Archive for professional

Celebrity Cult

Posted in Infinite City, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 22, 2012 by javedbabar

It was the global launch of the film HUMANITY. Rather than New York, London or Mumbai, auteur Manish had decided to have it in Lucerne, where the idea had been sent to him while mountain climbing.

The village was packed with people wanting accommodation. Lucerne was an easy day trip from the New City, but the 3 hour film started at nine p.m. and people didn’t want to drive home at midnight. Being realistic, with all the cops, diversions, and remote parking lots, they wouldn’t leave till one a.m. and would reach home after three.

“How about we rent one of your rooms?” a young father said to Bobby.

“I am sorry sir, we can’t do that.”

“Why not? This is a free country. We can do what we like.”

This was the tenth conversation like this he’d had today. To cut it short, Bobby decided to be brutally honest. “Sir, this is a halfway house. We are all losers in life here. Some are drunks, some are drug addicts, some work as prostitutes, and some are prone to bouts of psychotic violence. We would love to have a nice family of professionals stay here, but can’t guarantee their safety. That’s why we always refuse. Still, if you’re feeling brave we could…”

“Erm, okay, I see. Maybe we’ll drive home after the movie.” The man stood there, stunned.

“Do you actually have tickets?” said Bobby. “I heard there were only two hundred available, and most were going to VIPs. There seem to be thousands of people in town. What are they all doing?”

“If we are lucky, we’ll catch the film. There are fifty walk-in tickets available. But we’re mainly here to see the celebrities. My wife and kids really wanted to come. You don’t often get so many famous people together in one small place.” He reeled off a list of names, none of which Bobby recognized.

When he reported for work that night, the situation changed. Many of those names were guests at the Lucerne Valley Hotel, which was packed with VIPs. It seemed that Bobby was the only one who hadn’t heard the names before. Crowds outside were silent for spells, and screamed uncontrollably when beautiful folk entered or left the hotel.

Bobby learnt from other Executive Floor workers that these people were sports heroes, film and rock stars, billionaires, prominent chefs, famous explorers, those known only for their extravagant lifestyles, and cult figures from Arcadia, such as the midget-sized hugging saint, naked tightrope walker, and acid-disfigured belly-dancer. These local figures tried harder to please the crowds, but the international elite received bigger cheers.

Some of the celebrities looked familiar. Bobby recognized them from magazine covers at the grocery store, waxworks he’d once seen in Florida, and from DVD covers. Stuff forgotten during his drug haze years seemed to be returning.

He met many of these celebrities in person on the Executive Floor. Most were warm and gracious, and gave good tips. He could see why they were successful. They were good with people.

When he returned home at 6 a.m. he was ready to drop, but his housemates wanted to hear all about the celebrities. He told them a few stories which made them laugh. One of the girls squealed in delight and said, “Come on Bobby, tell us more!”

He said O.K. and told more stories. He enjoyed being surrounded by adoring people.

Money Under Mattresses

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 16, 2012 by javedbabar

There were boys’ rooms and girls’ rooms and communal areas. Maybe they were too old to be called boys and girls, thought Bobby. It would be better to call them desperate, middle-aged men and women.

How had he ended up at this halfway house? Was it halfway to employment and stability, or halfway to unemployment and the trash can? Most people lived in hope, but there was no telling which direction they were moving in; recycling or landfill.

The employment situation in Lucerne was dire. The number of sick and struggling people was rising, and doctors’, lawyers’, and accountants’ services were much in demand. These professional people were doing well, but everybody else, lumped together loosely as unprofessional, was suffering. Some turned to crime, robbing the professional people, who they said were taking much more than their share.

This led to discussions about the meaning of money. Clever people said it had no intrinsic value as a physical commodity; it was just fiat money, from the Latin word meaning “it shall be”; a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and a standard of deferred payment only because The Authority said it was money.

The middle-aged men and women in the boys’ and girls’ rooms accepted all of this. They had no issue with money’s definition; the issue was that they had none. They had however not sunk to criminal actions, instead created an informal community, helping each other to survive.

Shama approached Bobby, looking angry, and asked. “Did you borrow some money?”

