Honeywell DCPD - The Untold Story
Metro Security sent me to Honeywell. I sat behind a desk inside its most secret area, guarding the sole project within Honeywell Tampa that produced a profit. It was called Vinson. I tended to write short stories on duty, but I had to stop writing when I was stationed in Vinson.
About 200 people were allowed inside the Vinson area. My job was to check every badge against my list of authorized personnel. It didn't matter if I'd seen this person every day for three months; I still had to check them all in my book because the list could change at any time.
I was also to ensure that no one took anything from the Vinson area. I was supposed to look inside every handbag, every briefcase, every lunch bag, every pants pocket.
I was supposed to enforce the rule preventing people from bringing food and drink into the Vinson area, as they could spill something. I was supposed to ensure nobody smoked in the Vinson area. I was supposed to ensure nobody brought any reading materials into the area, as they were supposed to be working, not reading. All this from my desk, where I couldn't see what they did when they turned the corner.
The Vinson employees, meanwhile, bull-rushed past me every day, moving so quickly that I couldn't read the names on their badges, much less inspect their handbags and such. Everyone drank; everyone smoked; everyone read.
This was one of Metro's highest paying and most prestigious guard sites, the end result of years of working 80-hour weeks in an exemplary manner. I needed a Secret Clearance with the U.S. Government to work at this site. While most guards made the minimum wage of $3.35 per hour, I was rewarded with almost $4 per hour. Vinson employees made at least four times that.
I spent 12 hours a day at that desk, six days a week. Four hours into the shift, the "roving guard" gave me a 10-minute toilet break. Eight hours into the shift he gave me a 20-minute meal break. Otherwise I was always at my desk.
In short, I was mad at the world. The ideal solution, I decided, was to vent my rage on those damn employees. I stopped people at my desk and made them wait. I took away their drinks and threw them in the trash. I reported violators to company security no matter how minor the infraction. Almost everyone who walked past my desk quickly grew to hate me. That didn't bother me, because I hated them too.
Vinson employees regularly filed complaints against me with company security. Security responded to every complaint in the same manner, with high praise. They told me, "If the employees don't hate the guard, then he's not doing his job." The Vinson employees despised me with a passion.
A fellow guard, the Corporal, took a week's paid vacation. The folks at Metro Security decided that, as the only other guard under 60, I should take his place. The Corporal's job was to drive a golf cart around the parking lot, 10 hours a day, issuing parking tickets. It was summer in Florida, well over 100 degrees every day. The leading cause of death among security guards is heart attack, as so many are retirees. There would be no heart attacks at Honeywell this week.
The employees back in the Vinson area were happy to see me gone, and could only wish it were permanent. But I still found a way to make their lives hell. On a typical week, the Corporal wrote two tickets. On a typical day, I wrote over 50. Undoubtedly a large number landed on the windshields of those scofflaws in Vinson.
Bill Johnson was in charge of security for Honeywell. One day his wife met him for lunch. She parked the car, walked to the desk, and had him paged. When he arrived at the desk, he asked, "Where did you park?" The lot was full as always. She replied, "In one of the visitor spots in front of the new Human Resources wing." Those spots were for job seekers only. Bill shouted, "No, you didn't!" and ran outside to move the car. But just that quickly, I'd already ticketed it. He called me into his office the following week to congratulate me on a job well done.
In all honesty, those parking tickets meant nothing. A copy of every parking ticket went into the employee's permanent file. His boss was supposed to call him into the office to talk about it, and theoretically enough tickets could lead to dismissal. I never expected this to happen. I simply liked annoying people because the whole damn job annoyed me.
Back at the Vinson desk, I started busting people for bringing bibles into the Vinson area. No reading. I nailed one woman for carrying Expect A Miracle by Oral Roberts. Many complaints were filed against me. Most of the employees were devout Southern Baptists, and I had dared to make them leave their religion at the door.
In retaliation, they complained to Bill Johnson that I was drinking water at my desk. They couldn't drink, so why should I? They won that round, and I was banned from drinking water 12 hours a day, six days a week, except for two short breaks. I suppose that's one way to eliminate my need to visit the toilet.
I talked to the folks at Metro about the situation, and they hired a new guard so that no one sat at the Vinson desk for more than eight hours.
I retaliated against the Honeywell employees by heavily enforcing the no-handbag rule, and the complaints flew fast and furious. Security compromised and allowed the employees small, see-through handbags. The next morning, a swarm of about 20 employees tried to bull-rush past me with clear plastic shopping bags.
I roared at the closest person. "Stop!"
"Who said you could bring that in here?"
"They said we could have clear bags."
"They? Who's they?"
"Okay. When John McCray comes in, I'll ask him. If he told you that, it's his ass. If not, it's yours."
