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Fred Looseman’s Maintenance Diary

by Bertrand Cayzac

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Fred Looseman used to be the head risk assessor at World Wide Credit Corporation and the chairman of the Anti-Money Laundering Commission. Now he works as an automated teller machine repairman.

Sometimes he hears voices, and sometimes what he hears moves him to tears. His bank account overflows with the money of deliverance, and he becomes a financial super-hero: Floozman.

This episode recounts a typical workday of Fred Looseman’s outside of his role as Floozman.

Fred Looseman’s portable terminal is organizing his activities. Plugged into the dashboard or simply put on the seat of the van, the machine dialogues with the navigation system to optimize the day’s itinerary. When driving and especially during traffic stoppages, Fred glances from time to time at the seat of this silent presence.

He also uses the terminal for follow-up procedures. Before each round, he must:

  1. consult the planning and the mission forms,
  2. verify the availability of parts in the van or in stock,
  3. check the history of service.

For each service job, he must note:

For each problem or failure, he must indicate:

After each round, he connects to the network and transmits the information.

Fred is very happy with it. He feels grateful when he recalls the interminable path he followed in learning this interface during his reeducation.

He remembers. At the beginning, when he had not fully recovered the ability to read, he had to figure out the meaning of icons solely by their place on the screen and in the menus. He was especially careful when the instructor was expecting a decision. In these moments, fully stressed by the choices, he would sense the tiny movements of the weights on the frail pendulums of his mental processes. He watched them as they turned, and he was as clueless as a baby in its cradle. He was waiting for his damaged brain to trigger his will.

You can do it! You can do it! You’ve already done more complicated things... He was encouraged.

But more than anything, the program’s infinite patience enveloped him. Little by little, the machine restored the organization of things. The cash dispensers were giving him back the sense of spatial dimensions, and in the city streets vague reminiscences sometimes danced like shadows. The detailed procedures were recreating time: the beginning and the end. The dispensing of bank notes brought back a sense of meaning and a form of joy.

It was in the Comments field that Fred Looseman could tell the machine about his existence and, in a way, about his gratitude.

To go beyond good work, Fred realized that he could recount in the narrow input window the things that complemented the job reports, all the human extensions of his labor that he ingenuously wanted to bring to the program and to the world.

A few examples of Comments:

Today, I stood across the street to watch the dispenser in operation, but nobody showed up. Since there was a café terrace and I was sleepy, I ordered a coffee.

People never look happy when they withdraw cash.

I do not like driving in town. Often I get bored. We should be able to do everything remotely. I prefer driving in the countryside, but it makes me feel sleepy. It is good to doze off. I dreamt I was snoozing but never stopping; I was bumping along on security rails and waking up just in time to avoid a collision or falling into the sea. It was so complicated to park.

I like the vacant lot between the Paling Fence Space shop and the Lawn Me Tender hardware exposition center, close to the roundabout. It has high grass and white bushes. Maybe animals. I wish I could stop there, but I would have to park on the road and everyone would see me.

I was honked at because I was dreaming, and the drivers looked at me fiercely. I must have done something wrong. Drivers scare me when they behave like this, especially when they’re in the right.

* * *

He also remembers the coming of the new screens.

Fred had practically no problems anymore — except his inexplicable absences — when things got complicated. Damned complicated.

He cannot remember clearly, but he knows all these changes came with the reorganization of his company: TermiBank.

The persons involved however, had all understood the change in strategy.

Business sequence begins:

After a phase of costs modelization and optimization, the Board of TermiBank had analyzed the value chain, examined the predictive scorecard and acknowledged that the business model was no longer viable in the medium term.

Facing the urgent need to adapt to the hyper-competitive financial services access market through the impetus given by its young CEO, the company had elaborated a new and ambitious vision: TermiBank would become the Number One financial network in quality and outreach.

It was an authentic paradigm shift and, to the employees, a new way of being influential recognized, energetic, and a source of commitment and performance.

Once the vision had been shared with the stakeholders, a dynamic adjustment of production costs was among the strategic axes chosen to achieve the goal.

Among the actions taken to meet the objectives in production and cost control was a thorough work reorganization.

