July 17, 2012

Mike's Final Performance Review

I'm going to ramble quite a bit here; it may be my longest post ever. 

Tammy and I were chatting about job interviews today. I mentioned that I had a great lunch interview one time.

Back in 1993, I interviewed for a management position at a Nashville medical lab. The previous manager lasted six months - a big reason she was let go was because of Mike, the hardware guy. He just didn't like her, he thought she was incompetent. Mike was a valuable employee and well-liked in the department. He issued an ultimatum to upper management: either she goes, or I go.

She went.

I didn't know all of the details when I showed up for my interview, and I was a bit surprised that part of the interview activities included lunch at Olive Garden with all of the employees in the department (and me the token female).

Mike must have given the powers that be a thumbs up because I was offered the job. I soon realized Mike's worth - he was a hard worker, and I never had to remind him to do any task, because he had already taken care of it.

I could find no fault in his knowledge of the hardware and he ran a tight computer room. Printer ribbons were replaced on schedule, routine maintenance took place. The computer room was always clean and neat. Backups were performed like clockwork. He ran cable and added Ethernet or phone connections, he kept the PCs running, he made sure that every laboratory instrument was interfaced to our mainframe system correctly. He monitored systems, installed terminals, replaced equipment and pretty much ran the place.

The guys and I got along well. They even took me to Hooters for the first time to celebrate a co-worker's birthday. They teased me endlessly about the Elvis impersonator who hit on me that day (perhaps fodder for another post).

Overall, working with Mike was good. That's not to say that Mike was perfect, not by a long shot. His one fault was his lack of a filter - if Mike thought it, Mike said it (maybe he was training me for life with The Boy).

Mike's office was across the hall from mine, and Mike was pretty loud, so I heard pretty much every cringe-worthy comment he made in his Tennessee country accent. He was a man's man, a good ole boy.

But 'good ole boy' does not always translate well in a professional setting. For example, if a user forgot their system password, Mike, in a very friendly tone over the phone, would say, "I changed it to SHITHEAD - do you think you can remember that one?" Usually, he reserved this kind of comment for his friends, so I'd hear him laughing as they gave him their ration of shit.

But sometimes he'd say stuff like that to co-workers who weren't as friendly (though I think Mike thought everyone was a friend). One day when I returned to the office after lunch, the VP of Operations called me into her office as I walked past.

"I want to see Mike's head on a pike in the parking lot!" she shouted. We had recently upgraded our telephone system, and some lab employees weren't able to attend the vendor-supplied training sessions. When they asked Mike if our department would be offering training, he told them that if they couldn't manage to get to the training, then they'd just have to learn how to use the phone system on their own.

He was joking with them. We had already agreed to provide supplemental training inhouse. One of the more sensitive (and by 'sensitive', I mean bitchy) employees complained to the VP - and the VP was livid. I assured her that I would talk to Mike, and I confirmed that training would always be available for future new hires or anyone who needed additional help.

Another time, the Marketing Director accosted me in the lab and wanted me to write Mike up for something he had said to a Client Service representative. 

I regularly counseled Mike about his lapses in judgment and his lack of tact. I reminded him to think before he spoke, and to consider the possible consequences of negative messages before opening his mouth.

Mike loved to gossip. He and Bill from Accounting were a constant font of knowledge about employee illness, dating, or indiscretions. And the two of them had a telephone chain - if a pretty woman was on the property, they'd inform the other - and they'd gather for more appreciative glances her way. And when no pretty girls were present, he had his Mac Tools calendar rife with scantily clad women to look at (in his desk drawer, after I gently suggested that he take it off the wall). He gave a wicked grin and complied.

Mike was a thrillseeker. He skydived, he scubadived. He was the first person I knew who had a gun safe. He had assault rifles (and showed his video of him shooting a machine gun at his New Year's Eve party I attended). He fired an illegal potato gun at midnight, welcoming in 1995. He made his own beer and mead. He had a truck he loved, and an orange Harley that he adored. One day, I looked into his office and saw him lovingly polishing a gunstock. Thank God he didn't bring the rest of the gun into work.

But the adventure that brought him the most joy was flying. He learned to fly a plane while we worked together. One summer day he soloed - and came back into work to talk about it. I never saw such a look of joy on anyone over the age of seven! He had a flannel shirt on over his T-shirt - then removed the flannel shirt to show me his backless T-shirt. He said that it's traditional to cut the back out of a shirt when you solo for the first time.

His face shone with a rapturous glow as he described how he took the controls, and how he maneuvered the plane safely back to the ground. A plane was the big item on his wish list - and if determination alone could get him a plane, I was sure he'd succeed.

I left that job in December of 1995, and the lab closed in the Spring of 1996. Three hundred employees looked for other jobs, and I fell out of touch with Mike and my co-workers and friends.

I decided to Google Mike yesterday. He got his plane. Three years ago this month, Mike left Tennessee to attend a gathering of experimental plane owners in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. He flew his 1941 single engine Luscombe and crashed in Illinois. He was the only occupant, and did not survive his injuries.

I am extremely sad, as he died far too young. He was 46, and he leaves behind a wife and stepdaughter, as well as siblings and nieces and nephews.

Mike had a joy for living that is rare, and an ability to see the goodness in people. Sure he was brash and insensitive sometimes, but it was never mean-spirited. It was just Mike's way...innocent, childlike, ornery, yet full of wonder and enthusiasm for his next adventure.

If there's a Heaven, I'm sure Mike is ogling the prettiest angels and cloudjumping without a chute. He's probably wearing out his wings with his daredevil maneuvers. Off in the distance, you may think you hear thunder, but it could just be Mike and his new potato gun.


  1. You know its weird how some people try to make you not want to like someone, and you end up being a friend to them. Happens too often. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

  2. Your ending made me tear up. People come in all labels, don't they? Mike sounds awesome.

  3. It must have been a bit of a shock to randomly Google someone and found out that they died in this way … and too young. This was a lovely tribute you wrote … it really brought him to life.


Thanks for stopping by. I love your comments...I get all warm inside just reading them!