Peter, A Pirate, and The Ramones

I am going to conjure up some more work memories this week. Bear with me.

I remember the date well, January 5th, 1976. I was standing in line at a Canada Manpower Centre with a completed registration form in hand. A staff member came up to me, checked it over, noticed that I had Grade 13 and asked if I’d be interested in employment with the Federal Public Service. I famously replied  “Sure, I’ll do anything!”

I remember the date well, January 14th, 2016. I had drafted an email announcing my intention to retire from said Federal Public Service. I had promised myself that I would send it in the next time I had dealt with a miserable client. That event having just occurred, I hit the “send” button posthaste. This week I’m going to mention some of the events that these two dates bookended.

I had been hired as a “casual” employee to work in the Claims Preparation Unit. I started on Monday, January 12th, 1976 and was to work until March 31st, 1976, which was the end of our Fiscal Year. My salary was the princely sum of $3.21 per hour, gross. As a “casual” employee, I had no entitlement to holidays or pension and basically could be laid off if my supervisor had had a bad morning a). I was lucky enough to have a good supervisor who had faith in me, and I had some great co workers, including one who’s a Facebook friend.

I remember the date well, January 13th, 1976. My first encounter with the Manager didn’t go quite as well as I had hoped. As I passed Mr Graham b) in the hall I said “Hello, Mr Fraser!” c). He stopped and just sort of stared at me for a minute as I began to stammer my profuse apologies while trying to explain what had happened and why it had. He laughed it off, but probably wanted a private word with the head of Personnel. Luckily for me, she was at lunch.

I was kept on after the end of March 1976 because of good luck and some hard work. Shortly thereafter I was able to secure an “Indeterminate” position via the competition process d). This meant I could now accrue vacation entitlement and contribute to Superannuation, building up something for retirement. Let me address “the elephant in the room” at this point. The lazy bureaucrat is an essential part of common folk lore, featuring in everything from songs to plays to jokes. I worked for over 40 years, at over 30 different workplaces with well over a thousand different co workers. In all that time I didn’t work with ten people who truly did as little as possible. I worked with some hardworking, enthusiastic people and the overwhelming majority of the rest at least tried their best to serve the people of Canada.

My duties as a Claims Prep Clerk included preparing claim dockets, colour coding them for ease of retrieval from the file bays e), sorting incoming mail and matching it to files. Sounds easy, eh? It should have been, but some people’s handwriting is worse than mine. We would look at a piece of mail and match it to the file so that an agent could respond to or action the letter, as required. Once we had gone through the file bay, we would then check a number of other places, such as the pending area and the work racks. If necessary, we would go through the office matching mail to files. There was always a sense of urgency because we might have a piece of mail that would establish someone’s entitlement to Unemployment Insurance benefits.

Occasionally a claimant would come to the office and make an “In Person Enquiry”. This meant that we would have to find the file and take it to the first floor In Person area, so that the claimant’s question could be answered. We were on the third floor and it was a hot summer, so we didn’t wear ties. It was decreed that we had to wear a tie when we went to the first floor, so every clerk took turns bringing in a tie to don for “downstairs duty”. Naturally, the uglier, the better.

Some of the claimants were interesting too. There was one who would come in every so often. He always wore a different theatrical costume. It was a bit disconcerting the first time you walked into the waiting room and saw a pirate sitting there reading the paper!

Once a woman was sitting waiting for an interview and reading the paper. She suddenly let out a “Whoop!” and departed the office at a high rate of knots. It turned out that she’d won $15,000 in a lottery! While I speak of lottery winnings, they are not considered earnings for Un/Employment Insurance purposes f). So it came to pass that someone on claim in Kitchener won well over $100,000 in the Olympic Lottery and kept collecting his U.I.. g) I also remember the high profile sports figure who got terminated by his team and came in to apply for U.I.. He made so much fuss about his “right to privacy”, insisting on being interviewed in a private room, that I’m pretty sure that everybody on both floors of the office knew he was there before he left.

Before entering the office, I’d stop at McDonald’s and get a tea. When they first started calling out your order number as your cue to be served, I remember hearing my order number called “237” and saying “I won, I won! I never win anything!”. A few people dutifully smiled. One Friday morning a man in front of me bought 2 breakfasts, left the store and gave one to a homeless guy who hung around the front. I thought that was very classy.

Of course, when I did enter the office, I’d log on and hang my coat over the back of my chair. For a long time I had the sound clip of the start up of a General Electric J-79 h). I always got to the office about 0715, so I was alone and could turn it up ” all the way to 11″. Except for the morning I wasn’t alone in the office, of course 😉. My co worker shook her head and rolled her eyes at my explanation. That reminds me of the time I was playing “The Ramones’ Greatest Hits” on my computer at low volume. My client was about my age, and he suddenly asked “Is that The Ramones?” Dreading what might come next, I replied that it was. He nodded and asked me to (please) turn it up!

Always Welcome at Service Canada

Speaking of “hanging my coat over the back of my chair” reminds me of the short lived “War of the Coat Rack” which occurred at one of my offices. By this time I had become a P.M. 01 i) Employment and Insurance Officer” One of the other P.M. 01s had a coat rack in her cubicle. Across the aisle from her was an employee who did not have a coat rack. That employee, who happened to be a P.M. 02, was most put out and pestered the supervisor to have this injustice redressed. Things just make you shake your head sometimes.

