Saturday, February 4, 2017

Repeat or not?

One of the frustrating byproducts of aging is memory failure. Not all memories are lost as you age, just the memory that you are currently trying to recall. But, take hope, you will recall that memory just as soon as it is not needed.

And since I wish to tell a story on these pages, I now have a nagging suspicion that I have told it once before. But when? Did I really do it or am I just worried over nothing at all? I do know that I am at a point in my life where I need to preface all of my conversations with "Stop me if you have heard this before". In this case, stop reading if you have read this before...

I got out of the Navy in 1962. I still had my Naval Reserve duty to fulfill but that was one weekend a month. I was attached to a Naval electronics unit in Hawthorne California and since I was a Hospitalman 3rd Class Petty Officer, they really had no place for me. But, they had to take me; I would come in on a Saturday morning and check the men's files to see if there were any discrepancies in their medical records and then I was through until next month, where I would repeat this same exercise.

Back in the civilian world I was at a loss as to what I should do. I could go back to working at the Texaco station so that I could make a little money. I had tried to get into the brand new EMT program with the Los Angeles city fire department. I qualified without even testing because of my role as a Navy Hospital Corpsman. But, and there always is a 'but', I wore glasses. I couldn't join the fire department in any capacity unless I had better eyesight.  

So, what to do? I think I saw an ad in the paper for help wanted at Space Technology Laboratories, or STL. I knew that STL had built a large complex on the eastern border of Manhattan Beach and that made it close by for me. I went there and applied; finding that there was an opening as a warehouseman and it paid? I don't remember but I know it was more than I would make at the Texaco station. I was accepted and would start as soon as the FBI conducted a background check on me. What? I found out that STL did a lot of government work and most of it was SECRET. That meant that everyone that worked for STL had to have a SECRET clearance. Even the gardeners had to have a SECRET clearance.

After a few weeks had gone by I received a call and was told to report to a warehouse in Hawthorne. I was there bright and early the next day and received my assignment. I was going to work in the government bonded section of the warehouse and I would work with a federal QC inspector. The bonded area was a small section of the warehouse with an 8' high chain link fence around it. Inside was a small desk, for the QC inspector, and a couple of rows of 12' high shelving for pallets. On the pallets were large cardboard boxes with cryptic notes written on them.   My job was to retrieve the boxes as ordered and then help the inspector sort through the contents. All of the boxes contained surplus items and the inspector was to determine, one; that they contained what they were supposed to contain, and two; what was the value and disposition of those items in the boxes.

The inspector was a nice guy with very low stress work habits. I arrived every day promptly at 8 and then I would wait until 9 or so before he made his appearance; carrying a cup of coffee and a ream of IBM printer printouts. He wore sandals most day and would stroll through the warehouse, saying hello to all before opening the gate to our little "kingdom". I would retrieve our electric forklift and stand ready to pull down the box he wanted. But first he would ask me to look at the print out and see which one I thought might be the easiest for us to begin with. I would suggest and he would agree. Then I would find the box and bring it over close to his desk. Then we would open it.

Each item in the box had a metal tag affixed to it and the tag had source and contract numbers on it. He would look up the numbers on his sheets of paper and then we would verify that, indeed, we were looking at the item described and then he would determine it's fate. If it was useable (rarely) we would return it to the box. Usually it would be termed 'surplus' and put aside. Most of the things we were looking at were experimental electronics and neither one of us knew anything about them. He was just guessing most of the time. I did learn to recognize waveguides and stepper motors  and half a dozen other items. He soon depended on me to tell him what an item was and what we should do with it

Since the inspector was so relaxed, he would take an hour and a half for lunch and then knock off at 3.  I would spend the next 90 minutes working out in the real warehouse and doing real work. What a relief!

After four months of this I was ready to quit, but I was rescued by a neighbor who had heard about my being ready to quit and he directed me into the career that I loved and that I retired from...43 years later.

a footnote...STL was soon acquired by Thompson-Ramo-Woodridge  or TRW.

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