Bobby said, “I did last month. It was a twenty dollar bill. When I got some work at the Botanical Gardens I returned it.”

“Well, there’s still twenty dollars missing. Are you sure you returned it?”

“Yes, I did. I remember putting it under your mattress. There was about two hundred dollars there altogether. You had blue sheets.”

Shama became angrier. “I always have blue sheets. I don’t have another set. Are you being honest with me?  If you still have the money, that’s okay, but just say so.”

Other boys and girls in the lounge went quiet. Someone may have turned down the TV. It suddenly seemed quieter, and their voices, louder.

How could Shama say that in public, thought Bobby, accuse him like that? It wasn’t on. He said, “I’m not lying. I told you I took it, and I told you I put it back. Why would I lie?”

Shama shook his head and walked away. They grunted to each other after that, but didn’t engage in real conversations. Tension built in the house. What they called their economy of trust became strained.

Most people had lost the use of their bank accounts when they had entered into voluntary liquidation agreements, paying off their overdrafts as loans. Banking facilities for fiat money were thereafter withheld from them.

What money they had, they threw under their mattresses. Shama had always thought this was appropriate, as mattress comes from matrah, the Arabic word meaning “to throw down.”

The first mattresses had been leaves, straw or grass, covered by animal skins, which had evolved into cotton, foam rubber, and metal spring frameworks, even water and air beds. The money beneath people’s mattresses was as insubstantial as this latter filling. The boys and girls knew this, and helped each other; there was give and take.

“Money come, money go, money nothing,” Shama’s grandfather used to say.

Shama remembered a night at the Lucerne Valley Hotel bar where he had spent $20 on drinks, and then come home, dropped onto his mattress, and dreamt of better times. Maybe Bobby hadn’t taken it after all. Maybe Shama had spent it on forgetting.

Semi-Automatic

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2012 by javedbabar

When Mr Kazantzakis’ business executive guests became crime targets, his booking agents panicked. They were getting bad press and stopped sending guests.

There was no need to panic though. Mr Kazantzakis was a solution-orientated individual. He wasn’t Lifetime General Manager of the Lucerne Valley Hotel without reason. He hired a team of security guards to keep an eye on guests. The guards were vigilant both inside and outside the building, and accompanied business executives around town.

One of the guards, Russell, asked to see the LGM. He said, “This should be a professional job. Being a security guard is a matter of life and death.”

Lucerne had a serious problem. There were many professional jobs available but few unskilled ones. Everybody wanted a professional job. The hours were shorter, the workload was lighter, the pay was better and you didn’t get dirty or wet. However few people were sufficiently well-qualified or well-connected, or filled the right quotas, and thus eligible for such jobs.

Opportunities for pencil pusher were endless, but hammer hitters were a different matter. The Authority’s Job Upgrade Plan had created an imbalance. Most manual jobs had been automated or abolished. There were very few jobs for unprofessional people.

With almost fifty percent unemployment, civic order had crumbled. The number of armed and ordinary robberies, stealth and aggravated burglaries, bag-snatchings, car-jackings, violent muggings and kidnappings all rose exponentially. A lack of work led to poverty, boredom, stress and anger, and there were rumours of an imminent uprising, which people were calling the Arcadian Spring.

Mr Kazantzakis was the right man for a crisis. Though the business may tilt or even sink partially, he always provided the anchor or ballast required. He was a man you could rely on. Investment cycles were calculated in fifty year terms, and he was the man to ensure long-term returns.

Mr Kazantzakis said to Russell, “But it is not a skilled job. That’s what elevates a task, the level of training and experience. Anyone could walk into this hotel, I could give them a uniform, and they’d be a security guard, and….”

“You are wrong, Mr Kazantzakis,” said Russell. The LGM was stunned. Nobody ever interrupted him.

