More adventures in temping

What we have here, gentlemen, is an empty white board. Any questions?

No, Chuck, it's not a white pony in a blizzard. I haven't started yet.

My second run-in with temping came after my first layoff. I was toiling in obscurity, waiting to see what grandiose opportunity would present itself next. The internet bubble had just popped, and those who chased fast lives and huge windfalls were slinking back to the relative security of big corporations everywhere. The collective grovelling was almost audible. Unemployment paid my bills while I sent out resumes and freelanced as a writer. But panic about money soon set in (really impatience and stupidity), and I went back to temping.

My temping adventures began with a day of meetings at various agencies. The plan was to maximize my chances, with multiple agencies finding me work. At each meeting I took tests in typing and various Microsoft Office applications, even ones I didn’t know. All MS applications are organized similarly, and these tests only register an answer when you release the mouse button. So I simply scrolled through menu options until I found something that looked right. It usually was. With my test scores in hand, an agency rep interviewed me, basically to confirm that I could speak in complete sentences without drooling. I passed that test too, I think.

My first assignment was at an organization for blind people, updating a survey database. Another guy and I sat in a poorly lit, windowless room entering data and listening to George Bush steal the presidency on painfully slow computers. Every five minutes the stream buffered, cutting out a key piece of the story. Now and again a blind person would wander in and use a computer loaded with special software that vocalized every word the user moused over. What was very interesting for about 30 seconds became really distracting. Ever had a friend spit random numbers at you while you try to count? It’s that kind of annoying, except you can’t just hit a blind stranger in the chest and tell them to shut up. The whole experience was really depressing. A year and a half after moving to New York, I was doing data entry, not writing about music or running the A&R department at a cool indie label. My hopes were slipping away with Al Gore‘s.

2000 drifted into 2001, and I landed some phone-answering gigs and a longer-term office worker stint at a psychiatric clinic. The craziest people there weren’t the patients. The clinic assistants and other assorted peons were embroiled in a power struggle. I managed to steer clear initially, filing and collating as instructed, and studying for the GMATs on breaks. The hard work was soon “rewarded” with a new assignment – filling in for the head guy’s assistant while she was on vacation. As it turned out, my responsibilities included ordering this guy’s salad everyday and putting on the dressing before serving it for him. (Insert salad-tossing reference here, because that’s about how degrading it felt.) My “promotion” raised the ire of certain jealous staffers, apparently including whoever dealt with the temp agency. I got word the next Monday morning on my way out the door that my assignment had been discontinued. “They no longer required my services.”

My initial assessment of temping after the hotel headquaters stint was that it kind of sucks. But at least I could use it to my own ends. My revised assessment after this plum clinic assignment was that it sucks major ass. And because I’d forsaken unemployment insurance for temp work, I was stuck. I couldn’t go back on the dole. Being required to temp is much worse than having the choice to temp.

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