In 2004 I was middle-aged and trying very hard to find secure work as a technical writer of mechanical and electrical processes. I still dreamed of a permanent job, maybe even one that would lead to a small pension. All I could find was contract work, there were just too many baby boomers in my generation and companies had taken advantage of too many applicants for too few jobs for all of my life. When my contracting agency placed me at Russell Stover Candies in Kansas City, Missouri I was disappointed because it did not seem possible that a candy manufacturer would have full-time, permanent need of a technical writer. But I took the job while I continued to look for better work.
My Duties and Responsibilities as recorded in my curriculum vita were:
● Was contracted to Russell Stover to document distribution packing and shipping procedures at out-of-state shipping facility, for review by senior management in solving distribution problems, and making development decisions.
● Maintained confidentiality of information proprietary to company. No writing samples available.
● Traveled by company Learjet to Terrell, TX to write process summary of conveyor packing lines; and of automated/computer-controlled lines. Both packing lines included: picking, cubing, labeling, (touch screen or conveyors), and printers.
● Interviewed information technology systems designer, plant supervisor; and observed packers to obtain process flow.
● Evaluated, analyzed, summarized, and prepared report to senior management.
● Used industry-specific software (HMI), computer, and equipment.
I should have called my contracting agency and quit when I found my assigned cubicle was the only lighted cubicle among a dozen cubicles just off the President’s darkened office suite; especially as someone had smeared ketchup over all the office furniture drawer handles. Foolishly, I cleaned it off, and set up my computer to work. I should have quit when the IT supervisor to whom I reported told me that he did not know and did not want to know what I was supposed to do, then he pulled a thick, sharp hunting knife from his desk and slapped it down on the table between us. Some of the IT staff under him told me that they were quite frightened of him because he insisted on coming to parties at their homes, so I called my contracting agency for instructions. They said to wait in my cubicle for a few days and one of the vice presidents would give me direction when they got back into town.
One of the office supervisors from upstairs noticed my situation and took it upon herself to move me upstairs with the typists and other clerical staff, whose company I was grateful for. She apologized for giving me a split-key board and a touch pad instead of a mouse, but that was no problem as I was used to all sorts of equipment. I was amused when I saw that every person had several boxes of (free!) Russell Stover’s candies on their desks at all times. It was difficult to ignore the temptation and I did not want to extra poundage, so I was dismayed when I was told that the boxes of candy were required to be at each work station, mine included. This was crazy, especially considering that the office supply cabinet was stocked with (free!) packets of diabetic syringes. I had never seen that before.
So I passed the time getting to know the company and formatting for reports that I would complete when I had actual work to do, and other make-work. Soon enough the vice presidents were in the office, and by then I knew that they were all family related owners of the company. (I am not sure which family as several have owned the company.) One of them or perhaps an assistant tersely told me that I would be flying to Texas the next day to document their production line. Okay, no problem. I packed for one or two days as directed and was at Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (MKC) on schedule.
I had never flown in Learjet before, so I was looking forward to that, but I was uncomfortable at being crowded in with those three large men whom I did not know. But I wanted the work so in I went. We sat four in a cluster, two-by-two facing each other. For some reason the pilot, who perhaps was one of the owners, objected to taking me, but I did not hear what his objection was. He was quite vehement in his objection, but he was quickly talked down, and he tossed my bag into the cargo bay with a smash. Unsettling to say the least. When we got to Texas they told me to photo-document to assembly line and “take notes on everything”, which were probably the vaguest directions I have ever been given. As I photographed and took notes, I watched their meeting with the plant manager and his crew through the shop window. I could see things were very heated, so in retrospect I think that I was there to put pressure on that facility, functioning as an intruder, overtly documenting their processes for unknown reasons to make them anxious. The meeting lasted several hours which gave me time to photograph every square foot of several production lines. Everyone was pulled from the floor so there was no one for me to interview about function.
I had never met the owners before. I had never talked to them beyond a few brief words, either prior or during the trip down to Texas. In fact, on the return trip I had been wondering why they even brought me along, when I realized that they were discussing “spanking” me. Out of the blue, these three large men were talking about how fun it would be to spank me. They were mocking me, without looking at me, just amping themselves up with jokes about how I should be spanked since it was my birthday. And it was my birthday. What a horrible coincidence. And what a lousy way to experience it. I thought they must be joking even though they seemed quite evil about it, avoiding my eye contact, and egging each other on. The executive I was seated next to shifted uncomfortably for a while, then said, “Guys, I don’t think this is a good idea.” He did not care about me, he just did not want to be party to what might happen during such indignities to me. I coarsely jabbed a thumb at him and spoke for the first time, “I vote with him.” That is all I said, then I looked out the window with my best expression of a calm, professional woman. I was numb with anxiety. They simmered down and they spoke business for the rest of the trip. That night I got a call from my contracting company, they were sputtering furious with me but they would not tell me what I might have done. I was silenced to prevent any complaint.
Maybe this is why I do not much care for chocolate?*
At any rate this was yet another small contribution to my lack of pension to cushion my final years.
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* “Russell Stover Candies is the nation’s leading manufacturer of boxed chocolates and the third largest American chocolate manufacturer, trailing only Hershey and Mars. The company’s three brands – Russell Stover, Whitman's, and Pangburn's – account for more than 60 percent of all boxed chocolate sales in the United States. Russell Stover candies are sold in nearly 40 company-owned retail stores and through 70,000 wholesale accounts in more than 20 countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The company manufactures nearly 100 million pounds of chocolate annually.”
Caption: Broken Branches Broken Life Chances
Learjet To Candy Land
collage by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018