagreeing on how to handle a problem on the new together.
system. They really did not seem to know how the thing worked, and they
seemed kind of mixed up, whereas I was not the least bit confused. I took
this as a sign that I had done the right thing in missing the training. Candy must have forwarded my last e-mail on to Tara, because now I got
something back from her:

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the meeting, back in the cul-de-sac, I whispered, “Hope ) I never deleted
TARA: First of all, you will not handoff to Candy any all those invoices.” She said, “You know, the other day, I was stomping
SAMDA invoices input today. You will delete any
invoices you may have entered already this around here, being pissy because they were making me take apart my
morning and await further instructions. Further, system, and now I'm going to have to put it all back together again. It's
it is not your call to tell Candy her job or her
effectiveness at doing her job. You should have better to drag your feet.” “It is,” I agreed.
attended the RLIS III.0 training on Friday,
especially since you were given 10 days advance
notice and enlightened as to the importance of The Meet Goes On
this training.
ME: I was out sick on Friday. Moreover, the train- We were still having RLIS meetings. I would still forget about them
ing on Friday did not cover this issue. Hope sometimes, and when I did go, I would sometimes space out or get
and Noel, who attended the training, had no idea
that they were not supposed to enter bills absorbed in reading an article in some magazine, so I could pass a good
today. chunk of the meeting before I'd remember to start taking minutes. I knew
the minutes were important, because if I didn't take minutes, it would be
difficult for those who were present to understand what our meeting had
Tara sent me another e-mail, ordering me to stop talking and start accomplished.
deleting all those bills I had been working on all morning. I wanted to try Sometimes I did forget altogether to take any notes, and then I had
and get along with Tara, so I decided to go ahead and apply the procedure to go around afterwards and ask my fellow techs what they thought had
that I had already worked out for these things that Tara and I disagreed on. taken place. These minutes could be incomplete to the point of stupidity,
I didn't delete anything, but as a compromise, I didn't mail anything either; and yet Tara never criticized them. I guess she probably felt that this was
instead, I just put the papers in the drawer with my microwave popcorn. the best I could do. Maybe she was relying on these minutes when
At this point, I had no official duties, since we were officially on concluding that I wasn't able to write cover letters to law firms.
hold. Tara must have believed that I wanted something to keep me busy, I knew the minutes were lame because, when I was absent, Candy
though, because she ordered me to prepare a report for her. “Just in case would provide the minutes instead, and hers were awesome. They
I need it,” she said. captured every detail, often devoting several paragraphs to a complete
Over the next few days, the situation softened a bit. Tara started listing of the many different things that she, herself, was doing. They also
hearing news from Washington, suggesting that we might be processing made sure to include a comment that said, “Ray Woodcock Absent.”
bills again after all. I didn't say anything else about the ones I was I admit, I always was a very irregular player in Tara's meetings. She
supposed to delete but didn't; neither did she. kept encouraging all of us to save our problems and bring them to the
A few more days passed, and then we three SAMDA techs had a meetings, so that everybody could share them. I was not very good at
meeting in Tara's office, where she told us that we were going to start this, because I couldn't get over the screwy idea that I should attempt to
processing bills again, beginning where we left off. So I didn't have to solve my problems as soon as they came up instead of saving them for
delete and then re-do those three hours' worth of data entry that I had done next week's meeting. I did give it a good try once, though. I consumed
earlier, and I was even able to rescue them from my munchies drawer too much caffeine and took forty-five minutes of a meeting to talk about
before they started smelling too much like dirty socks. all the different things that came to mind. I guess I just had to prove to
I hadn't told Hope that I'd been ignoring Tara's order. But now, after myself that I could do it.

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One time, I was sitting in an RLIS meeting, quietly nodding off. there once may have been had started to dissolve a few months earlier,
Suddenly, I heard my name. I woke up, like you wake up when you know after Barry decided that he didn't like me anymore. And by now, Tara had
everybody's looking at you and, sure enough, that's exactly what they stopped showing any degree of warmth toward me that could possibly
were doing. have made Barry feel that she was being disloyal to him.
