Clearwell Systems / Chances
I worked at Clearwell Systems for a short time last year. They let me go after my probation period because they told me that I could not focus properly on my work. They said that they had been receiving complaints from my co-workers that I was not getting my work done in time, and that I was holding up production of the teaching materials that our department produced. I wasn't surprised when they gave me this news. I knew that I had been a lousy employee, and at one point they even paired me up with a more experienced individual at the department who was meant to guide me through my various assignments. I can't complain about the way they treated me is what I'm saying.
I remember once when I was supposed to produce a list of new features for one particular product and bring this list to a meeting. The task involved calling the developers and asking them for their own material about the product, and then summarizing everything they gave me into a short, manageable list. Instead I used the opportunity to do some of my own writing, which of course I didn't share with my co-workers. I merely told them that the work had not been done.
Here is a partial transcription of the list I produced, the content of which, as I said, was not in keeping with the original goal of the exercise:
"The 11:30 train from Flagstaff was an hour late. There were passengers waiting on the platform and they were growing increasingly nervous. There were also folks out there expecting family and friends to arrive.
"The telegraph operator stood ready to receive any message that might come down the line, but so far he had nothing to report.
"Hawkins came by at around noon to check on the situation. His main concern was civil unrest. There had been rumors of bandit prowling the lines for months, but there had not been any actual incidents of criminal activity up to that point.
"Hawkins had been the sheriff of our town for less than a year. He was not trusted by everyone. The Reverend in particular did not like the man, though he never fully explained his reasons for this to anyone I know. Perhaps the two of them had had a run-in in the past. That sort of this happens out here.
"Hawkins came up to my ticket booth and asked me about the train. I told him that it came at 8:30 twice a week and was rarely more than thirty minutes behind schedule. I told him that the telegraph operator was going to tell me the second he heard anything.
"I got along with Hawkins all right, I suppose. He was an honest man, I believe. Perhaps he had a black mark or two in his past. But that would hardly make him unique around here. He tried to do the best he could in a bad situation. Ours was a vicious town, if I'm being honest with you. I grew up here and I'm willing to admit that."
When I showed up to the meeting where I was supposed to present my findings, I told everyone that the developers had been late in getting me the information that I needed. I don't think that anyone believed me.
I was living in a rooming house in San Leandro at the time. I shared a room with a fellow named Gage who hardly ever slept. Whenever I got up for work, Gage would by lying on his bed, an arm propping up his head, reading whatever had caught his eye at the local library. Gage was not a discerning reader, I should mention. He'd pick up a book and read it straight through merely because he liked the way the cover was designed.
Gage also enjoyed meddling in my affairs. I remember once I was getting ready for work while he was reading some battered old book on his bed. This was a few weeks before they let me go. Gage looked up from his book to watch me trying to make myself look presentable in front of our mirror. "I don't think you need to worry about your appearance anymore, " he said.
"I don't understand what you're talking about, " I told him.
"I read that letter they gave you the other day, " he said.
"I had put that in the bottom drawer of the desk, " I said. "The drawer that is specifically designated for my stuff."
"Listen to yourself, " Gage said. "You've lived this long and your only possession is a single drawer in a desk. Except that you don't even own it. It's communal property."
"We have rules, " I told him. "They keep the fabric of society together. We respect each other's privacy."
"Everyone talks about privacy as if it's this sacred thing, " Gage said. "I don't remember reading anything in the Bible about privacy."
"I doubt you've ever read a word of the Bible, " I said to Gage.
"Maybe you're right, " Gage said. "I'm not saying either way. But I'm trying to make a point here."
"I'm trying to make a point as well, " I said. "You shouldn't go through other people's things like that. You'll alienate everyone around you."
"The only person around me is you, " Gage said. "And you're still talking to me."
"I'm forced to talk to you, " I said. "You're always here."
Gage put his book down on the bed and sat upright. "We're getting away from the main issue here, " he told me. "I read that letter. I can tell you that they have no interest in keeping you around. They kept talking about that probationary period. So that means they can fire you soon, right?"
