August 31, 2011
I went to my new job to do some pre-employment paperwork today. I left the public sector for a job in the private sector with a huge multi-national corporation with offices around the world, though I will be based here in Brooklyn (for now.) I can’t give you the name of the company for security reasons. Not their security, mine. You think I want you to know where I work? Anyway, I can’t give you the name but they have tentacles in everything and are one of those huge corporations that are probably both ruling and ruining the world’s economy. On the other hand, this job will be great for my personal economy.
I took the train down to their complex and made my way to Building Five. Everything was new, everything was modern. When I worked for the Department of Education I once had to go down to their headquarters and the only thing new about it was the yellow caution tape in front of the non-working 80 year-old elevators. Walking into the ultra-modern and high-tech yet expensively elegant conference building (yes, not a conference room, a conference building) I felt like I was walking into CTU. The central security desk had some sort of scanners running around the perimeter and the guards were that level of relaxed and friendly that meant that they are highly trained to appear relaxed and friendly right up until the moment they leap over the desk and subdue you. After a cursory check of my bag (because it had already been subtly scanned eight ways from Sunday) the guard led me through a turnstile that had to be activated by a special pass card and to the elevator where an operator personally conducted me to the correct floor. He handed me over to another security guard who conducted me through one door (unlocked) and another door (locked) until I was in the most expensive lobby I ever sat nervously in.
A woman was conducted in a few minutes later and sat nervously across from me. I gave her a small smile and she leaned toward me and in a small voice said “this is the CIA!”
I must point out (for security reasons) that The Company I work for is not the CIA. No, not the CIA. Nope. I’m sure she was only commenting on the level of security.
When I worked for the DOE I was used to a much lower level of security. Basically, when I entered the building I’d nod to the guard if there happened to be one, and I’d nod to the guard as I ducked out of an off-limits side door. Other than that the only time I’d have anything to do with the guards was when we were goofing off in the lobby together. This may be different.
So the woman and I sat in the lobby. She was wearing some sort of odd-looking business suit. What made it odd was the cut. It was too long for her but it was styled, I think, that way. It was meant for a woman her size. It also had a strange unevenness to the shoulders that I at first attributed to her own shoulders being uneven but I later saw that it was the suit, not her anatomy. This is why I don’t follow fashion.
I knew that this was just a formality, a ten minute pre-employment thing. I was wearing black jeans and (in my one concession to the corporate world) shoes instead of sneakers, and a blue button down shirt. I looked neat and casual but that probably won’t fly on casual Fridays in the office. On the other hand, back in the DOE days, if I dressed in shoes instead of sneakers I may as well have been wearing a tuxedo. Not that I used to dress sloppy, but if I wore there what I wore today something would have been wrong. Everyone would assume I went nuts. I was also carrying the comfortable green canvas messenger bag that I picked up a few years ago. It is tough and durable and perfect for tossing stuff in and I love it now but none of it mattered when I bought it simply because I always wanted a bag like Indiana Jones carried. So there I was, a business casual Indiana Jones in CTU headquarters waiting to get a security clearance. It was quite a feeling.
I said it was a ten minute formality, and it really almost was, but while I was waiting someone left the screening wearing shorts and a tank top. I get the feeling he won’t be there long.
After a very quick glance at my paperwork I was led- by another guard- to the fingerprint section. “Fingerprinting” isn’t really the right term anymore since they use scanners now. I had been fingerprinted many years ago when I started with the DOE and they still used ink and paper and my prints came out smudged. The tech wasn’t interested in re-doing them. This time I was meticulously scanned one finger at a time, and if they were not perfect they were redone. It took almost ten minutes to do this. You can see the difference between the private and public sectors right there. The DOE was supposed to run my prints, but New York is so behind on everything that I’m sure they still haven’t gotten around to it. And it doesn’t matter because my smudges will match everyone else’s smudges and I fully expect every teacher in NYC to be pulled in for questioning at some point because our smudgy prints match every smudgy print in every crime ever committed.While my prints were being taken my picture was also taken for my ID card. If the tech hadn’t asked me to smile I never would have known. In the DOE the process for getting a picture ID goes something like this. Sit down in a cramped office, wait for them to find the boxy camera and mount it on a bent pole, wait for it to come up in the system, and be prepared for all this to take upwards of half an hour. Here, a small round camera the size of a ping pong ball rose up from the desk (kind like on The Prisoner) and raised itself to eye level. It was like an eye on a stalk. When I left the DOE their idea of high-tech was giving me files on a flash drive, and trust me, that caused more aggravation than it was worth. (For an explanation of the technology of the DOE, click this link.)
The only good thing that came out of my time with the DOE was the obscene amount of office supplies I, um, ended up with. I have enough reams of paper that I could build a tree house in my backyard. I don’t know how my new company apportions office supplies but I will never have to ask them for a single post-it.
Of course, the thing that makes any office good or bad is the coworkers. And unless I work with another man-hating bossy widow I will be ahead of the game.
I left the building the same way I came in, escorted all the way. But being a little less nervous I really took stock of the place. The walls all had touchscreens built into them showing the floor plans and layout, which rotated with specific room information. Framed art prints and photographs lined the walls between the screens, and the wide lobbies all had very comfortable chairs strategically placed. For most of my time in the DOE, I never had a desk newer than Neanderthal and my most comfortable chair was a beat-up thing left behind by a former coworker who brought it from home.
Things will be a bit different now.