“What do you think?” Tara said to me. As the weeks passed, Tara seemed to become more divided, in her
“About what?” I asked, in that voice that you try not to use except own mind, as to how she felt about me. On one hand, there were some
when you're really groggy and out of it. A couple of the techs giggled. upbeat moments. She knew I was a good spearcatcher and lightning rod,
Everybody was still looking at me. so she'd come storming back to my cube, furious at some paralegal who
“I'm asking Ray his opinion,” Tara said. “Ray has opinions about was jerking her around on the e-mail system, and have me write a
other things that he tells me in e-mails after the meetings. I figure he must message back to that paralegal, explaining how our procedures worked.
have one to share now.” Or she'd ask me to sort out a problem with some law firm, or to explain
to Bud Kizzer, over in OCM, why he was doing something wrong on the
My head was still foggy. I said, “I have no idea,” which was true, LOC job that I used to have. Or she and I would be sitting across the table
since I didn't really know what they had been talking about. But then in a meeting, and she'd look at me and talk to me like everything was fine.
someone else made a comment, and I gathered that we were deciding But then she'd turn around and do these goofy, hostile things, as if
whether to photocopy a certain form before sending it to the paralegals. to remind me to watch my back. For instance, one time I called in sick;
This was a very easy question, so I said, “I can't see any reason for and when I got to work the next day, my fellow techs and I had this
standing at the photocopier and generating more paper to be filed.” conversation, back in our hallway:
Everybody said, “Yeah, that's right.” That was all that came to mind, so
I didn't say anything more. Tara looked a bit disappointed to see that she
hadn't been able to embarrass me. I, myself, was pleased to discover that BUDDY: Are you trying to irritate our fearless leader?
I could still participate meaningfully in our RLIS meetings even when I
was sleeping. ME: No. Why?

BUDDY: Because she was running all over the place when she found
Eternal Vigilance out you were sick yesterday. She must have asked everyone
where you were and whether you had gotten a leave slip
Until the last few months, there had been times when Tara and I had
permitting you to be out of the office.
been able to talk, in a more or less relaxed way, about work-related issues.
We had never discussed anything remotely personal, except for that one
HOPE: How could you have gotten a leave slip, when you weren't
time when we were talking about the e-mail that I had sent to Sonny and
even here?
Sharon, and even then it was “personal” only in the sense of talking about
how to handle the office situation. But ) I know this sounds crazy )
NOEL: Tara called me into her office and asked me what time you
sometimes I really did feel like Tara and I were cooperating to accomplish
left the office yesterday morning, and I said I didn't know
a common goal.
what she was talking about.
Or maybe it was all in my head. Whatever shreds of human contact

324
BUDDY: She said, “We don't know where Ray is. We think he's against this waste of time. It didn't make me a full-scale whistleblower,
AWOL.” but perhaps it qualified me as a recognized pain in the ass, possibly even
a defender of the oppressed.
HOPE: It was really entertaining.
Forging Ahead
Later, Tara told me that there had been an emergency and that they
Tara and the other managers continued to search for ways to justify
had needed me. I never did find out exactly what that emergency was,
their departments, there in those days when nobody knew for certain that
though ) and if they were going to be needing me for emergencies, you'd
the RTC would shut down, or which departments would be the first to go.
think they wouldn't want to be laying me off in the near future. Hope
It was assumed that if the RTC did shut down, the leftovers would be
said, “Tara has pulled that same ‘people were looking for you’ crap on me
folded back into the FDIC, which would continue to survive. So people
too.”
did their best to make themselves seem essential.