“I am following a timeless warrior tradition. In ancient Greece there was Achilles, in India there was Arjuna, in China, Lu Tung-Pin, and in Scandinavia, Beowulf. In the Middle Ages there were archers, bowmen and palace guards, all elite soldiers guarding the king. During the American Revolution, marksmen picked off British officers, helping to win battles. In Napoleonic wars, infantry soldiers learnt how to use the Baker rifle, which was slower to load but very accurate. In modern warfare, specialists take Annual Personal Weapons Tests, and must score above 85% of maximum score. They scout and delay the enemy in close combat. They put their lives on the line. Do you not think we deserve to be called professionals?

“What will you do if I don’t promote you? Will you leave?”

Russell pulled out a semi-automatic pistol and laid it on the table. “I will kill you.”

Mr Kazantzakis liked his style. This was a man he could count on in a crisis. He said, “I am not sure if I can change the job spec to professional, but let’s say semi-professional.”

Lifetime GM

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 22, 2012 by javedbabar

Because he worked the nightshift, TJ hadn’t seen much of Mr Kazantzakis, who was either in his office or remained in his room. Mr Kazantzakis had run the Lucerne Valley Hotel for twenty years and was scheduled to continue for twenty more. The hospitality industry realized the value of loyalty and required senior employees to commit for life.

Mr Kazantzakis’ title was Lifetime General Manager, but it would be more appropriate to say Working Lifetime General Manager. His contract expired when he hit sixty-five. TJ had once asked him what happened after that.

It was the only time that Mr Kazantzakis had avoided a question. He had turned away from TJ and wiped something from his eye, his snow white hair shook a little, and when he turned back his moustache was wet. TJ never again asked him about his future.

Mr Kazantzakis was a hospitality services professional. He was responsible for all areas of the business – revenue and costs, marketing and sales, effective planning, delegating, coordinating, staffing, organizing, decision making, and other day-to-day operations. He had ultimate authority over the hotel and reported directly to its owner. Mr Kazantzakis managed the management team, created and enforced business objectives, oversaw projects and renovations, and handled emergencies and other issues involving guests, employees, the facility, the media, local government and suppliers. His contract also stated that he had “Many Additional Duties”, whose acronym was MAD.

In his time working there, TJ had only disturbed the LGM four times during the night.

The first time was when a group of friends had booked out the second floor. They had a very noisy party and many guests complained to reception. TJ went up three times to ask them to keep the noise down, but to no avail. He had no choice but to wake Mr Karantzakis. The LGM went up to the second floor, saw that people were having good clean fun, and instead of closing down the party, invited all the other guests along. He said, “You are up now anyway, so you may as well enjoy yourselves.”

The second time was when TJ had double-booked the entire hotel. Four buses pulled in simultaneously and two hundred people poured into the reception area, wanting their rooms. TJ panicked and called the LGM, who sized up the guests, chatted to a few, and declared that this would be a Swinging Sixties weekend, with two couples in every room. It was a good way for people to make new friends; how good was entirely up to them. There were no requests for refunds.

The third time was when police were searching for a murder suspect. A witness said that earlier that night, she had seen the victim entering the Lucerne Valley Hotel. The police wanted to question every guest there. The LGM turned the procedure into a Whodunnit? game for the guests, and loaned the police inspector his chequered jacket and pipe “to look like Sherlock Holmes”. He asked TJ to play Watson.

The fourth time was when a guest slipped in a puddle of beer that he had himself spilt moments earlier, and threatened to sue the hotel. The LGM took the man into his office and that guest was never seen again. Later that night the LGM asked TJ to remove a heavy wet bag from his office, and gave him a packet containing $10,000, which he said was for “Inhospitality services.”

The next morning at 6a.m. TJ heard heavy footsteps coming down the main stairwell. He was tempted to say, “Good morning, Deathtime GM.”

No Need to Worry

Posted in Global Travel, Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 16, 2012 by javedbabar

Adam had heard that professional jobs were available in Lucerne. Things were pretty slow in the city so it seemed like a good idea to try his luck elsewhere.

In days gone by he would have just taken off abroad. Living in developing countries was cheaper than staying in Arcadia. When he wasn’t working here, living in India or Ethiopia or Peru was a way to save money, provided he went for at least a month to amortize the airfare.

