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January 16, 2004

Life as an Acronym

"I'm POD," she introduces herself, "What are you?"
"FM. Just started Monday."
"Great! Jim here is DFO, and Sally LS. I guess we can get the meeting started."

Okay, that's fictional, but barely. Here in this office are several groups of consultants. There are a few "primes," the companies actually holding the contracts for projects that report directly to the government agency. Those are the "names." Then there are the "subs," sub-contractors brought in for specialized expertise or to help score points as "minorities." For the first time in my working life I am part of an official minority. The company that I work for is Vietnam-era disabled veteran-owned. With a recent law that makes me worth roughly the same points, to those for whom these things matter, as a female Hispanic single mother of a disabled child. Or something.

That's not to say I don't bring specialized expertise. I like to think I do, at least. I'm here because I did (sub)contract work for this prime with another agency for the past eight or nine months and they (and apparently that agency) found me useful and reliable. Both of those characteristics appear to be exceptional here.

What do I do? So far, I officially do nothing. This is because my security paperwork is still slowly winding its way through the bowel of this agency, occasionally surfacing in a sort of burp of discomfort when some scribble I rushed ("We need you to start as soon as possible!") proves indigestible. "You didn't go back seven years on your employment history. Please reply by email with your places of employment for the years 1997-1998." Above that section is the education section which made rather plain (I thought) that I was in school full time during that period.

As a result of this I have no badge, which means I have to be let in and out to use the restroom which is out in the hall near the elevators. Since I hate incoveniencing PODs or LSs for my bodily needs, this means my consumption of Diet Coke is curbed sharply, which in turn means the level of caffeine in my blood falls dangerously low. I am prone to developing odd patterns on my forehead that look suspiciously like reverse imprints from a notebook keyboard.

Oh, I have been doing some background research. Of course, I'm not officially doing any background research because I'm officially not here (this is why it's called background research). And my non-research background activities are limited by my non-access to to certain files which are too much in the foreground.

I've decided that the reason there was such pressure to get me here as soon as possible is not that there was work that needed doing immediately. It's simply an inefficient system struggling to defeat its own inefficiencies. By getting me here as soon as possible we started the influx of paper (or electronic pulses) into the maw of the system which must masticate it, mix it with appropriate lubricants, stir it about, expell certain noxious gases, compress it, staple, mutilate and spindle it, and in the end extrude(reluctantly) a tightly pressed wafer known as an ID badge. Until I can display said tribal identification device suspended from about my neck (whether as a medal extolling my persistence and patience or a collar binding me to the plow) I remain an invisible other. While I may obstain sustenance, and may, in fact, interact in a limited manner with society, even contribute in some small way, I am of no real import until that badge, bearing appropriate acronyms, defines my role and empowers me mystically to insert myself into the flows of power, diverting this bit here, that byte there.

I did get to attend one meeting this week. Oh, and have another scheduled for next week. It's important to have lots of names on the attendance lists for meetings. One can easily judge the importance, and success, of a meeting by measuring the length of the attendance list and the number of different acronyms sitting as suffices to those names.

Like most forms of armor, cynicism isn't attractive. It does keep one going when the shrapnel of boredom fills the air.

Is it lunchtime yet?

Posted by dan at January 16, 2004 11:02 AM

This one was unique. I liked it! Glad to hear you're "settled." I'll keep reading, off and on.

Posted by: Linda at January 31, 2004 10:04 AM