Another time, Tara and Candy insisted that we SAMDA techs had
A hiring freeze had recently gone into effect, and all the managers
to attend a special presentation that was being given by a non-SAMDA
had known it was coming and had hired the maximum allowable number
tech ) about how to do a certain kind of non-SAMDA work that we
of people before the freeze took hold. There was some pressure from
weren't doing then and probably never would be doing. That time, I
D.C. to cut back, as part of a thing on reinventing government, so
finally went ahead and sent an e-mail to the Ombudsman, suggesting that
management announced that they needed some volunteers for early layoff.
our managers should be reminded of these basic points:
But the volunteers had to be approved by their managers, and the top
lawyer in D.C. had made clear that the Legal Division was just swamped
with work and therefore could not afford to lose any more personnel. So
• When a meeting is devoted entirely to a topic that is irrelevant to an
it looked like we had a full house, there in the Legal Division, and that
employee's duties, that employee should be excused.
we'd be staying that way for a while.
One thing that management came up with, to explain why the RTC
• Managers should not set the length of a meeting by determining how
had to stay in business for a while longer, was called the Data Quality
much time is available and then searching for additional topics with
Action Plan. Under this plan, each of the RTC's various computer
which to fill the time.
systems were going to be reviewed, in detail, to make sure that they
contained accurate information. I think the basic idea was that nobody
• It is generally inappropriate to require employees to attend meetings
else in the government would want to inherit a mess from the RTC, so
for no purpose other than to demonstrate that the manager has the
maybe it would be worth everybody's while to let the RTC survive until
authority to order the employees to attend.
we could straighten out our own records. Some people said that the
wisest thing was to make sure our records were all screwed up, so that
Congress would have to keep us around for a while longer.
The Ombudsman responded by sending a note to Joe King, telling
The Data Quality Action Plan included the RLIS system, and Tara
him that there was a complaint about excessive meetings in the RLIS
came out with her views on how the Plan should affect RLIS. According
department. Predictably, Joe did nothing. But at least I had spoken out
to her plan, we needed to print out about 18,000 sheets of paper ) which,

326
by the way, would require a fancy new printer ) and then the RLIS techs So as we got closer to shutdown, which everybody called “sunset,” people
and the staff attorneys were going to go through all those pages in detail. started to get more worried about what would happen to them.
The project was expected to take weeks of full-time work. I, myself, was The RTC had already closed a number of offices. The Chicago
thinking that if they had all that spare time, they might want to spend office was combined into K.C., Phoenix was absorbed into Denver, Red
some of it on a closer look at those $330 million worth of payments that Hill and Somerset were collapsed into the Valley Forge office, etc.
we had made under the UIC program. After all, nothing had happened on It was really a mess when they shut down the office in Somerset,
the UIC thing since Dawana and I had finished working on it months New Jersey. One day, they loaded all the Valley Forge employees into
earlier, and all those nice red binders were just sitting on a shelf in the buses and hauled everybody an hour and a half to Somerset. Then they
library. But somehow the UIC project just didn't have the same magic in had this big meeting, where they broke the news that the Somerset office
Tara's eyes. was going to shut down. (I don't know why the Valley Forge people had
I don't know if it was part of the Data Quality Action Plan or to be there for this news.) As a consolation prize, they said that the people
something different, but at this point Tara began getting fixated with all from Somerset could have jobs in Valley Forge, if they didn't mind the
kinds of trivia. At one point, she called us SAMDA techs into her office ninety-minute commute.
and spent fifteen minutes going on about the names that we were giving A lot of the people in the Somerset office had just recently been
to our legal matters, like this: hired for that office. One lawyer stood up and said, “My wife and I just
sold our house, moved here for this job, and bought a new house here. I
SHADOW BROOK CONDOMINIUMS (SAMDA) left a good job to come here. And now I have no job?” The poor guy was
bawling.
