Friday, March 25, 2011

An interesting encounter

I'm really bad with faces.  I'll have people wave to me and yell at me to get my attention when I'm out walking, saying "What's up man!" and "Hey bro, how's it going?"  Things like that, and I respond with the usual, "Hey, not much," and "Pretty good."  I usually don't recognize them though.  The same thing happens in the store where I work.  I get so many customers every day they're like a blur of faces.  Literally.  It usually takes several interactions with someone for me to actually have any chance of remembering them.

With women it's usually a different story.  I'm far more likely to remember the face of an attractive woman than I am the face of Joe Schmoe.  Yesterday was the exception, however.  It was busy, and this cute young woman was at my register.  I didn't recognize her, but she sure recognized me.

Cutie pie:  You know, what with all the times I've been in here, and the fact that I see you so often - practically every day - I feel like we should be on a first name basis.  I'm Ellie!

Me:  (What?  Who is this?  I don't remember ever seeing her before.  She's introducing herself to me?  Now, here's something that doesn't happen every day! ahem...) Oh, hi.  My name is Elias.

Ellie:  Elias... that's nice.  Sounds kind of like Ellie.

Me:  Hey yeah, it does.  Especially if you just call me Eli, which a lot of people do.

Ellie:  Cool, that's really easy to remember!  Eli, Ellie...  They're practically the same name! (she reached over the register and stuck out her hand)

Me:  (I took her hand and shook it)  Ok, we're on a first name basis now... Ellie, right?  I'm terrible with names, but I have a feeling I'll remember yours.

Ellie:  Me too. (she released my hand)  Ok, well... bye Elias!

She left the store and I just stood there for a few seconds, trying to remember the last time something like that happened.  Girls usually don't flirt with me.. and I don't think it has anything to do with my looks.  I think it's my demeanor.  Most people usually think I'm too reserved to engage, or maybe they are just a little bit afraid of me.  I think I might come off as more than I really am sometimes, leading to this weird intimidation factor.  That's what I've been told by some people, anyway. 

Anywho... I don't know how I ever failed to notice this particular cutey pie, what with her being in the store as often as she said she was, but it felt good being recognized by a nice looking girl who showed interest in me.  It reminded me that I'm not necessarily worthless to the opposite sex, and that there is hope that I might actually realize my dream some day of having a family.  I pray every day to God to make me worthy of being a husband and father, and that if and when I'm ever actually worthy of such joy, that He will intercede in my life - that he will bring me a wife - and allow me to start a family in the Orthodox Church.

The wafer fab and my window room

Going way back, from February '95 up until September of '99, I worked in the semi-conductor industry as a process technician.  I held such fancy titles as Plasma Etch Process Technician, Core Materials Handler, and Alta Laser Lithographer.  I worked for various companies such as Texas Instruments, Solectron, Applied Materials, and DuPont Photomasks.  Each of these companies dealt with a widely varying section of the actual manufacturing of a microchip, but one thing they all had in common was the clean room.  Before entering into the 'fab', which is what we called the actual inside of the clean room where all of the fun stuff was done, we had to don what a lot of people called a 'bunny suit'.  I always thought that was gay, so I just referred to it as a smock.  It consisted of a full body suit, shoe covers, boots designed to go over the shoes, a hair net, a full head and face covering, two pairs of latex gloves, and safety goggles.  Once ensconced safely within, you could only recognize people by their eyes and body shape.  The reason for this was to keep contamination within the fab to a minimum... stuff like dust, hair, skin particles, spit, snot... that kind of thing.

Then we had to go through an 'air shower'.  It was actually an airlock, but instead of sucking all of the air out and creating a vacuum, it blew a lot of air in and increased the air pressure to that of the inside of the fab (it also blew all of the stray particles off of you and into the HEPA filters).  The inside of the fab was always kept at a higher pressure than the outside so that if there were ever a leak, air would blow OUT of the fab and not IN.  After the air shower, we went to the hand washing station and washed our hands.  Except that we already had on two pairs of gloves, one pair over the other... but it was required, and actually a pretty good idea.  Still, it was always weird washing my double gloved hands.

Depending on what I was doing, I could usually count on a lot of time just waiting for a process to finish.  For example, once I had selected the correct plate for the job and calculated the correct dose for the Alta laser, all that was left was to set it to writing and the hard part was done.  Then I'd frequently have up to several hours with nothing better to do than just twiddle my thumbs and wait for it to finish etching circuitry.  It was the same with metal deposition and plasma etch... lots of time to hurry up and wait.

Each fab has an extensive air filtration system which functions ceaselessly, providing a constant hum in the background which usually goes unnoticed.  During these waiting times I'd usually have a seat next to the machine and listen to the sound of the air system.  Frequently I'd find myself lulled into a relaxed, almost hypnotic state by the soothing hum of it.  Sometimes I'd close my eyes and get lost in it.