A month in the city was about three thousand bucks all in, a hundred a day. A month in Varanasi, Lalibela or Cuzco was two thousand, flights included, and the longer he stayed there, the better the notional day-rate – going from sixty dollars to half that. But now that he had a wife and three step-children, he had to handle the situation carefully.

He did some day trips initially. Lucerne was a pretty village with a white mountain standing guard above it, and surrounded by forests, rivers and lakes. It was filled with old families of farmers, loggers and hunters, but also a new crowd of artists, musicians and yoga teachers. He checked with Village Hall, and yes, they said, they needed professional people desperately. If he moved here, he could have his pick of jobs.

“When can I have an interview?” he asked the receptionist.

“This is it,” she said. “You’ve got the job, or more than one if you like.”

“More than one?”

“Yes, we have numerous positions available, and funds from the Authority gathering dust. We want to use them for the benefit of Lucerne’s citizens.” She explained the strange situation here. There was mass unemployment of unskilled people, but a shortage of skilled ones. They desperately needed his expertise.

Adam was assigned the job of CPM: Chief Project Manager, and asked to start as soon as possible. He was also given a house to live in with a nocturnal security guard.

“Is that necessary?” he asked. “It seems like a peaceful place.”

“Just in case,” said the receptionist. “You never know.”

Adam’s wife agreed that he should follow the work, and they moved immediately. On the first evening, they dined outdoors, and were so moved by beauty that they could hardly speak. Adam had seen such beauty before, in the Himalayas, Lasta Mountains, and the Andes, but always alone. He was now seeing it with his family, through the eyes of his beloved, and her children.

As the sun set, the security guard, David, suggested they go indoors.

“What’s the hurry?” said Adam. “Let’s enjoy the stars appearing and tonight’s full moon.” He knew it would be impossible to get the kids early to bed tonight. They may as well stay out.

“You don’t know this place well, do you. Have you stayed here overnight before? No? Okay, trust me. You’re better off indoors. That’s what I’m here for, to stay outdoors to ensure your safety. There’s no need to worry though. I am a professional too. I will keep you safe.”

“Safe from what?”

“You’ll see.”

“Do you have a gun?” Adam recoiled when he realized what he’d said. Had he brought his family to a place where you need a gun to survive?

“No, I won’t need a gun. Just go inside and take it easy. No need to worry.”

That night they heard glass smashing somewhere, screeching tires, and flashes like firecrackers, followed by a chorus of sirens – ambulances, fire trucks, and cops. They slept eventually but were disturbed from their slumber by smashing and shouting. Adam went to the window to see. There was David, covered in blood, either grimacing or grinning.

“What happened?” he called. “Are you okay?”

“I told you not to worry. I have taken care of it.” He wiped his machete, swigged some beer and sat down. He looked at the horrified children and said, “Nothing to see. Now go to bed.”

He wanted them to leave before there was another assault on the house. More of the poor would come.

Pattern Recognition

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2012 by javedbabar

Shama’s success as Building Control Officer had led to a promotion. He became Training Director, responsible for skills improvement of Lucerne’s current and future workforce. Well, it seemed like a promotion at first, before he realized that it was actually another job as well. He was now doing two jobs for not much more money than before.

The lack of professional people in the valley meant that no one else was available. Inadequate facilities for their children caused any that moved here to leave soon after.

Shama had heard that at one time local jobs were coveted, and Village Hall only employed the best and brightest. Kids went to the New City, studied, graduated and returned to work here. Over time the attraction of the village faded, and kids now went anywhere but here to build their lives. Small towns were dying everywhere.

Shama buzzed the receptionist. “Good morning, Sue. Have you had your teatime? Do you have a moment? Good. Please join me in my office?”

“Which one?”

He had forgotten that he now had two offices – one as Building Control Officer, and the other as Training Director. “The Training Director’s office. I will be there in a minute.” He walked out of one door and into another, followed by Sue. He opened a file called Jobs of the Future.

“The issue is this,” he said, staring at Mt Alba, framed nicely by his office window. “We have many construction projects taking place in Lucerne. There are tax dollars coming into the local economy. But as soon as these projects are over, there will be no more income for the village. So now is the time to reverse the outflow of professional people.”

