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.

That time I was sexy-broke.

When I dug out this photo, I was surprised the artwork was not how I had remembered it!

When I dug out this photo, I was surprised the artwork was not how I had remembered it!

Presently a trend in make-up towards dramatic lips OR dramatic eyes forces one to make a choice, but in 1983 we women (and Chuck Wollery) enjoyed both! There was no smoky eye, the eye was either blue or green, lids painted like little garage doors, like little Volkswagen convertibles, lashes dark with mascara forming little windshield wipers.

I was facing the back of the room and the “keyhole” opening of my semi-backless jumpsuit was likely the first and last time I attempted such a feat: the black crepe neither loose nor clingy felt wonderful and I gave no thought to what the ladies room would involve once I was belted into this. I loved the look and feel of my outfit and imagined our big night out with childlike enthusiasm. It was our first anniversary, “Married” magazine had just selected one of my stories for publication, and life was good.

We stood in front of the Arthur Skinnner print “Dies Irae” for the photo. I scrimped and saved to buy the etching at $250. It looked fabulous on the stark white wall of my apartment years earlier but it was really too large for this one.

Skinner was an art professor at the college. I didn’t know him but used to attend all the art shows on opening night, a good way to meet people and enjoy free snacks. Humus (called mashed chick peas back then), gently browning around the edges, was a staple at each Elliott Gallery opening, along with the cheapest possible wine spritzer an undergraduate could muster.

I moved several times and that print was always the first thing I hung up and the last thing I took from each place. I mention the cost because rent at the time was only $205. I can’t underscore the comfort and happiness this particular piece granted me. Over the years, people have been unusually generous with their comments regarding how dark, dreary and depressing they find this particular piece of art. It just makes me love it more.

We worked such long hours with conflicting schedules it is a wonder that we found time to notice we liked each other, much less get a dinner out. This particular night, on the occasion of our first anniversary, we stopped and had our picture taken standing in front of the print, shown here. I promise to show you the whole thing one day.

The film had to be sent away to be developed, and before we had children and began chronicling their every move, we used maybe 4 rolls of film a year, and almost all photos were taken while visiting others. A roll of film was perhaps 20 pictures and a 50% success rate was a big win. It cost $8 to develop a roll and the wait was a week. Wait, what?

Yes! The mailman brought the prints or we picked them up at a local drugstore. We didn’t yet have our first VCR and getting the film prints was at least as good as seeing a movie. If this idea is incomprehensible to you, you might want to take your selfie out of here, right now. It is about to get much worse!

The first year or so we were married, we didn’t have a phone. We didn’t miss the phone, or think we needed a phone. As our other friends started feathering their nest with comforters and televisions, we feathered ours with two baby girls one right after the other. When you have babies, people force you to get a phone: all I can say is thank God. Our families supplied everything we needed, and made us promise to get a phone “in case of emergency.” We had that phone when we had to take our baby to the NICU.

Our anniversary day began when our friend Patrick came over and hot-rollered my frizzy, permed tresses. Deeming Hubby an unacceptable match for his new creation, he administered a fast, manly haircut to my mate.

Finally, freshly coiffed, it was time to go! We piled in our 20 year old Ford Falcon (all three of us) and dropped Patrick off on the way. The restaurant was beautiful, and I can still remember my delicious stuffed chicken. We were at the Brown Derby,  St. Petersburg, Florida, but as far as I was concerned, it could have been the Don Cesar. I excused myself after dinner and Hubby stood up, 30-something years later, can still feel his fingers gentle on my near my near backless key-hole crepe black jumpsuit, pointing me to the restroom.

What happened next is a blur. I returned to the table to find him still standing there, looking pale and sheepish, a look reserved for things like VCR’s eating the “rental” movie, or an unexpected  EPT result. My first thought was that he  administered the “new Heimlich maneuver” to a fellow diner in my absence.

Holding the check, he quietly confessed that he didn’t have enough money. After some rummaging around in my purse we scraped up enough to pay for the meal but left our waiter tipless. Our hearts hurt and it put a damper on things, but we rallied by midnight and our coach did not turn into a pumpkin. It wasn’t the first nor the last time I felt like Cinderella close to midnight, my Prince Charming by my side.

Update #1: Married magazine folded after a single issue. In an act unheard of today, they sent me a chocolate 7 layer cake as a consolation prize.

Update #2: After being in the tipless situation I make sure there is enough cash to make a mortgage payment on the restaurant before going in. I am incredibly appreciative of ATMs.