Teamwork was a key success factor in meeting these objectives. Nothing gave a better account of this strategy than the coloured slides presented first to the stakeholders and then to the employees in kick-off meetings, where coffee mugs and printed T-shirts were generously distributed.

The collaborators learned that it was up to them to make it happen through a new collective conscience of success. Outdoor games and team-building sessions taught them how to express and materialize a new collective synergy aimed at liberating performance.

Maintenance teams had thus become profit centers capable of generating their own business while relying on referrals by the group’s shared services units.

That is how Fred Looseman traded his contract for another, far more flexible one. That is how he was granted a sales territory under control of the account manager, three days’ in-depth training to TermiBank sales, and an exalting autonomy which did not deprive him of the satisfaction attached to the maintenance tasks he was contracted to perform with the support of his team.

Business sequence ends.

In all these activities, the new screens — which he had still poorly assimilated — were guiding him.

It was still difficult to grasp the link between those screens and his payroll. He was told many times that without the screens he would not receive any money, that he would have to stay home and that he would not be authorized to take the van. Yet today, the reason why his salary had been cut by half was still beyond his understanding.

* * *

Fred has slept badly. Yet he needs to wake up early to start his rounds. Since he has no heating, he takes courage from thinking of his van. It will be warm in the cabin. To save time, he won’t wash today.

More than ever the screens are guiding him. Since he is dealing with a new bank agency, he does not know the route. It does not matter. Take a right at 15 meters then go straight ahead for 15 kilometers on the national road. This is his favorite. He won’t have to think anymore.

A quarter of an hour will pass by peacefully: traffic lights, carpet and garden shops, bars, temporary-employment agencies, gas stations, lighted garages and dark workshops. His eye will glide upon bicoloured signs, crowds, neon lights, concrete-block housing projects and condominiums.

He listens to a teenage radio program talking about sex, and the callers’ questions make him blush.

Then the itinerary requires his attention. Make a right at 20 meters, then the third street at the roundabout: destination. Fred looks at the time: 8:30. He has half an hour.

He sleeps. He is always sleep-deprived; his nights are agitated. Indeed, since the revision of his compensation plan, Fred Looseman has lived in a small studio apartment at the Lilly of the Valley high-rise, in a suburban area near Plouvigny, by the bypass road.

As Fred tries to take refuge in himself, his eyelids close, but the wall of noise does not disappear. It extends to the infinite, even in the inner directions. It slackens, tightens, ruffles with rumbles and shrieks, allows a short silence full of objects to clear, then painfully delivers another truck, then another one, even bigger.

We know what his body knows and his poor memory does not: the sounds that filled his childhood nights. The wide plane-tree foliage moved by the autumn wind, then gradually falling still. The lone, mysterious car heading straight into the summertime heat when the mirror waters tremble in the open verandas. The cosmos. The crickets. The earth rolling towards the light. The market rumble swelling with the sunrise and the fleeting words suddenly made sense under the shutter riddled with light.

We know what the soul retains of these happy times when rich parents were watching over his sleep.

We can also get closer and observe Fred Looseman now that he is asleep in the parking space without even having locked the van’s doors. He looks like the child, and he looks like Floozman. Differences lie in the small oddities of his face: maybe the forehead is too low or the jaw is too long.

He opens his eyes to check the time. He has slow, dull, calculating eyes even when his gaze meets another’s. With the same glance, Fred is able to conduct technical conversations like a true professional, especially when his mind disconnects itself.

Videos have shown him that nothing distinguishes him from his interlocutors, except perhaps humor. Fred Looseman has no sense of humor. But he is learning.

At 9 a.m., he enters the agency together with the other employees. He has an appointment with the deputy director in charge of Information Technologies. Despite his progress, Fred Looseman fears face-to-face meetings with such self-confident and competent people. When the deputy director invites him in, he wants to run away.

“It is for a sale,” says Fred plainly, without sitting down in the chair indicated by the dry, red-faced man. “I am sent by Jeremy Bleat, World Wide Credit Global Account Manager.”

