In The News
Behind The Scenes
What’s a Guy Like You Doing in
a Place Like This?
Harless knows how things stack up in Stile's Warehouse.
Charlie Harless graduated from CSU, Fullerton in the mid-’70s
with a B.A. in communications and an M.A. in fine art, with an emphasis
in photography. Thanks to Proposition 13, his tenure as a photography
professor at a community college in Southern California was cut short.
“I lived at the base of an 11,000-foot mountain, and I couldn’t
see the mountain out my back window because it was so smoggy,” said
Harless about his decision to move north. He made a stop in Santa Cruz
before landing in Chico in 1988 for a job as warehouse operations manager
at CSU, Chico.
Harless may not be noodling around with his camera much these days, but
even out there in chilly, noisy Stiles Warehouse, Harless manages to be
creative. He’s the guy who came up with a system that accounts for
each piece of mail that hits one of those plastic tubs—and then
charges you for it. He’s also the guy (along with his buddy) who
designed a bar code system to keep track of all that stuff you use that
the state owns.
On best-laid plans.
When I got the M.A., you could teach as a full professor in the CSU. Then
they changed the rules, and you had to have a terminal degree. By that
time, it was a little too late to go back to school. So, how many fine
art photographers do they need in this world, right? I had to find a way
to make a living.
On being creative.
I ended up working for a candy company in Santa Cruz for about eight years
as a buyer and supervisor of shipping and receiving. I came up with better
ways of doing things, found the right machines, stuff like that. I found
that you can be creative anywhere, doing anything. It doesn’t have
to be in art school; that’s just one way to create.
On moving to a place he’d never heard of.
I couldn’t afford to live in Santa Cruz. I was just handing my check
over to the landlady. I saw this job at Chico State in the newspaper.
I had never heard of Chico. The position was warehouse operations manager.
But it wasn’t just warehousing. It included, at the time, property
management, state stores, shipping and receiving, and mail services.
On managing the monster known as mail services.
Before 1988, all of the mail on campus had postage put on it, but there
was no accounting system to charge departments. My job was to set up and
design what is now called the Mail Management System. This meant purchasing
the right machinery and computer system and establishing a postal code
for every department, so that when we run your mail, the information is
saved to a database.
On all that mail.
Mail services and shipping and receiving are two separate departments.
The overall number for incoming, outgoing, and intercampus mail is 6.6
million pieces annually. It’s twice what it was in 1984. Shipping
and receiving handles about 200,000 pieces—incoming and outgoing.
That’s a lot.
On how many people it takes to deal with the mail.
In mail services, we have three employees. In shipping and receiving,
we also have three. Then there are students who work for both sides—anywhere
from 12 to 27, part time, each semester. I’ve hired about 1,500
students over the years. It makes me dizzy.
On crackpot letters and wacky packages.
We got a letter addressed to “The Secretaries of CSU, Chico.”
I opened it because, obviously, who do you send it to, right? It was a
very strangely written letter from someone with what looked like a third-grade
education, warning about the end of time and earth. Then there was a letter
inside that from, like, their alter ego. The art department has a program
every year where people are invited to send an art piece to them—the
piece is the mail piece, it’s not that you open it up and there’s
something inside. Weird looking things show up with postage on them. It’s
like modern art, very abstract stuff. I kind of like it.
On suspicious packages.
It’s rare, but once in a while you get something —the way
it’s taped—and the box is kind of crushed, and the address
is hand scribbled. [What do you do with them? Oh, we deliver them.] If
it’s really weird, I’ll take it to the cops.
On unclaimed packages.
It is surprising how many people purchase stuff and don’t even give
their name to the vendor. But what’s even more incredible, the vendor
doesn’t even ask what their name is. This happens all the time.
We send it back.