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The Portland Vortex

by Greg Baysans

In south-central Oregon is a tourist attraction called the Oregon Vortex. Well off the beaten path, an old prospector's cabin and a separate Gift Shop occupy an acre of land in the tree-shrouded low hills. Ordinary laws of physics seem to be suspended there. A brochure explains that there are few places like this in the world, incorporates some theory of Einstein and describes a few of the unusual phenomena to be observed: a level is put on a bare patch of ground; two volunteers are chosen to stand side-by-side on the spot. Observers note their relative heights. The volunteers switch positions. Their relative heights have changed. In the prospector's cabin, a ball seems to roll uphill.

The Portland Vortex is a phenomenon observed by this writer in the late 1990s and well into the 21st century. An early, extreme example was noted and documented in 2000 when I was hired by a local trade newspaper called The Daily Journal of Commerce. In January I learned of the job through a temp agency, the director of which told me when referring me there, "No one seems to last. Let me know what's going on there."

The position was for a typesetter, a job I'd previously had at three reputable Minneapolis companies (one small shop, the other two large and highly regarded companies). The department supervisor, Ali Hassania, who spoke in broken English, praised my background and I was hired. Within weeks, I was instructed to type copy as presented, not to correct punctuation and grammatic errors, a basic service at all previous typesetting positions I'd previously held. Within a month or two I analyzed the strange situation I found myself to be in as this: the Daily Journal of Commerce was split into two departments, the "news" department and the "legal" department, where I was. In the "news" department, a more-or-less standard employment situation was in place. In the "legal" department, supervisor Ali Hassania ruled with an iron fist and had been in charge for several decades. The legal department was the source of the income which ran the whole paper, due largely to state laws which require public works projects and such to be publicly advertised for competitive bidding to occur; the DJC paper was often the only place such jobs would be advertised in order to comply with state law.

On or around March 15, 2000 (documented in my poem "Finesse, An Anti-Poem"), after I complained of the company's illegal method of forwarding a half hour of overtime pay ("take the time off whenever you'd like in the coming months and we'll pay you anyway"), he brought me into his office for a one-on-one dressing down which included his instruction to me to stop finding errors in the "news" section of the paper since it was not my job. I was also instructed to keep my comments to myself and speak only when spoken to; "We are not here to entertain you," I remember him saying.

By June, 2000, I had suppressed enough comments to fill a week's newspapers and had had enough. When I put in my two-week notice, I was told, "You can't quit. You don't have another job lined up." I doubted I'd be able to get much of a newspaper typesetting job by having DJC on my resume (given the number of errors that are "reproduced from original copy", etc.) (I was sure right about that, my six months at DJC are a permanent stain on my resume and most local employers know that anyone who has worked at DJC knows how to do things ... wrong!).

After looking for several weeks and finding no jobs, I applied for unemployment. The request was denied and I appealed the decision on the grounds that I'd had no choice but to leave after being told that I did not have the right to free speech while employed there (I have since learned that Oregon is a Right-to-Work state and freedom of speech is not a right while you are at your job). During the hearing (conducted by conference call), I cited the March "dressing-down" as cause for my leaving. Ali Hasssnia committed perjury in saying that no such meeting took place. My appeal was denied. I have publicly accused him of perjury and have been regarded as a miscreant or malcontent since.

Two or three years later (after an even more telling "Portland Vortex" experience at a money-extorting operation disguised as a vocational school called BCTI [detailed in my very long poem, "A Real Education") I was still looking for work; Ali Hassania was still English-illiterate and still supervisor of the "legal" department of DJC, I noticed a classified ad for a typesetting position at DJC. I did what little I could to warn prospective job applicants that the conditions there are not what their past experience might lead them to expect: I papered cars and telephone poles in the neighborhood with a notice which detailed simple statements of fact about the strange job conditions in the "legal" department at DJC. I received by certified mail a letter from the company's lawyers to "cease and desist".

Five years later I'm still looking for steady employment. Ali Hassania, presumably, still takes weeks of paid vacation, is regarded within the company as a sort of God and is laughed at by intelligent employees of the "news" department behind his back. The Portland Vortex survives.

-30- (Ali Hassania wouldn't know that that's a typesetter code to indicate the end of a piece.)

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