I’ll begin this posting by referring viewers to an outstanding blog, one recommended by a friend in Wales. Click here for Sentence First, An Irishman’s blog about the English language. If you have a question, ask Stan—if he can’t answer it, then there’s something wrong with your question. For Stan’s stance on the correct color to use for corrections, click here to read his posting of The Red Pen Effect.
I also recommend the blog hosted by my friend in Wales—click here for Duck Billed Platitudes, an adventure in art and ornithology and a touch of everything else.
I misspent 22 years in the US military and retired, then misspent 26 years in USCS, the United States Custom Service, an organization that has been melded into ICE—Immigration and Customs Enforcement. A quick exercise in arithmetic shows a total of 48 years misspent in government service. I say misspent because I could have entered politics and perhaps have attained the highest office in the land—a quick glance at recent occupants of that office leads me to believe that in comparison I would have been an outstanding president, a shoe-in candidate for placement on Mount Rushmore. Please note that I’m not claiming I would have been outstanding. That’s pure conjecture on my part—I’m saying only that I might have been an outstanding president had I been nominated and elected to that lofty office—and I firmly believe I would have been elected if only I had submitted the proper documents and campaigned—if fact, based on a recent election to select a Democratic nominee for the Senate in South Carolina, I probably could have skipped the campaign.
Or I could have entered the medical profession and perhaps perfected a miraculous serum that with a single injection would cure those afflicted with one or more of any existing diseases. The cure would guarantee no recurrence and provide immunity to any new disease that might appear, regardless of its nature—and if given at birth the serum would provide total immunity to new-borns for life. Here as above, please note that I’m not claiming that I would have perfected such a serum. That also is conjecture on my part. I’m saying only that I might have perfected such a serum had I chosen to enter the medical profession and properly applied myself to my studies.
As an aside, as a youngster I came to a fork in the road and over the years I’ve oft speculated that I may have chosen the wrong fork. By chance I have a remarkably readable and interesting posting dealing with that choice, one that I can share with you—just cut and paste the following URL:
Now on to the reason for this posting:
I began life in the Customs Service as an inspector trainee at a small port of entry on the Texas-Mexico border and quickly progressed to the journeyman level. I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position in good time and relocated to a different small port of entry on the Texas-Mexico border. I was promoted to a second-level supervisory position shortly thereafter and relocated to a much larger port of entry on the Texas-Mexico border. For purposes of anonymity I will not reveal the name of that port, but for reference I will say that it is the port located at the tip of Texas near the junction of the Rio Grande River with the Gulf of Mexico.
Before I reported for duty at that anonymous port I was given an extensive and intensive briefing by the person in charge of the district that included my new duty station. I was briefed on several defective procedures that existed among the work force and told to do everything possible to effect change—to correct the defects. One of the procedures considered defective was the excessive overtime reported, ostensibly needed to accomplish the mission. Another was the deplorable documentation of searches, seizures and arrests made by enforcement personnel, documents that were used in criminal prosecution and were vital to statistical studies of port activities. The reports, almost without exception, showed serious deficiencies in basis English writing skills. They were deficient in every aspect of the English language including spelling, sentence construction, punctuation and grammar and in most cases were either too lengthy or too brief.
All enforcement documents were prepared in longhand by the inspectors and routed to clerical personnel for typing before being presented for supervisory approval. The reports were routinely approved without corrections and then moved up the chain of command for archival, to be used for statistical and prosecution purposes. I used my supervisory prerogative to have the documents routed to me before being typed, and armed myself with a supply of red ink pens.
I noted the errors in red for each document, indicated the correction to be made and returned each document to the error-maker, requesting that the errors be corrected and returned to me before submission to the typing pool. My intent was to inform—to educate, if you will—the inspectors in order to improve their writing skills and thus to upgrade our submissions to headquarters.
I stirred up a hornets’ nest that produced stings that I can still feel and I have the scars to prove it, although I left that hornets’ nest 27 years ago. In 1980 I became the target of every inspector in a force of fifty. From the moment I returned the first document rife with red ink, liberally spotted and resembling an extreme case of measles, I became a target for every inspector in a force of fifty, and the official grievance forms, a procedure authorized by Customs’ contract with a national union to which the inspectors belonged, began to pile up on my desk, a situation that existed for the three and one-half years.
The rules for grievances allowed the one ostensibly grieved to file the grievance with any supervisor, ranging from the most junior first-level supervisor to the top level supervisor at that border location, without regard to the action or the individual supervisor that prompted the so-called grievance. Our cadre of supervisors totaled nine—five first-level, two at my secondary level, one chief supervisor and the top dog with the upstairs office and a private secretary. As an aside, I was one of two second-level supervisors—the other second-level supervisor was one with no horns and no huevos—you can Google huevos if you like—I don’t mind.
There is absolutely no doubt that the order to put my name on every grievance came from union headquarters. As a result of that order, I achieved considerable notoriety and became a legend in my own time. I received more grievances than any other supervisor in the Service, and I answered every grievance and every one was found in my favor—no exceptions!
I mentioned overtime usage at the beginning of this posting—under the direction of the chief supervisor we significantly reduced the cost of overtime at the station—in short, we changed the deep pockets of overtime to shallow pockets and in some instances no pockets. The myriad grievances on changes in overtime practices, regardless of which supervisor caused the alleged grievance, bore my name—all of those were also ultimately found in my favor.
All this commotion was apparently caused by my using a red ink pen to mark the documents, rather than blue or pink or purple, anything other than red. A great hue and cry arose. I was accused and charged with returning the inspection force to the classroom, claiming that I was treating them like children, exposing them to ridicule, embarrassing them by calling attention to unimportant items such as spelling, subject and object agreement, paragraphing, ad nauseum. In retrospect, had I been authorized to return them to school it would have been to the elementary level—correct grammar should have been learned somewhere around the fourth-grade level.
Just one final note: I left that cantankerous force in the rear view mirror on my way to the U. S. Customs national headquarters following my promotion to the Civil Service grade of GM-13, a grade equal to that of a Lieutenant Colonel in the military forces, with equal pay and equal responsibilities.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!
PeeEss: If I had that three-and-one-half-year ordeal to do over again, I would cheerfully accept the challenge, even though it may have shortened my life. However, I’m approaching the octogenarian mark in longevity and I feel great, so there—take that, southernmost border crossing on the Texas-Mexico border! The southernmost legal crossing, that is. Many much-used illegal crossings exist along our border with Mexico, including some on the Arizona border that appear to be condoned and supported by various levels of the present administration in our nation’s capital.