Steve in the Early Years – IBM Technical Service Representative
“A Funny Thing Happened” is a true story (I’m embarrassed to say). I’m not sure why it even came to mind this morning, or why on earth I would want to share it. Maybe it’s because my last few posts have been rather serious and somewhat pontificating. Sometimes (more times than I care to think about frankly) when I reread a post after a few weeks or months, I get kind of embarrassed, because so often they sound like I’m preaching or I have this holier-than-thou perspective. I dislike pretensions, so I feel like a real hypocrite sometimes when my rants begin to sound suspiciously pretentious.
So I thought I would share a funny [true] story, that is sure to embarrass me, and that will clearly demonstrate that I am NOT ALL THAT, and that I don’t have any real illusions or delusions about it. Everybody is born with certain God-given talents and aptitudes, and the more we align ourselves with those gifts the better—it’s when we swim against the current that we get ourselves into trouble.
The year was 1969, I was newly married and had just left active military duty with the Marine’s. Having had no real civilian employment prior to my military service (I joined the Marine’s when I was seventeen) I had no clue about what I wanted to do (much less what I might be good at). I just knew that I needed a job and soon. Back then you usually went to an employment agency, and they found you a job (without any aptitude testing first). So one of my first jobs was as a Technical Service Representative servicing IBM office equipment. I had no prior mechanical training, experience or aptitude. I was not, and am not, mechanically inclined—artistically inclined yes, mechanically inclined no.
I was introduced to the intricacies and complexities of office equipment repair (primarily IBM electric typewriters) via a four week intensive training program. I was the dunce of the class and could barely keep up. What saved me was my appearance and demeanor. Back then IBM technicians looked like businessmen, we wore suits, white shirts and ties. Our toolkits looked like attaché cases, and we were clean-cut. Having just left the Marine Corps I fit the bill in the looks and demeanor department. And I’ve always been pretty good with words, and often appeared to be more articulate (and educated) than I really was. So somehow I passed my training phase and was sent to the field.
On one of my very first service calls (solo) I approached the secretary’s desk with a confident stride and asked how I might be of service. Here I was in my nice business suit and tie, and my super-duper IBM toolkit that looked like an attaché case. She was young and beautiful by the way, which made what happened even more embarrassing. She briefly explained the problem, and I sat down and began to work on her machine. Within five seconds I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t remember any of my training, all four weeks of it immediately vanished from my memory. But I did have the repairman’s bible with me, and surreptitiously placed it next to her machine (but out of sight).
Each toolkit contained a set of screwdrivers amongst other implements of destruction. The one I chose for the upcoming surgical procedure was very, very long and narrow. It was about fifteen inches in total length (for real). It was designed for reaching deep into the bowels of the beast. Holding this long (very long) screwdriver in my right hand, with its blade pointing towards the ceiling, I then quickly swiveled my head to the right to read a pertinent instruction in my repairman’s bible. Like magic, about three inches of my shiny new screwdriver entered my nose’s right nostril gouging its way toward my brain. Miraculously the beautiful young secretary didn’t actually witness this misadventure.
I thought everything was going to be okay as I pulled the instrument from my nasal cavity, but then the blood started gushing. Gushing doesn’t quite describe the scene—spurting, spewing, shooting doesn’t really describe it either. It was like Old Faithful at Yellowstone. It was a geyser. It looked like a Charlie Manson murder scene. My new white shirt, my new corporate tie were beyond salvage, and I was doing everything possible to keep the blood off of my suit pants and jacket. I quickly jammed a handy-dandy IBM repairman’s rag up my nose to staunch the flow, but I could have really used a USMC battle dressing. I wanted to yell Corpsman! Corpsman are the Navy medics assigned to the Marine’s, and is the first person you yell for when you get your ass shot off. And I had just had my ass shot off.
I heard through my pain a HUGE intake of breath, and I quickly glanced to my left. There the beautiful young secretary, looking like she had just been poleaxed, stood white as a ghost, with Roger Rabbit eyes and a mouth that looked like a big Cheerio. What to do? What to do? I did the first thing that came into my mind—I lied.
Wow (I said), look at that—it’s such a hot day I got a nosebleed. Sorry ’bout that. The hot day part was true. And, by the way, I need to take your typewriter into the shop. I will have a loaner machine delivered to you as soon as possible. Woozy with the loss of blood, I unplugged the machine, loaded up my toolkit, put the typewriter under my arm and got the hell out of dodge (with the bloody rag flapping in the breeze as I exited). I lasted in that job for about year before getting fired. But not before committing a plethora of mechanical-sins against humanity and machines alike.
I guess if there’s a moral to this story it’s: Stick to what you’re good at. And to lie your ass off when things don’t go your way. As a postscript: I later moved on to banking which I didn’t have an aptitude for either—and lasted almost thirty years. Read my post about ‘Do-overs’.