"There's a three month window where they can dismiss me no questions asked, " I said. "Of course they could get rid of me whenever they wanted, even after that. So the whole idea is a bit illusory."
"Well, what I'm telling you is that they're going to take this particular opportunity to throw you out on the street, " Gage said. "Can't you see that? Maybe you should read the letter again. They make it pretty clear."
"It says that they'll be keeping an eye on how I perform over the next few weeks, " I said. "If I make a better impression, then you never know what's going to happen."
"They're saying that to be polite, " Gage said. "Anyway, do you seriously think that you're going to suddenly turn into a model employee?"
"You never know what's going to happen, " I said. "I could turn things around merely to prove you wrong."
"Right, right, " Gage said, picking up his book again. "I'll be begging you to forgive me for doubting your abilities. I can see it now."
Gage was right, of course. My performance over those last few weeks was probably even worse than it had been before. As part of my evaluation at the end of this probationary period, I was required to make a list of the accomplishments that I had achieved during my short time with the company. I used this opportunity to continue the story I had been working on before, so my list went as follows:
"A stranger charged into town on horse. News of his arrival spread quickly. He wanted to speak with whoever was sheriff. Someone came to the station to inform Hawkins.
"Hawkins said that he would meet with this stranger at the train station, because he was still conducting his investigation there. There was still the possibility that the train would eventually arrive.
"About twenty minutes later the stranger arrived. He was a young man. Younger than Hawkins and I, anyway, though that's not saying much. He looked up and down the platform until he spotted Hawkins with his sheriff's badge near my ticket station.
"By then the situation at the station was growing increasingly chaotic. Folks were convinced that something had gone seriously wrong, and many of them were concerned about their loved ones who they had been waiting for all morning.
"The stranger took off his hat and introduced himself to Hawkins. He said that his name was Ross, and that he was from a town not too far from Flagstaff.
"He told us that he had been riding all morning to spread the news of what he had heard. You have to understand that Ross had not witnessed any of the events that he was reporting on. But he had spoken to a passenger who had managed to escape from the train that had been scheduled to arrive here at 11:30.
"It turns out that the stories about the bandits in the area were true. The train had been robbed shortly after it pulled out of Flagstaff. The passengers were being held hostage. The problem is that the bandits were trying to get in touch with the folks that operated the railroad.
"The thing is that they wanted the railroad company to pay them a large sum of money before they would set the passengers free. The problem was that the telegraph line had been cut in all the commotion when they first stormed the train. Apparently some of the passengers had tried to escape by climbing up to the roof of their car. One of the bandits followed them and accidentally cut the line as he tried to subdue them.
"Ross said that he was one of the passengers that had attempted to escape in this manner, and that he actually managed to elude the bandit that was chasing them all down.
"Now, you have to understand that Hawkins was an experienced lawman. He had had to deal with these sorts of situations before, and he knew that there were quite a few stock tricks of the trade that the nefarious men who committed such acts could draw from in any given situation.
"What I'm trying to say is that Ross was actually one of the bandits. Hawkins recognized this right away. He knew that there was no way that the bandits would have let any passenger get away in such open country. They were too easy to track down. Moreover, he had seen this exact same stunt pulled before. You get a fellow out to the sheriff who pretends he was an innocent bystander, and next thing you know he has a gun to the sheriff's head. So now the bandits have even more leverage to get what they want.
"So Hawkins patiently listened to Ross as he told his story, and then told him that he wanted to take him down to the station to get everything down in writing. At this point Ross knew that his cover had been blown.
"Ross tried to go for his gun, but Hawkins was too quick for him. Hawkins hit the man in the face with his Colt and then kicked him to the ground. He pulled his arms back behind his back and told him that they were going to go back to the station and have a long talk.
"Hawkins was a good sheriff. Maybe the best that our miserable old town had even seen. People here didn't appreciate him enough. But that's the way things go."
Of course I didn't hand in this self-evaluation. When it came time to meet with my superiors, I told them that I thought my accomplishments were too numerous to put down in words. Or maybe I said that I couldn't find the words to express what I had done for the company. As I said, Clearwell had every right to let me go.