Merry Christmas, Circa 1995

On being a temp at the holidays…

Being a temp could be feast or famine. At one point I had a six week assignment that they pulled me out of at the end of week five in order to send me to a three month assignment. This of course made it impossible to use the aborted assignment as a reference, pissed off a bunch of people, and was contractually prohibited if not downright unethical.

At the holidays, they (the agencies) would fight over you and dangle a little extra incentive to convince you to take an assignment. Since so many people would go on vacation, inhabiting their work space and maintaining the appearance of business as usual was well, business as usual.

On this particular December day, after chopping a thick blanket of ice off of my windshield to get there, I found a 50-seat call center with two employees, counting me. My companion for the weeks before, during and after Christmas informed me that there really was nothing we could do but call 911 if a fire broke out.

“About all there is to do is play solitaire or minesweeper.” This was the turning point in life where I realized I had to get a “real” job. Jan 1 fell on a Monday that year and they employed me and my minesweeping partner to take down Christmas decorations. At least it was something to do that kept the blood from pooling up around our ankles. I called the agency, which now owed me a favor in my eyes for the unfinished assignment debacle, and informed them I was only interested in temp-to-perm assignments. These assignments offered an additional 35 cents an hour and often required a job interview. This kind of cancelled out one of the key features of temping, getting to work without having to interview.

I think of this assignment often during the winter holidays, because it was the end of temping for me. That next year I took a sales job where the only requirement was to pass a drug test and be outgoing. At around year four my father stopped asking me if I still worked there. I never told him that I went from department to department until I found my stride. My time there lasted just short of ten years.

There’s still lots more to tell, stick around till next year, and have a safe and happy Christmas.090.31101222_std


Two Temp Jobs That Nearly Killed Me

keep-calm-call-kelly-servicesSome of the jobs were more temporary than others, and to this day I still till believe temping is a great way to get a job if you have the stomach for it. If you are competent and live by the old “fake it til you make it” adage, you might make a great temp, and temp-to-perm is how I found quite a few of the 25 jobs. (To qualify for this list, a  job had to have a minimum duration of least two months and/or supply me with a laminated necklace name tag).

Temporary work provides exposure to a wide variety of people, hardware, software, & human resources that might other-wise take years to gain. If you get an intolerable assignment you can get out of it pain-free if you just stick out the week. The downside is that they might only give you 37.5 hours of work a week yet require you to work 40 to get any benefits-this may have changed but that’s how it was for me.

It’s hard to continually leave places that seem to have pleasant work environments, even though you know in your heart that if you work there you will be sucked into the drama that is easily avoided when you are temporary. Every day can feel like a job interview, both a pro and a con.

An eerie beginning…

The hardest assignment was going into a building that was a bank that changed ownership over the weekend. People were calling who had just learned of the takeover on the news. We (the temp crew) didn’t even understand this until the phones started ringing. We were given a script and had to repeatedly parrot insipid responses to reasonable questions people ask when they don’t know where their money is.

The place had been totally remodeled over the weekend, new paint, new carpet, new corporate identity: walk-ins were literally crying and figuratively giving anyone in sight the finger. The formaldehyde in the carpet and the newness of everything gave me a migraine; the opportunist in me said stick this out and see what becomes of it. After two weeks, they kept the best, and I was not one of them. My downfall was listed on my pink slip as “too much empathy with the caller”. OK, there was no pink slip and I made that whole last sentence up. But that’s what it felt like. See? I am empathetic!

I spent six weeks at Continental Insurance, where I was hired to help an executive get organized. His idea was to have me go through every file in a wall of cabinets and determine what was in the file, categorize and label everything. I said should we make a database so the list is more searchable? This is where I learned database management which would come in handy later.

This particular executive was also in the middle of a “what not to wear” style make over. His management hierarchy did not think he was professional enough and they were especially grieved at the luggage he toted to work each day. This guy, a tall, good-looking blonde in always fresh suits, had a briefcase and two giant wheeled suitcases of stuff he wrestled into the office each day. The contents of these bags? The imagination runs free. I would reflect on this years later, when I would have a company laptop full of social security numbers for one of the jobs.

The job that came with a map of the building…

When they asked me at the agency if I knew unix, I had no idea what that was but I figured I had a weekend to use this new thing, the internet, to find out what I might need to know. Word processing is word processing, I was able to muddle through. This was a tough assignment,. I was filling in for a high-level secretary who was on leave because her husband had had a heart attack.