I didn't know it, but John McCray had said this. He was their boss' boss' boss. I suspect they were right around the corner, waiting to hear me lay into McCray.
About 15 minutes later, John McCray innocently strolled past my desk. He was one of my few friends, actually.
"Good morning, Michael."
I snapped to my feet and looked up into his eyes. "John, what did you tell your people about bringing clear plastic bags in here?"
Now he was concerned. "I told them it was okay with Security."
"Any size bag?"
"Um, uh, yes."
"Who told you that?"
"Oh, uh, Dave Balla."
Dave Balla was pretty close to the top of the food chain. All Honeywell employees were afraid to offend Dave Balla. I wasn't a Honeywell employee.
"I'll talk to him," I stated firmly.
Dave Balla wasn't my boss, and I really wouldn't have cared if he were. I'd already given my boss a parking ticket, and if he hadn't liked it I'd have probably quit. I was a hostile young man, early 20s, with a six-year-old college degree gathering dust. People like me are always hostile.
Maybe half an hour later, Dave Balla himself passed by my desk. I didn't like him. Nobody did.
"Dave Balla!" I yelled.
"Wh-what?" That fat little bald weasel was terrified.
"Did you tell those girls they could bring any damn size clear bag in here they wanted?"
"Y-yes. They told me it was okay in Security."
"Dave, they're bringing big-ass damn grocery bags. There's no way in hell I can see all the shit in those bags. I'm pretty sure Security had a size limit in mind."
"Oh, um, oh, well, if you clear it up with them I'll do whatever you say."
I called the Security department and had someone come to my desk.
"I didn't tell Dave Balla any size. I meant something about like this." Teenna indicated with her hands. "No matter what we do they find a way to abuse it, don't they?"
"I'll type a memo and put some measurements on it."
"We might need to start printing some kind of award certificates for your wall. Acknowledgement for a job well done. That'd piss some people off."
A week later, Larry James showed up at my desk. He was a Vinson employee, in charge of the night shift, and he was one of my few other friends in the Vinson area.
"How's it going, Michael? You still giving those bitches hell?"
"Chuck told me you have a degree in electronics. Is that true?"
"An Associate's degree. Why?"
"We need to hire some people back in Vinson, and all you need to apply is an electronics degree. Any degree. You don't even have to remember anything – the computers do all the work. But it's in the government contract that all techs need a degree."
"How do I apply?"
"Let me go talk to John."
Five minutes later, I was in John McCray's office with John and Larry.
"We can't pay you much," John explained, then quoted a figure about three times my current salary. "And you'd only be a temp, so you wouldn't get any benefits. What kind of benefits does Metro give you?"
"You see the uniform I'm wearing? That's it. Oh, and a week's paid vacation a year."
"We can't give you that."
"I never took it anyway. I just got an extra paycheck once a year. A small one."
"So are you interested?"
"If you work half as hard for us as you do at that guard desk, you'll be the best tech I've got."
I put in my two weeks' notice with Metro. Suddenly, all the employees who hated me became my best friends in the world. Shaking my hand, congratulating me, hugging me and saying they'd always liked me. The truth, of course, was it meant I wouldn't be at the guard desk anymore.
As a Honeywell employee, I was free to go drink water and use the toilet whenever I wanted. I was pretty adept at sneaking newspapers and cigarettes into the Vinson area. It was the night shift, after all, where we were just a bit more relaxed. As for the newspaper, there were dead times of two minutes here and five minutes there, waiting for the test equipment to finish running something or other. Why not read?
Chuck Ball, the guy who'd told Larry about my electronics degree, trained me. He was hoping that, at some point, I'd replace him so he could quit. He loved describing his vasectomy in graphic detail. He used this as a pickup line in the bars, and I've seen it work. "Hey honey, wanna hear about my vasectomy?"
I worked the night shift, 4 to 12, the shift I loved anyway. I was quickly in the upper echelon of Quality Control techs, as it was very easy to measure how many units a tech tested in an hour or a shift or whatever. This caused a little hostility with my lazier coworkers, but there were only a dozen of them. At the guard desk, I'd enjoyed the hostility of hundreds.
Every Friday night after work, we went to a local bar called Kasey's Kove. Chuck didn't know it, but there was always a betting pool going about what time he'd be thrown out. Usually the person who chose the earliest time won.
Larry always asked the musician to play something by Gene Autry, but the musician didn't know any songs by Gene Autry. But without fail, before Chuck was thrown out, he'd help Larry and me convince the musician to play our official lay-off theme song, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin.
Three months later, I was temporarily laid off. Most of the employees drew unemployment during the layoff, but I believe that people who can work should work. I returned to Metro Security for a month.
I was one of the few temps to return from the layoff. Vinson was a 15-year-old project that was due to expire soon, so more layoffs and terminations were coming. We all knew that. John and Larry had both warned me that my initial hiring might only last three months, but I'd defied the odds and made it back to work.
