Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Messing Up At Work

I am so glad that when I make a mistake at work it does not make the news. Here in Buffalo we’ve had 2 recent, very prominent work mistakes.

The first mistake was in one of the first Buffalo Bills football games of the season. I won’t even try to explain in detail, as my attempt to describe football plays is equivalent to the folks who see me spinning on my wheel at events and say to their children, “Look what she’s weaving,” or the people who explain the Devil’s Hole with, “gravity sticks you to the wall.” Instead, I will just say that it was the end of the game, the Bills were in the lead, and this player made a choice that allowed the opposing team to win. Most of the people I’ve heard talking about it believe that the choice he made was not what he was coached to do. Two local teenagers decided to express their dissatisfaction with his final play by vandalizing his lawn with a word that cannot be said on the radio.

This week, a prisoner briefly escaped from the holding center. Apparently he got out through a roof access hatch that was supposed to be locked. The guard who was responsible for locking it and checking it has been suspended.

Both incidents made the news for multiple days.

It seems to me that the football screw up was pretty minor—an error in judgement at the worst possible point in the game. No one was hurt, and he has been kind enough not to press charges against the lawn vandals. The jail screw up had huge repercussions, including a (thankfully) successful manhunt for an escaped prisoner who was deemed dangerous. Of course this one was a serious mistake, but honestly, I can’t count how many times I’ve left the iron on when leaving a costume shop at night, and I know I forgot to lock the door at least once. I wouldn’t even think of those things when trying to list ways that I’ve screwed up at my job. Thank goodness I’m not a prison guard.

My biggest mistakes in my job, as far as I can remember:

1. I accidentally shattered all the buttons down the front of a jacket with a hammer. Really, this was an accident, I was using a hammer and die on another kind of closure behind the buttons and didn’t notice until each and every one was in pieces.

2. I scraped an opera singer’s leg with a safety pin, drawing some blood. She was really gracious about it.

3. I cut the short wide man’s vest out of the fabric meant for the tall thin man’s vest. This one really sucked, because they were both intricately patterned fabrics, and not only had I taken the time to match the center fronts, facings, and pocket flaps when I cut the wrong one, but I had to figure out how to do it again with the scraps to cut the correct vest. I managed to fix it without having to declare what I had done wrong, or ask for more of the expensive fabric, but when I admitted to this months later, my co-workers told me that I had acted really squirrelly that day but they couldn’t figure out why.

4. I made my stitcher Larisa spend a full day beautifully pin-tucking the yoke of a Victorian nightgown, only to be reminded in the fitting by the designer that it was supposed to be made out of a piece of ready made lace fabric, no pin-tucking required.

5. In my very first costume shop internship, after declaring my great math skills, I miscalculated the length of fabric I needed to pleat and had to go back to the first hand and tell her it was too short. I thought it was the end of the world; she told me to figure out how much more was needed and make sure the seam was hidden behind a pleat.

6. I can’t even count how many times I have accidentally snipped a hole in a garment or myself.

7. My hands are covered in tiny scares, either from the aforementioned snips or from iron burns.

8. Neither can I count how many times I have bled on a costume.

9. In my first job, as a wardrobe mistress, I almost never got all the girls completely closed into their dresses during their quick change. In my defense, I was 17 and completely untrained. However, I am still complete crap at wardrobe.

10. Also in that first job, I put a rosary through the wash. If I was Catholic this would be a much bigger worry for me.

11. I flooded my shop and the downstairs hallway of the building it is in 3 times, thanks to a faulty washing machine. The first time was after 7pm on a Friday, and I had to call the after hours maintenance guys to come clean up after my mistake. It’s super embarrassing for your students to see you shop-vac-ing up a giant puddle you created. It’s also a lot harder to remain scary and intimidating to them after that.

12. I altered a suit coat in a crappy manner, and made it too tight.

13. I distracted and interrupted Wendy Wasserstein during the dress rehearsal of the first and only opera for which she wrote the libretto. When she turned towards me, and I realized my mistake, I blurted out "I'm sorry, I thought you were someone else," and scampered off into the dark again.

None of these made the news. None of them caused a death or an emergency, and only one resulted in injury. Many of them have led to really great learning experiences. I don’t think anyone I’ve worked with would disagree that I’m really good at reweaving holes in fabric. Most were made by moths or cigarettes, but a few were made by me.

I’m thankful every day that my mistakes at work are private, and most can be fixed with a seam ripper, new buttons, or a needle and thread. I can’t imagine what it’s like for surgeons, whose mistakes could end in a loss of life.

I’m also glad that my work mistakes aren’t open to the criticism of every arm chair quarterback in Buffalo. The last thing I need is a bunch of guys who can’t thread a needle discussion at length how I should have chosen a double dart instead of a single, or how the sleeve isn’t hung quite right.