She said, “The previous Training Director planned to do that too, but instead he joined them.” Shama’s face fell.

She continued, “I am not saying we shouldn’t do something. We should, absolutely. We can’t even service the projects under way, never mind any future ones. That’s why you’re doing two jobs and I’m doing three. But the key is to ask what kind of people are needed.”

What does she mean by that? thought Shama. He said, “Go on.”

“Well, if there are no professional people available, why don’t we look for unprofessional people like you?… Oh dear! I didn’t mean that in a bad way. I meant practical people who get things done. We should look for key qualities in individuals, not people with labels, and we should think and plan ahead to avoid any more staff turnover.”

She’s pretty smart, thought Shama. People on the front line always are. They deal with unexpected situations, whoever comes in or calls right now. Those in offices deal with controlled situations; they have work plans, meetings and schedules.

“What do you suggest?” he asked.

“The first step is pattern recognition. I don’t mean pattern matching, where you look for exactly what you want, as we know that’s not available right now. We should use some fuzzy logic, and look for clusters of skills and reasonable answers. I know the lingo as I’m studying for a Human Relations diploma. From what I’ve read, it seems that future jobs will be more flexible, freelance and collaborative. That’s the approach we should take.”

Shama had an idea and said, “I need a Training Manager immediately. I could ask you to do it, but I know you’re too busy. But we need someone like you with common sense, creativity, imagination, people skills, technical awareness, and focus. Do you have a sister?”

“No, I don’t, but I do have a cousin looking for work. See, you’re learning already.”

Stack of Applications

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 23, 2012 by javedbabar

Professional people were leaving Lucerne because there weren’t adequate facilities for their children. The schools were reasonable and parents also played their part in educating their children. They ensured they practised speaking, reading and writing at home, and also taught them manners.

They were busy people, tired from work, but knew that the prime duty for raising children rested on their shoulders, not on those of teachers, who could shape, but not make, healthy, happy beings. However the lack of a swimming pool or hockey rink was the killer. The wound continued to seep.

Every situation has a cutting edge through. Fewer professional people meant more jobs for unprofessional people. There was for example no Building Control Officer in Lucerne. Nobody knew what had happened to him. There was plenty of construction occurring in the valley – new facilities to attract new professional people – but no one to manage it.

Shama had been at a loose end since moving here from the city. He’d come to the village to enquire about a manual job, but had instead been offered the role of Building Control Officer, for twice the salary he’d expected.

He’d said to the interviewer, “I don’t have any qualifications. Sure I’ve worked on constructions sites, performing traffic duty and casual labour, but I’m not any sort of official.”

“You seem like a smart guy,” said the interviewer. “Give it a week. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

Shama went to his new office on Monday. There was a huge pile of building forms and assorted documents balanced on his desk. Some were typed, some handwritten in pen, some completed with coloured markers, and some scrawled in pencil.

Who completes forms in marker? Were children submitting applications? What about pencil – had these adults not graduated from graphite to ink? At his own school, he had done so when eleven. The crazy, barely legible writing made the papers a modern tower of Babel. How would he get through them?

The bookshelves covering one wall were filled with building code manuals. There were at least a hundred, covering all aspects of national, provincial, and municipal building codes, supplemented by bylaws and case studies. These massed ranks of grey, green and brown books looked like the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, which he’d visited as a child.

There was a pile of lego bricks on the corner table. They were mainly yellow, blue and red, with some transparent ones, built into a series of half-finished structures. Is that how building departments evaluated projects? Out of toy blocks to check?

The desk held many executive toys, no doubt there to illustrate engineering principles.

Shama chatted to the receptionist. She asked what he’d been doing before this. He began to lie, but then corrected himself. “I’ve been performing casual labour – unloading trucks and carrying lumber, and mudding and taping drywall. I’ve done some brick building too, and nailing on siding. Plus plenty of painting and decorating…” He was about to say he was totally unqualified for the job, but the receptionist interrupted.

“Thank God they’ve got a proper person at last. Someone who works with his hands and knows what he’s doing, not another person with a Building Services degree who knows only how to push pencils. We may finally have a service that works.”