Friday, December 10, 2004

Steve's first victim. Kind of.

I have fired eight people in my professional career.

Most of them were for the most mundane, boring reasons you could possibly think of: Job abandonment and tardiness / absenteeism, primarily. Nothing even remotely blogworthy.

When I took over as DM, I figured all that was going to change. I figured there was going to be a period in which employees "tested" me, the way students test a substitute teacher to see what they can get away with. But it's never happened. If anything, people seem to be watching their backs more, as if they thought the party was over when Ross left. All the employees have been polite and respectful to me since the very first day.

Except one.

Landon has been with the firm for over 20 years. He was programming software for us back when you needed two of those throw-rug-sized floppy disks just to boot up your computer, and when you finally did get your PC started, it sounded like a Harley-Davidson.

He knows the industry. And he knows our systems COLD. He can program just about anything we want him to, and he can do so quickly. He is the last of a dying breed of programmers who understand the architecture of both the old systems and the new. The problem is, he knows it, and he is not too proud to use that advantage for his own benefit.

Landon regularly takes a week off, unannounced, in the middle of summer to go boating, putting entire development projects on hold, costing us thousands. "I can't give you notice, 'cause I don't know when the water will be calm and when it won't be," he says.

He leaves early. He comes in late. And he's got the typical computer-programmer attitude.

You know the attitude I mean. People who fix or program computers tend to be very condescending to those of us who don't. "How can I give you an ETA," they will say, "I have no idea what's going to go wrong!"

Gee, thanks.

They generally act like their computer knowledge is a gift from the heavens, that they have been touched by the finger of God, and that anyone who dares interfere with their sacred labors is spitting in the face of the almighty himself.

We've all heard their smart-ass retorts: "You can't get a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant", "Garbage in, garbage out", and so on.

Landon is from the deep south, and he actually owns a couple of horses and loves to go riding. He's got the classic southern outlook on a lot of things, too: I'll never forget the time when a local woman fell while working on a telephone pole and was critically injured. All Landon could say was, "What the fuck did they have a girl up there for anyway?"

Several years ago, when I first started here, Landon was working on a project for us, and after about a week and a half, we had to change the specs, and it set him back about three days. He got so pissed off that he threw his laptop against the wall and ruined it. He then promptly asked for a brand new one - and Ross approved it.

I almost killed Ross for that one. "It WAS two years old, Steve," he says. It's called cognitive dissonance, folks.

Years ago, he had an office here on the 9th floor with the rest of us, but he used to close his door, and refused to open it. Anytime someone knocked he went completely ballistic. So many employees complained that they finally moved him down to a little office on the first floor. And to top it all off, he usually takes his phone off the hook so no one can call him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2:00.

Dom is standing in my doorway. "We gotta problem," he says, softly.

I wave him in, hanging up the phone.

"You know that scheduler Landon did for us for the call center?"


"There was some kind of....malfunction."

Oh shit.

"What KIND of malfunction," I ask.

"We lost all our call histories for the last six months."


"We can restore them from the backups, but it's gonna take time."

"Get Landon up here."

"Steve, he's in the middle of a project."


He gets up to leave.

"Hey Dom."

He turns around.

"Clear out that office down the hall from you. The one with the file boxes in it."

"For what?"

"We're putting Landon in there."

His eyes get big. "Steve, are you sur-"

He stops himself.


"What is it, Steve," Landon says, scowling angrily.

"Landon, did they tell you what happened-"

"YAH, they told me. I fuucked up," he says sarcastically, in a deep southern drawl. "I fuuuucked up! Is that what you brought me all the way up here for, so I could be humiliated?"

"Of course not," I say. "There's something else, too."

He glares right through me. Charles Manson's got nothing on this dude.

"I just found out we don't have any documented quality control procedures. None!"

"Quality control wouldn't have found what went wrong, Steve. It was a freak thing-"

"The only freak thing is that we've been going on this long without controls," I say. "We are a MAJOR company!"

He rolls his eyes. "You young managers, you're ALL the same. You're trying to get a bonus, or kiss the boss's ass, or whatever you're trying to do..."

"I want quality control, so I'm a KISS ASS?"

"Yeah, you are."

"Well, you know Landon, I'm glad you have such a good attitude, because I'm gonna be seeing a lot of you in the future."

He raises his head slowly, his eyes widening, the realization dawning on him.

"You're moving back upstairs, my friend. And I'm having the lock taken off the door, too. If I can't shut people out, neither can you."

"I'm not moving. I'm NOT moving," he says, defiantly.

"Oh no?"

"You have NO idea what goes into my job, Steve. You got so many damn different systems around here, and everybody wants 'em to talk to each other, and you think it's SO friggin' easy. I'm down there bustin' my ass, tryin' to do my job, an' I'm gettin' interrupted fifty times a day as it is! So if you move me up here, you better just hire me some help, or plan on the work being done slower."

"I'll plan on you writing some QC procedures. By Monday. And then I'll speak to corporate to find someone to do QC for you."

"Well, Steve," he laughs, "good luck gettin' me outta my office. I'm not leaving."

"Let's get one thing straight, Landon," I say. "You don't work for Ross anymore. You work for ME. Screw with me, and lose."

"At least Ross knew what the FUCK he was doing," Landon says.

"Monday morning, " I say, "you're back upstairs. And you're not off to a very auspicious beginning with me, either."

"I'm not leaving my office."

"Monday morning."

"AHM NOT LEAVIN' MAH OFFICE!" He shouts, his eyes wild, his nostrils flaring.


He shakes his head in what looks like disbelief, and actually looks like he is calming down. He walks up to my desk and grabs the marble pen-and-pencil holder that dad got me for my promotion. He flings it against the wall; it smashes into at least three pieces that I can see.

What is it about me that makes people want to throw things against the wall? First the autistic kid with the phone, and now the redneck computer geek with my office knick-knacks!

"Oohhhhh, boy," Dom says, quietly.

For a long moment, no one speaks. I look at Dom, Dom looks at Landon, Landon looks at me.

"Landon, I changed my mind," I say, slowly. "You're not moving up here. Go downstairs and clean out your desk. You're fired."

He plops himself in the chair across from my desk. "You cain't do that Steve. You just cain't," he says, angrily.

"Landon, go clean out your desk."

He doesn't budge.

"OK," I say. "Dom, I'm calling security. Go out to the door and meet them." He rushes from the office.

I pick up the receiver. Landon stands up, reaches across my desk, and grabs it. There's a brief tug-of-war, and for a crazy moment, I think he's going to hit me. But then he lets go and turns to leave.

"You're gonna regret it," he snarls as he walks out.