Meanwhile, Honeywell had terminated John. Someone wanted to give John's job to Larry, but Dave Balla had vetoed that and downgraded Larry to my equal.
"We call him D.B.," Larry told me. "Do you know what that stands for?"
"No, Dead Brain."
We decided that both names fit.
Jeff Kato had been at least two notches above John before the terminations, and he was scheduled for termination as well. Instead, he took a voluntary demotion to John's old job.
In theory, Larry was demoted. In practice, nothing changed. Jeff ran the day shift and Larry ran the night shift. All that changed was Larry's "official" job description and his pay rate. And Jeff's voluntary demotion, of course. But as Daddy says, it beats a kick in the butt with a frozen boot.
His first day on the job, Jeff called me into his office. On his desk were a cigarette and a wooden match inside a glass case. The label, as you can probably guess, said "Break Glass In Case Of Emergency." An ex-smoker. Meaning he'd start enforcing the no-smoking rule in Vinson.
Jeff and Larry told me that Tom Fisher hadn't made it back from the layoffs. He was the only man who repaired and calibrated our test equipment. Jeff had looked over my numbers and spoken with Larry, and they'd decided I was entirely too good to get lost in the next layoff. Thus, he gave me Tom Fisher's old job, thereby giving me the "indispensable" tag. If I was the only one repairing and calibrating test equipment, Jeff thought, it just might work. It didn't work for Tom Fisher, but that's because he wasn't exactly competent.
As the lone test equipment repair guru, I was no longer tied to a single shift. I was free to change my hours as they suited me. I preferred the second and third shifts, as the first had too many bosses. I don't mind being watched while I work, but when chiefs outnumber Indians it's hard to get any work done. Besides, I spent my days working for Mom's cleaning business. (The meanest chief of all?)
Once in a while I'd work a double shift at Honeywell, go away for a shift, work another double, go away for a shift, work a single shift, and take four days off to work for Mom. As long as it equaled 40 hours per week, nobody cared.
Larry often found life as a Military Electronics Specialist boring. When an article appeared in the Tampa Tribune about my formation of the local chapter of American Atheists, he promptly tacked it onto the bulletin board with my name highlighted, just to annoy the fundamentalist Christians among us. The same ones who were already annoyed because my productivity made them look bad, and because I'd banned them from bringing bibles into the area when I was a security guard. Thanks, Larry.
When the controversy died down, Larry dubbed me Reverend LaRocca. This was because, upon repairing some test equipment, I'd boom, "It's HEEE-ALED-uh!"
After enough complaints from the fundamentalists, Jeff called me into his office and told me that I wasn't allowed to say "It's healed." He forgot to ban Larry from yelling, "Heal me, Reverend LaRocca, heal me!" But after all, we couldn't have Larry getting bored, now could we?
Larry: See me...
Accomplice: Feel me...
Larry: Touch me...
Both: HEAL me!
We seemed to have two types back in Quality Control – the fundamentalists and the insane. Larry and I were only mildly insane. Chuck was quite insane. Patrick Belaire was our weekend warrior, the most insane of all but also the most productive. He sang bizarre songs of his own composition while he worked, and in fact I was imitating the punch line of one of his jokes when I HEEE-ALED-uh!
Ray Mize was also insane. One evening he and Larry went to Kasey's Kove. Larry told Ray, "If you drink that whole bottle of Tabasco sauce, I'll buy you any drink you want." Ray promptly downed the bottle. Larry was worried, as he didn't have much money, so he began drinking a bottle. He thought that might get him off the hook. He was about halfway through when Ray stopped him. "I only want a cheap drink."
Larry stopped, relieved, and bought Ray his cheap drink. He bought himself a beer to put out the fire in his mouth. Larry was happy and Ray was happy. But on "the morning after," Larry told me a few days later, he'd gone to the toilet and thought his asshole was on fire.
Um...thanks for sharing?
A few months down the road, the second round of layoffs hit. Half the crew for six weeks, the other half for the other six, all temps for the full 12. I filled the time working for Mom, going back to college for a free refresher course in electronics, working for Metro Security again (as a lieutenant) at a site that was closing down right before my layoff ended, and doing some computer programming and collections for my best friend's copier business.
This is also when the rumors began that Fairchild would buy Honeywell and change its name to Farewell Honeychild.
During my third and final tour of duty at Honeywell DCPD, I was still the test equipment repairman. However, I didn't have 40 hours' worth of repair to do, so I was taught how to feed the robot that assembled circuit boards, and I also returned to testing the Vinson products. This time around, Larry stressed to me, the numbers would be scrutinized more closely than ever. Vinson only had six months to live, and if somebody ran out of work, he was gone.