I used to imagine I was sitting in a comfortable lounge chair with a glass of iced tea sitting on a side table.  I would be facing a wall of glass that ran from floor to ceiling and tilted away from me at about a 45 degree angle.  The glass stretched to the left and to the right for about 20 feet in both directions, forming one long, unbroken window.  This 'window room' was hovering above a desert of concrete which was broken up into geometrically precise yet random sections.  Each section varied only a little in height from the adjacent sections, giving a slight but definite impression of depth to the flat immensity which stretched away in all directions, towards the horizon and infinity.  The sky outside was an intense and perfect blue, and the sun was bright, shining relentlessly on the perfect desolation of technical concrete.  I always imagined how hot it would be outside with all of that concrete soaking up the brutal heat of the sun as it beat down mercilessly, but inside my window room, with the sound of the air conditioner, and my iced tea, I was cool and relaxed and happy.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The angry lady

The other day Brittney and I were working together.  It was still early, about 3:00, and Brittney was dealing with a customer who was giving her a hard time.  I didn't follow what was going on until after the fact, when Brittney and Chiy were talking about it.  By the tone of their conversation, some drama had just played out, so I asked Brittney what had happened.

Brittney described the customer to me as the lady who drives the city bus, and I remembered her as someone I had never really had a pleasant dealing with; she always seemed to be in a bad mood.  Apparently this lady had filled a Big Gulp cup with iced coffee, instead of using one of the iced coffee cups.  A Big Gulp cup is twice the size of a regular iced coffee cup, so Chiy told Brittney to charge the lady twice for a regular iced coffee.  Brittney did, and the lady threw a fit because the Big Gulp cups were near the iced coffee dispenser, and she should be able to use one and be charged regular price.

I would normally be sympathetic to a customer in this type of situation if the circumstances weren't extenuating, but they were, since there are iced coffee cups right next to the iced coffee dispenser which say 'iced coffee' on them.  The iced coffee dispenser is right next to the soda fountain, and The Big Gulp cups are underneath the soda fountain. Thus, the Big Gulp cups do happen to be in the general vicinity of the iced coffee dispenser, but anyone with half a brain and who wasn't deliberately trying to get more for less would know that they aren't meant to be used for the iced coffee.

Brittney tried to explain the situation to her, but the lady wouldn't have any of it.  After speaking angrily to Brittney and just being generally unpleasant, Chiy finally told Brittney to just charge her for a regular iced coffee, and that was the end of that. 

The next day I was working with Mattius, and Chiy was telling him about what had happened the day before.  At that time, the lady came into the store again and I recognized her.  She was tall and thin and white, probably about 50, and wearing the city uniform for a bus driver.  I was a little peeved at her for the way she had treated Brittney the day before, so I have to admit that I was ready and waiting to see if she was going to give us a hard time again.  We watched her go over to the soda fountain and fill a half gallon thermos with soda, making sure she wasn't putting iced coffee in it.  She wasn't, so I figured that there wouldn't be any conflict with her. 

She brought the thermos to Matius and said it was a refill.  Matius rang it up.  With tax it came to 96 cents, and predictably, she threw another fit.

Lady:  How much was that?

Matius:  96 cents.

Lady:  I thought it was supposed to be 89 cents.

Matius:  It is, but there's tax.

Lady:  I wish you guys would make up your minds about your prices. (rolleyes)

Matius:  It's 96 cents after tax.

Lady:  You should have told me that to begin with then.  I had the same problem yesterday with the other clerk.

I was standing next to the roller grill, watching this, and Chiy was standing next to me.  We exchanged glances, and Matius turned around and looked at us with this 'WTF?' look on his face.

At this time I just seen red.  I thought, 'This dragon lady comes into the store every day in a bad mood, is never pleasant to deal with, and for the past two days she has decided to share her misery with two of my friends over trivial matters.  She's unpleasant, rude, insulting, and I'm not going to stand here and let her get away with it.'  I decided to let her have it.

Me:  What is your problem exactly?  First off, you filled a half gallon thermos with soda, and we charged you a regular refill price for it.  That's 89 cents for the same amount of soda that you would get if you bought a 2 liter bottle for 2.49.  And since we live in America, I'd think that you would be used to the concept of taxes by now.  The refill is 89 cents before tax, and after tax it's 96 cents.  We're not trying to make this difficult for you; you're going to run into taxes everywhere you go.  And this soda you are purchasing is less than a dollar.  A dollar!  Is it really worth throwing a fit over?  And is it really going to break your bank account to pay an extra 7 cents?  Besides, you know that there is going to be tax, so why is this such a problem?  Think about it.  It's not even a dollar!  What is there to get upset about?

Lady:  ...

Me:  You come in here with this attitude every day, and it's just bad.  Your mood is always bad.  You bring it in here, and you inflict it upon us, and we don't deserve it.  Besides, you're only hurting yourself by walking around with this chip on your shoulder, and trying to make us miserable too isn't going to make things better for you at all.

Lady:  ...

Chiy:  And if you don't like the store, you don't have to come back.  You go to other store, there are plenty other stores in Denton.

Lady:  ...

At that point she was just furious and couldn't get any words out except things like 'well' and 'I don't think so'.  She turned and left and she hasn't been back since.

Afterward I felt bad about tearing into her like that.  Underneath my desire to not let her get away with being a bitch, I had the idea somewhere in my brain that I was trying to help her somehow, by making her aware of how pointless it was to carry around a chip on her shoulder like that.  But I wound up getting upset too, and probably didn't do any good at all.