One of her main points had to do with using parentheses instead of There had always been a lot of uprooting and moving around at the
semicolons. Or maybe it was the other way around. I really had no RTC. My little story about the Big Change Meeting, when seven RLIS
interest in what she was saying, so I started writing notes that I wanted to techs were all given new jobs at the same time, was nothing compared to
put into my diary. A couple minutes later, I looked up. She was staring the movement of entire regional offices, like in Denver, where the whole
at me. I realized that I must have appeared to be totally spaced out, so I Legal Division moved to new buildings twice in less than two years.
looked away. She kept talking. Eventually, our little meeting ended. In the early days at the RTC, whole departments had sprung up like
Other RTC employees were not really excited about Tara's new mushrooms; but more recently some of them had gotten shut down. In
obsession with details. As one paralegal put it, “What they gettin' excited one department, the supervisor decided to reduce the size of her depart-
about it now for? If they had got technical at the start, we'd stretch it out ment by asking her assistant to draw up a list of the people who were the
until '98. They gettin' technical now, and what for? Nobody gonna dig worst gossips in the department, and getting rid of them first. Another
through all this paper. They gonna seal it up and walk away.” woman told me about working in a department that had been closed the
previous year. She said they started at fifty people, and then a few got
laid off, and then a few more, until there were only three left, and the
Every Man for Himself whole process had been one long fight, as people jockeyed to be among
the survivors.
Eventually, despite all these heroic efforts to invent a purpose to
More than a year before sunset, the RTC was already flooded with
exist, the truth sank in. The place was not going to last forever. Congress
rumors and bits of folk wisdom: that the Denver office had screwed up
was not going to change the law and give the RTC another year of life.

328
by being so efficient, and that's why they were closed down early; that the is backed up and how bad it would have been for you if you hadn't bailed
Legal Division would survive longer than any other part of the RTC; that out.
we'd all be able to keep our jobs right up to the end, or that we wouldn't
all be able to keep our jobs because they'd be forced to start reducing
personnel. The Secret Slips Out
Somebody said that maybe Congress would want to use the RTC's
Being at the RTC, these days, was something like what would
expertise on other kinds of national financial crises, like the student loan
happen if everyone were given eternal life ) but only after they turned 80,
default problem. When I heard that, I suddenly got a mental image from
when many of the fun and lively ones were already gone. I was sur-
the movie Star Wars, when the Death Star had already destroyed one
rounded by a bunch of grumpy people, mostly living in a twilight world
defenseless and innocent planet and was now being turned toward
of anxiety and irritation. It seemed like everybody was getting into this
another.
mood where they couldn't stand to be here, but couldn't stand the idea of
Along with all the chatter and rumor, management started taking
having to leave either.
practical steps to make the best of the situation. For example, many of us
I told Hope that this was how it seemed to me, but she disagreed.
had been paying into a 401(k) retirement plan. This plan gave us
“I'd stay here forever, if they let me,” she said. She had a stable life and
“matching” funds: for every dollar we put into it, the RTC would also
didn't want it to be messed up by the RTC's constant changes. To her, a
donate a dollar. Problem: we only got to keep the RTC's donation when
notice of layoff would have been a disaster.
it had been in the account for at least three years, and now many of us
So when I first told her that my contract had not been renewed and
were leaving the government and we'd lose all those recent donations.
that I would be leaving the RTC on April 15, she gasped, “Oh, my gosh
Solution: our managers now changed the rules, so that every dollar of the
) what are you going to do?” I grinned at her and said I didn't plan on
RTC's contributions was ours to keep. And just like that, we were all
doing anything right now, other than keeping it private, because I didn't
richer by thousands of dollars. And I don't really think the taxpayers
want to spend three months with everybody feeling sorry for me.
should complain: if this move gave 1,000 RTC employees an extra
Hope was very discreet. She was a little bit worried that I wouldn't
$5,000 each, on average, its total cost was only $5 million, making it one
keep up with my work and she'd have to do it all after I left. But then I
of the least expensive things management had ever done.
think she saw that I was keeping up with it, and after that she just seemed
Another practical step by management was to offer courses that
to find my situation amusing. It was our little secret for more than two
would be useful for RTC employees who were soon going to be out of a
months.
job. There were courses on preparing your résumé and hunting for work.