Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sometimes you get fired for being right

I’ve had this happen only once. I first went to work as a life guard when I was just 14. I wanted to get paid more, and in Virginia, they required public pools to have a trained and licensed person on duty when ever the pool was open. I saw this as a great way to get ahead. I took my senior life savings class and also the state health class to get licensed. I flunked the license test the first time. Study in the summer? NOPE! I Figured I was too smart and my boss had showed me out to clean and maintain the pumps and filters. So, second time taking the class, and I passed the test.

The next year, I went to work for the same company and they were very happy to have me return that year and with the state certificate also. They placed me, at 15, turning 16, in charge of an apartment pool! This was a northern Virginia apartment, probably 10 stories tall. The pool was a decent size. I actually had two other high school students, reporting to me. We all got along great and didn’t have any real issues. Well, I caused one when I arrived first thing in the morning, and found the chlorinator had been sucking air for a while. I tested the chlorine level and it was barely passable. I opened the pool and tried to get the chlorinator working. Just then, up drives the health inspector! He shuts us down for 30 minutes. I dropped in a gallon of straight chlorine into the pump, replaced the seal and started back up. In 20 minutes or so, the level passed and we reopened. I went to the apartment manager and explained what had happened. We had a great manager who just reminded me to obey the health rules. My company just did the same.

The next year, my company was again glad to have me back and placed me at another apartment complex. They explained that this new complex was owned by some big corporation and they got the contract to run the pool. If we did well, they’d get even more of the companies’ pools in the next year. They picked me to run it, since I’d done such a good job at the other apartment pool the year before. Hey! I did well!

So my supervisor tells me to follow him over to the new apartment complex where he will introduce me to the manager. We hop in our cars and drive over there. It’s a large complex, but really about the same size as the place I managed the year before. We go in and I get introduced to the manager. He seems OK. He, my supervisor and I go about and inspect the pool. The pool is about the same size as I ran, but the deck is huge! I make some notes of what we will have to do to be ready to open. On the way back to the office, my supervisor declares that he needs to leave. The manager asks me to come have a chat. We head in and his total demeanor changes. He tells me to have a seat and then proceeds to lecture me about how “tight” a ship he runs and expects me to do the same. He also slips in that he’s retired military. After his rant is over, I tell him, with a liberal use of “SIR”, that I’ll do my best and he should come to me with any thing he’d suggest. I also let it slip that my dad is military, USAF. I hope this breaks the ice a bit. It doesn’t, it’s worse. He lets me know that he WORKED for the military, not some officer type and he was in “a real service, the MARINES”. Oh boy…. He spent twenty years in the corps, didn’t get his last promotion, so mustered out. Now, whatever he did in the marines, qualified him to only run an apartment complex. I figure he was either in charge of supply, or was something like a Sergeant in charge of shinning boots.

So, in a few weeks, I get introduced to the two other lifeguards. I tell them of my initial issues with the apartment manager. They have both received the same lecture and start shaking while telling me about his rants! We get to work on the pool, doing all the things you need to do to get ready for the season. I also place a call to my supervisor, to keep him informed that before we have done anything more than shake hands with Jar-head, we are already in trouble. He replies, duly noted.

So we get the pool open. I notice that jar-head walks through the pool area, at least once a day. The guests are nice and are having fun. My team keeps the water crystal clear, the trash picked up, the bathrooms clean. We walk the deck after our turn in the lifeguard chair, during which time we pick up trash, and move any unused chairs, back to the fence line. This leaves the deck area as uncluttered with trip hazards as possible. My supervisor drops by once a week to collect time cards and check on us. He says that there don’t seem to be any issues. My team and I tell him about the daily checks by the manager. Our supervisor says he isn’t aware of any problems, and goes in to check. He comes out and says that the manager doesn’t have any complaints. We breathe a bit easier and “Keep on keeping ON”, a popular phrase at the time.