I would come in the AM and settle in to the small room that accommodated three of us. The other two were taking this absence-of boss time to have a mini-vacation at work. They talked incessantly, and my ADD made it hard to focus on the LINK Dictaphone.

There was a giant paperclip on the desk, and it would have letters for me to enter into the system each day. Some days there would be a bunch, some days there wouldn’t be much and the boredom was palatable.

I was reminded of a John Berryman poem excerpted here:

From Dream Song 14

Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.’ I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

(Find entire poem here.)

On the third day a guy whipped into the room, threw some papers into the brass clip, and sped out as quickly as he had flown in, sans greeting. I looked at the other two women, the one closest to me filing her nails and the other one doing night-school homework.

Me: Who was that?

Her: (Without looking up, and with a gum-chewing scowl): That was your boss.

I loved the giant, six-story building, offices all around the perimeter, live  trees dotting the interior creating little nooks and crannies where one could lunch and hang out. It was my first time working where security was taken seriously-think Person Of Interest without the German Shepherd. Lunch was often difficult because as a Kelly employee you only got a half hour, and you were working with people who got an hour. This made connecting with others a challenge, but a necessary evil if one hoped to become permanent.

There was no time to leave, nowhere to go. Sitting in a staff area felt presumptuous at best, even though I would often be told to go there. In climate weather I would go outside and wolf down a sandwich, winter and rainy times I would be forced to eat at my desk. There was a lovely and inexpensive cafeteria, but even that was too time consuming to navigate in my thirty minutes.

Smoking was still prevalent and workers here had measured breaks varying in length by if the boss smoked or not. I watched a million dollar deal go down by a hand-shake and a Salem 100.

One day I returned to my desk to find a note in the clip–interrupt the meeting if so-and-so calls. When the call came, I nervously knocked on the heavy conference room door. Boss was on the phone and waved me into the packed room. I felt so out-of-place it occurred to me I might faint. The next morning my paperclip message said “thanks for yesterday,” as if we had had some sort of office dalliance instead of a shared post-it note with a side-dish of panic.

The progress of the heart attack guy moved slowly. Each week meant another opportunity to impress someone, make a connection, a chance to stay; a foster puppy on probation in a new home with white carpeted floors. I might get to stay, but I could feel the odds against me. I wanted a real, benefit-laden full-time job, even though by five PM I wanted to take my own life in that windowless room. I stuck this one out mostly because if I didn’t, I had a feeling nobody would know I was missing.

What’s in the box? Episode 2 (One of the 25 jobs)

Someone taking our picture was odd for the times, it was the school photographer with his giant square camera and his blinding flash. Even as an adult, I feared him and his box of combs.

Someone taking our picture was odd for the times, it was the school photographer with his giant square camera and his blinding flash. Even as an adult, I feared him and his box of combs.

I peel another photo out of the memory box, ill-named, as there are things there I do not remember at all. Hand-written scraps in script that don’t ring a bell. Sad things, those little photos you get at funeral parlors, with a Psalm on one side and the dead’s picture on the other. This picture is a happy thing, and it rings a school bell! There are some old computers in this classroom,  and yes, that is a 5 1/4″  floppy drive on the desk, along with a dot-matrix printer. This stuff would replace the IBM Selectric Typewriters in a few short years. For now, it was like something out of Star Trek.

I spent a school year volunteering to help out in the new (first) computer lab at the kid’s elementary school. I did this because like computers and figured I was capable of the task; it seemed the least painful way to be a part of the school (read: not much interaction with other authority figures), it would enhance my resume. But I mostly did it for selfish reasons. I needed to know what my little angels, just down the hall, were up to, and this gave me a little glimpse.

I can’t remember the little girl’s name but she was my favorite. She had a calm demeanor and really liked the computers. I liked hearing her call me Mrs. Roth. She had the audacity to chew gum, and I never stopped her. We had an understanding.

This picture is so old, not every was on board with computers in the classroom, and entire PTA meetings would be devoted to the topic. Today the questions lean towards “Should we still be teaching cursive writing?” I feel Bernice shaking her head.

This was the same grammar school I attended I as a child, the school I was supposed to walk to the day I had to be bailed out. The only kid who needed a map for grammar school, that was me.

The notes on the wall said things like “plug in before use” and “do not use with wet hands.” The difference between keyboarding and word processing was painstakingly written out.

My glasses kept getting larger and heavier each year.The color of cough medicine, this particular pair  had a liquid look to the rims and were likely the “daring “ pair on the rack when I bought them. The photo proves I took the advice to dress casually to the next level. Sometimes we crawled around on the floor to plug things in, we were our own IT department. My daughters were in grade school and I still appear to be wearing maternity clothes. The teachers all wore skirts and nylons, so it was easy to separate the grown-ups.