Chuck had quit during the first layoff, but he attempted a return after the second. Unfortunately, there was no place for him because of my competence. Competence I learned from him. Sorry, Chuck, but nobody ever told you to quit in the first place.
As the work began to run out, Larry sat down beside my test station and explained something to me. He'd had an idea for a while, one that he wanted to submit for Employee Suggestion Of The Month. However, he was still classified as management, so he wasn't eligible. He wanted me to submit the idea. It'd help Vinson, and building it would keep me busy.
In the 15-plus year history of Vinson, the procedure was the same. One department soldered the circuit boards and slipped them into the chassis. My department ran the devices through a series of computer-controlled tests that anyone could do. If a device failed, it went to the troubleshooting department. They also followed a by-the-numbers computer program to tell them which circuit board was faulty. They replaced the faulty board(s) and sent the device back to us.
Once in a blue moon, a device would fail again. Troubleshooting would replace the same board(s), and the device would fail a third time. They'd tag the device MD and put it to the side. Nobody remembered what MD stood for – perhaps Multiple Defects – but we dubbed them Mad Dogs.
Larry had devised a way to isolate the problems in the Mad Dogs, one that didn't involve using a schematic. We weren't allowed to see the schematics, as they were Top Secret. Larry's device involved isolating inputs and outputs between a known good unit and a Mad Dog. Like most of the best engineering I've seen, it was simple, elegant, and made a person ask himself, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Given the incredible size of our pile of Mad Dogs – over 15 years' worth – I drew a schematic and started building Larry's device. We gave it some impressive-sounding name like Vinson Input/Output Test Equipment Isolator. The end result was an ugly blob of wires, switches and lights that worked like a dream.
I submitted the device for Employee Suggestion Of The Month. If I won, I'd receive $1000 and the best parking spot for the entire month. My suggestion came in second. First prize went to someone who said:
"In Receiving, they throw away Styrofoam packing peanuts. In Shipping, they buy Styrofoam packing peanuts. We'd save a lot of money if Receiving gave Styrofoam packing peanuts to Shipping."
If I'd entered against anyone else, I'd have surely won. I don't fault the winner. I'm only a little mad at myself for having noticed the same thing over a year ago, as a guard in Shipping and Receiving, and forgetting to tell someone at Honeywell. Yes, I'd told Metro, but their reaction was, "So what?" It wasn't a security issue, just a case of stupidity, and we had more of those than we knew what to do with.
The previous month's winner, incidentally, won for writing a poem. "This advice we all must heed. Turn off lights when not in need."
Jeff and Larry called me into Jeff's office. Jeff presented me with a burgundy windbreaker, emblazoned with the Honeywell logo. This was my consolation prize. But, they explained, I could never wear it on company property. We had a lot of employees, mostly those fundamentalists Larry had antagonized so much, who'd entered losing suggestions and not received a jacket. Thus, they'd be jealous, thus they couldn't know I had a jacket.
Meanwhile, Mike Roche (an engineer) had confiscated the gizmo I'd built. He was able to ride out the next layoff by using the gizmo to test and repair Mad Dogs. He successfully identified the problems with every one of them, generating much revenue for Honeywell and much work for himself. More revenue than Mr. Styrofoam, in fact. I'm glad it turned out that way, because I liked Mike. He was the guy who taught me how to repair the test equipment.
During my third and final layoff, somebody realized that Honeywell now had a lot of Quality Control Technician departments, most consisting of two or three employees and a supervisor. They decided to let all those supervisors go except one, and merge the QC departments. The supervisor they kept was not Jeff Kato. That's when I knew I wasn't returning.
I was working as a copier repairman when Jeff threw his going-away party at Kasey's Kove. I showed up late, in time to see Jeff totally drunk. He was challenging people to a hot wing-eating contest, pouring heaps of Tabasco sauce on his chicken wings, and sucking the meat off the bones like nothing I've ever seen.
Jeff laughed, he hugged me, he asked me to HEEE-AL-uh him. Beneath the professional exterior, unknown to any of us, was a wild party animal. I guess that goes to show that, as I said before, we only had two types. The fundamentalists and the insane. Jeff was not a fundamentalist, so he finally showed us all that he was insane. I like that in a person.
One day soon after, Honeywell sent registered letters to 60% of the workforce. They were copies of the Confidentiality Agreements we'd signed to get our jobs. I signed my copy of the note saying that yes, I understood that I could never divulge what happened there, and mailed it back. With that, I was terminated.
If I hadn't signed the agreement, I'd have gone to a Federal penitentiary for treason against the U.S. government.
Let's hope Homeland Security never reads this article.
The events described here are mostly true. I still miss the place.
Updated July 17, 2017
© Copyright 2000-2017, Michael LaRocca
Durham, North Carolina 27707