About a week later, Jar-Head is patrolling the deck and calls me over. My team members watch nervously. I walk over and give him a “yes sir. What can I do for you?”. He explains that everything seems to be going fine. He says this with a tone that I read that he is surprised I actually know what I’m doing. Then, he tells me that he wants us to rearrange all the deck furniture. He wants the tables moved out into the center of the deck. He also wants these twenty pound concrete ash trays, moved! These things were akin to concrete blocks, full of sand. They are about eight inches tall, making them perfect trip hazards. I tell jar-head, very politely, that moving the tables and chairs is sort of OK, but the ash trays are a trip hazard. I make him note that people move the chairs all around and when the chairs were moved away from the ash trays, then people not paying attention would trip over them. He tells me he will think about it some more. I go back to patrolling the deck. Both of my fellow guards come over and ask what he wanted. I fill them in. I go ahead and place a call to my supervisor to let him know that jar-head and I disagreed and what it was all about.

So I show up the next day, for the afternoon shift. I’m not even into the place yet and one of the other guards is out there. Seems when she arrived, she found the deck chairs all arranged like the Marine wanted, including the trip-me ash trays out in the middle of the deck. He’d waited until we closed, and then come back after dark and moved all the furniture!!! She didn’t know what to do, but sit and wait. I put my stuff down and took a look. About 50 to 75 percent of the chairs had been moved, but so far, none of the ash trays were out in the open, with out at least a chair near them. I head over to talk to the marine and ask him to come check out what has happened to the chairs in just the few hours we’d been open. He gives me a major brush off. Guess he was too busy chewing out the plumber for billing them for clearing the toilet in 515 when the kid flushed half his army men. I should have pointed out, the kid was flushing them and cussing the marine-manager! I head over to the pool and call up my supervisor. He says he will be over. He comes over, walks in to chat for a minute. I simply point out the issues with the trip hazard with those body-builder ash trays. He heads to talk to jar-head. After a bit, he comes back and tells me they did at least talk. I get the feeling that he also got the brush off. “MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY”, I suspect.

So for the next week, we keep on doing all the chores we have to. We leave the deck arranged like Mr. Marine wanted. We drag the tables and chair over to where all the ash trays are.

About one week later, I’m again coming in for the later shift. I arrive to find an ambulance with lights on and a lot of commotion. I rush in. Can you guess what happened? Sure enough, there is a lady who was walking and talking and tripped over one of the ash trays. Her foot is cut and bleeding and the toe is broken. She is screaming about what moron would place that fifty pound hunk of concrete out in the open. I’m glad the manager is there. I look right in his eyes and say “TRIP HAZZARD. REMEMBER MR (what ever jar-heads real name was), I told you”. She looks at him. His eyes were like saucers, but quickly twitched to his best Clint Eastwood squint. The ambulance people tell her that it is up to her if she wants to be transported. They can bandage her up and she can take her self to a doctor. They get her up and start heading out. One of the ambulance guys looks over his shoulder at Mr. Jar-head and says “and for safety’s sake, get those ash trays over to the fence line”. Mr. Marine exits quickly, I suspect to inform his boss. I tell my two guards to wash the blood and get those ash trays moved. I had to report to our company the issue. Some time later, my supervisor shows up. He checks about and I tell him “I told Mr. Jar-head. I told you. I got over ruled by him”. He assures me all would be fine and goes to talk to the marine.

I show up the next day for the afternoon shift, and notice a new person on the life guards chair. What? I’m the manager, aren’t I? I don’t even get three feet from my car and out comes one of the other guards, tears in her eyes. Seems this other person was there when she got there. Keys to the place with Mr. Jar-head showing him around. She asked what was going on and was introduced to her new manager, by the marine! So I head into the pool office and call my supervisor up. The spineless wonder has caved in to Mr. Jar-head. I’ve been replaced and they don’t even have the guts to tell me in person, before I show up for work. I get told after I CALL THEM! I tell my two coworkers to do their best. I gather up all my belongings, including some items that I was allowing the pool to use, and exit. On the way out, Mr. Marine is standing in his office door with a smirk on his face. I smile, wave and shout to him “HOPE YOUR STUPID DECICIONS DON’T HURT ANYONE ELSE!” I don’t remember, but I might have also shown him the “shove THIS” salute.

I get home and my mom and dad are cool. Dad was going to retire anyway. We would be moving in another month. They told me to take a week off. Then, help them pack up the house and we’d be heading to the beach on the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and on to Texas.

So I got fired for being in the right.

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