I took this assignment without knowing I would be the only adult in the classroom. Since the job was titled “Technology Aid” I somehow expected to be aiding someone. Since I was an Audio Visual Aid Society member in high-school, I figured I could surely keep a room full of networked computers running for a couple of hours a week.

This was during the time I also sold Avon. I did these things because the thought of a full-time job and child-care was overwhelming, but also, I liked doing them. The kids in the class were little enough to enjoy learning and were respectful, except one or two that you already knew were going to spend most of their later lives in some form of detention.

They let me have coffee in the teacher’s room, an empty room save the coffee pot that made twelve cups at a time. Primarily a place where teachers went to smoke, I enjoyed feeling connected to the education world by hanging out after class. A few of the teachers had me as a student, and I couldn’t believe they were still at it. I would last one year in this volunteer position.

One more thing, that kid raising his hand in the back of the room? He probably just needed a reboot. I didn’t yet know it yet, but I did, too.

About the passing of a true gentleman.


Lord Piers Anthony Weymouth Wedgwood has passed away.

When I write about the 25 jobs,  there are several reasons I haven’t mentioned the time I spent doing a little marketing and managing Lord Wedgwood’s schedule.  There are a few reasons, but mostly I ‘m  waiting for the paperback edition.

Even though he was only a few years my senior, I was star-struck by him. His wit, his charm and his kindness  were awe-inspiring. I never saw him show anger, although I saw him in stress-inducing situations. Once he nearly flew to the wrong country because of me,  and all he could do was whisper in my ear “we almost both  got snookered that time.”

When I worked for Wedgwood and was making the move to the Waterford side of things (more money, more perceived opportunity), he didn’t want to hold me back.  When I was leaving, I had glassy eyes saying goodbye.  He cheered me by pulling out an 8×10 and drawing on it with his characteristic gold sharpie. (Part of my job had been to make sure he had 5 things: plenty of sharpies and photos, gifts for whoever was on his visitation list that month, his airline schedule and his airline neck pillow). Recipients of the gifts always thought he picked them out just for them, and the thing was, he did!

As a member of the Wedgwood Society of Washington D.C., Inc ,  I am always  happy to get the monthly newsletter.  Today’s issue had Piers (he wanted me to call him that but I never could) on the cover and I knew immediately that he was gone.

Maybe one day that will be one of the 25 jobs I’ll tell you about.  For today, I’ll just say goodbye, old friend. Rest peacefully.

That time we lived next door to a murderer, Part II (Conclusion)

Last known address of Gabrial Ornez, The East-Jersey State Prison, formerly Rahway State Prison. Credit Jackie Finn, Elizabeth NJ.

Last known address of Gabrial Ornez, The East-Jersey State Prison, formerly Rahway State Prison. Credit Jackie Finn, Elizabeth NJ.

Very little information changed hands the first time I met the FBI agent, and since I had only weeks prior started working at the newspaper, it all seemed serendipitous: here I was,  in my early 20’s, with a Pulitzer prize-winning story falling in my lap.

Hod was building our trust, casing the joint, (add any number of other crime show clichés you might like to apply here). As he left, he asked us to please not tell anyone about the investigation. It seemed a fair trade to avoid search and seizure. I was lucky I didn’t have a seizure from having a detective in the apartment. Fear of authority, people, it’s a real thing.

It was about a week before we heard from Hod again, this time with a side kick. Having grown accustomed to keeping the place fumigated with Lysol you would think my paranoia level would be manageable, but not so much.

On this visit they got right to the point: Our neighbor, Eddie, our  new chorizo friend, was wanted for a felony and they were in the process of mapping out his comings and goings (as well as ours), to determine where and when to safely bring him in.

In less than a week Hod returned, this time accompanied by a squad car. He wanted to tie up a few loose ends and put our minds at ease with the news that they had apprehended Gabrial Ornez in connection with the murder of a teenage girl. Hod was high on case-closure hormones and nervously told us some stuff he probably shouldn’t have, the next evening’s newspaper filled in the rest of the felonious details.

In 1977, a teenage girl was shot and killed while innocently walking by a NJ Jewelry store during an attempted armed robbery. The shooter went on the lam for almost 10 years, building a life as a con man. He told us he imported cheese,  with the occasional chorizo thrown in.

Part 1 of this post:

Response to the challenge cliffhanger.