I had mentioned my retirement email. I will finish off this part by sharing it with you. I scheduled it as noted above, so on January 14, 2016 at 1:44 P. M. I sent;

“After 40 years with the Federal Government, I have decided that it is time to retire. I am leaning towards Friday, July 08, 2016 as my last day of work. More maudlin stuff to follow as the Great Day approaches.

Regards”

On January 14, 2016 at 1:52 I got this reply

” Dear Peter

This email confirms that I received your attached email dated 14/01/16 (Thursday, January 14, 2016) announcing your intention to resign effective 8/07/16 (Friday, July 8, 2016).

Please note that I accept your resignation, which will be effective at the close of business on the date mentioned above.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the service you have given us during your period of employment with the Public Service of Canada and I wish you success in your future endeavors.

Sincerely”

While I really didn’t think that there would be a parade of weeping management types at my desk begging me to reconsider…..the rapidity of and vehemence of this response comes down heavily in “…Buh Bye and don’t let the door hit you where the Lord split you…” territory. 😉 (I laughed thinking of him composing his reply using one finger.)

That’s about it for this week, just want to finish off with this video. While I am not a violent man, frankly I could loop that clip of Buzz Aldrin punching that Moon landing denier until the cows come home. Here is Buzz on stage with Thomas Dolby as Dolby performs his 1982 hit ” She Blinded Me With Science”. Enjoy.

One last thing. Yesterday would have been my mum’s birthday. Miss you, mum, and thanks for loving me even when I wasn’t very lovable.

See you soon.

  1. a) There were two other classes of employee. One of these, “Term Casual” denoted employees hired for a specific term, whose contract could be renewed and who could contribute to the Superannuation Plan. I knew someone who was a term casual for over 20 years on one year contracts, and every year, at the last possible moment, she was told that her contract would be renewed. (Absolutely shameful. I thought so at the time and I still think so.) Of course, the other class, “Indeterminate” employees, had  solid job security although they could be dismissed for cause or for serious performance issues.
  2. b) Although everybody else was on a first name basis at the office, both the Manager and our Transfer Clerk were referred to as “Mr”.
  3. c) My father was a high school teacher in Orillia at the time, so I had heard of and later got to know Graham Fraser, an English teacher at ODCVI, my high school. Ironically enough, the manager whom Mr Graham had replaced was a Mr Fraser!
  4. d) At the time you had to be interviewed by a board in order to be considered for advancement in the Federal Public Service. If you were successful, you were put on a list. If you were offered a position and passed probation, it was determined that you were an “Indeterminate” employee.
  5. e) Digits 0-9 were each assigned a colour, and we put the “last three” of the person’s Social Insurance Number and one other number on the end of the file docket as a visual reference for mail matching. I still remember the relevant colours, even though it was over 40 years ago!
  6. f) Thankfully I don’t have to know if this is true any longer, but earnings were “…monies directly rising out of employment…” or something like that.
  7. g) Speaking of lottery wins, I seem to remember a rather strident anarchist who wound up with their picture in the paper after winning the lottery. They looked embarrassed. There was also the man who had his picture in the paper after a lottery win. It would have been a great picture, except he had overstayed his visa and promptly got deported, IIRC.
  8. h) The engine that powers the McDonnell Douglas Phantom, Mrs. Montreuil’s little boy’s favourite jet.
  9. i) Program Administration Officer. A P.M 01 is at the bottom of the rung, whereas a P.M. 06 would be an office manager.
=PJM=

4 Responses to “Peter, A Pirate, and The Ramones”

  1. oh indeed, Peter … the times I’ve heard about how our civil servants ‘suck on the gov’t teat’ … and I’ve known enough of them to know it’s all just one more way to tear our society apart… Thank you for your service, Mr Montreuil.

  2. Peter Montreuil Says:

    My pleasure, Roxanne. I found that as long as the person sitting across from knew you were doing your best to help them, 99.9 % of the time they were happy.

  3. June Pollard Says:

    Hi Peter! Loved your story about the Pirate in the waiting room. Many years back, I worked for Social Services. When I called the name of my Manager’s 2pm app’t, a man came around the corner dressed completely like Clint Eastwood in leather cowboy hat, long leather coat, cowboy boots, scruffy half shaven look, chewing a toothpick & looking like he had just come off a long dusty cattle drive. OK, I will reassure you now that I kept my composure, asked the gentleman to have a seat & went to let my Manager know that his 2pm client was here. … then, behind the closed door of his office I perfectly whistled the theme music from Clint’s ‘For a Few Dollars More’ movie! I immediately exited the office & invited the client in to my Manager’s office & closed the door as I left. We watched the client leave after about 15-20 minutes & after waiting until he had exited the building, we heard our Manager calling out my name to come to his office! I stood outside his door – whinnied like a horse & we all ‘clopped’ our feet to sound like horses!!! Then we heard our Manager – he had dissolved into laughter & tears & was yelling that he was going to ‘get me back for pulling that stunt on him!’ Thankfully I always stayed one amusing ‘stunt’ ahead of him during the time we worked together, however, I earned the name ‘Sailor Pollard’ from him – but that is a story for another day! ❤

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