“I know Jeremy Bleat very well. He invited us to a fine restaurant at the end of last year. But we have a procurement robot. It has access to the TermiBank reference and to the negotiated prices. Jeremy confirmed that everything is up to date. Just connect it somewhere, I’ll call you back if it detects an opportunity. I have a lot to do, you know. I only have a team of three persons to keep the agency up and running.”

“Thank you sir. I’ll be maintaining the cash dispenser.”

At this very moment, his wireless micro headphone delivers the message displayed on his telephone this morning and which he has forgotten. Fred hears the message in his headset and tries to relay the gist of it to the deputy manager:

“The dispenser has not been registering customers since Thursday. In this mode, it has rejected — Fred concentrates in order not to lose the thread — two eligible customers, and it has been using a generic 4.5% rate which has already resulted in a probable loss of 0.32 points. A contract extension would offer a 4-hour intervention delay to be compared to....

“Make sure the robots see to that... Administration of things... yes... That is the future as said — I can’t remember who. And administration of things by things, that’s the top, I say. Goodbye...”

The deputy director rises to take Fred back to the door. Because it is a very small office, Fred has to flatten against the partition.

Saint-Simon, eh, sir!” Fred’s computer trumpets.

Fred is not displeased. During the conversation and while he is waiting for his robot to talk to the agency’s, he will have time to experience the double skeleton: exoskeleton and endoskeleton. The image came to him while he was watching a documentary on the evolution of species. It makes him smile.

His external skeleton protects him, guides him and links him to the world. It is a shell made up of several layers: van, navigation system, SFA (Sales Force Automation) interface, organizer, computer, augmented reality glasses, telephone, headphones...

His internal skeleton sustains him and supports natural functions. If he manages to reduce thought to a silent trickle like a little fountain in a Zen garden, he will witness the two skeletons’ integration, which is to him a recurrent dream. Retired, evanescent, his tired conscience will then experience great peace.

* * *

Fred leaves the agency shortly before noon. He has sold nothing. He plugs in and starts typing his report. He is using the free format fields.

Comments: Today, at the agency, I believe I stopped thinking for a long while. All the systems were operating, including the brain zones prompted by work. When that ceased, I felt a sort of restlessness.

The telephone rings. It is Jeremy Bleat. “Hi Fred. Hope I am not disturbing you. I’m calling to debrief your round. I would have come with you but I had this call with the central agency Risk Manager about on-line fraud detection. It is a new family of solutions. I’ll have to tell you about it! How did it go?”

“Well... The man asked me to connect the robots. They found nothing interesting.”

“You did not talk to him? You did not qualify?”

“Well, no...”

“Well. All right. I’ll have a look at your agenda. Next time, I’ll be coming with you.”

Jeremy Bleat sighs while leaning in the deep seat of his midlevel SUV. “I’ll not get stressed before my call,” he says to himself. He looks at his face in the central mirror. “I say, this guy, it’s a mystery they don’t fire him. I can’t believe he enjoys protection at the executive management level. I’ll take advantage of our next encounter to dig on that, so I don’t completely waste my time.”

Jeremy Bleat also has his skeletons. Later, he will have to update his sales forecast: group, account, nature of the opportunity, customer complaints, solution type, amount, expected close date, type of commitment (firm, stretched, joker), contacts, competition.

Then at some point, he will have to explain to Tim Cockroach, his manager, the changes that have occurred since last week. This perspective does not please him, because he is lagging behind his quota, and they both know he will not reach it.

He must also update his reports; his list of follow-up calls, and the list of customers to invite to the event “Throw your competitors into misery with solutions to their individual monetary aspirations.” All this work will cut into his evening. Will he have time for his squash game?

He lets the navigation system guide him while he mentally reviews the complex structure of the price offer he has to present in less than one hour at the other end of town.

* * *

Fred Looseman sighs while merging his van into highway traffic. He thinks of a video game which would be called “City.” The game would be sectorized, and the generation of polygons would take into account parameters such as density, wealth, type of franchises, geography, light...

He smiles. In the end time will pass, he muses.

But the distress that had gripped him when the thought returned suddenly resurfaces. He feels defenseless. He would almost cry and start praying, but the phone starts ringing. He picks up the receiver.

“Fred, this is Marinella. You can’t do this!”

Copyright © 2009 by Bertrand Cayzac

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