Call me Rev.
Everybody else does, or, as I tend to be honest, almost everybody I am on speaking terms with does.
I'm a part time.... again... to be honest, I am a part time Everything. Part time Divinity student at a seminary here in Cincinnati, a part time security guard with my apartment complex, and part time worker with a temporary agency. And it is that last 'part time' that has become the subject of this essay.
As I did have a reason to be in town, and had been here for several years already as a student, the three bedroom apartment was in my name, with the contract rider that the other two bedrooms would be sublet to those with whom I was familiar and could vouch for their character, and who would pay 'their fair share' of the rent and utilities.
My, 'vouching for their character' was subject to change without notice, as you'll see later on, but mainly that they had a job. And because I was registered with the agency that was managed by the mother of an old friend of mine, the vast majority of those who ended up living in my apartment were working, more or less actively for the temporary service agency. That was most of them, most, but not all. And we'll touch on a few of the others as we go. The main thing was, they all had a job of some description that provided a reasonable income on a fairly regular basis.
It was a good thing that the apartment complex's ownership group was in another state, and their 'local representative' lived in another city over a hundred miles away, and had not, to my knowledge, even been in my building in the three years that I'd lived there when I begin this account.
So with that in hand, let's begin with the day the twins moved in and Elizabeth went to work at the glass factory on a 'temp to hire' plan.
"Do you know what you're doing?"
"nope, no idea"
"Need any help?"
1. Us, Here.
Bakker Custom Glass is a glass container factory within walking distance of my apartment building, and a lot of us have worked there. I've worked there as a temp, and I have worked there as a guard for the security company I've work with over summers and as vacation and holiday relief for a couple of years now.
I can explain their business like this. If you make small batches of an exclusive perfume, or rather "parfum" when you're talking about the price tags I've seen, and you want maybe a couple of hundred small fancy glass bottles to put it in, you call Bakker. They also sell things they call "art glass", and will custom cast parts for high end chandeliers and things like that. If you're looking to drop more than I spent for my car on a table lamp, Bakker's retail shop is your place. As far as the medical bottle unit that had started the factory a couple of generations ago, that side of the shop was almost totally automated now and I've been told that in most cases, the first time any human ever sees the majority of those bottles and salve jars is when a pharmacist takes it out of the box with three dozen of its cousins and puts whatever needs a glass bottle in it.
The process is a lot more human intensive with the art glass. And a lot more profitable for Bakker on a per piece basis.
The Twins moved in after the female half of the duo got a job at Bakker. She had started in their order processing office making sure that the one thousand wine bottles went to the winery and the one gross of seashell shaped perfume bottles went to the perfumer and 'when will the custom color facial cream jars be ready for Canada?'. It was a good job because there's not a lot of turnover in the offices or in the casting rooms. Unlike in their packaging division or shipping floor. In the casting department you have artisans and craftsmen, some of whom are third generation glass-formers who grew up watching their fathers and grandfathers use Bakker's exclusive patented process for doing what they did.
However, once the little rainbow face cream jar comes out of the casting room and cools, its life as it knows it changes. Once it passes through those swinging doors it ceases to be 'art glass' and becomes just another item to be packed in something that will keep it from breaking while it is bouncing around in the back of a semi-trailer being sent to wherever it is going. But if you're on their packaging line and have a case of the butter fingers today and you break too many of them so that some artisan back in the casting room has to make more of them, you won't be there long.
Unfortunately, while broken glass does recycle nicely in their furnaces, man hours don't.
Elizabeth Monroe, and don't you dare call her Liz or anything like that, is the older of the twins by a full ten minutes, and she'll joke that her brother, Ed, who doesn't mind being 'Ed' or even 'Eddie' instead of Edward, has been ten minutes late to everything ever since.
I can vouch for Ed being on time to work, at least while he lived with us. He arrived in our apartment while working nights stocking shelves at a major retail store, then, as things go, he got on at another one of the places not far from here, where he made a very good wage spending most of his time waiting to be told what to do all night.
Elizabeth moved into the 'girls room' of the apartment and decided she didn't mind being on the top bunk and furthest from what was the apartment's original Master Bath off their bedroom.
She had one roommate when she moved in. Sarah had been with us for awhile while she worked as a temp in every office in the city and went to might school to get a professional certificate to be a medical office assistant. Becky had just moved out after, of all things, she had gotten a promotion and was about to get married.
About a week later Ed moved into the 'boys room' where he bunked with Tom and Seth. Tom worked at Bakker on the loading dock while Seth alternated between temp work and pulling apparently random shifts in a 'fast casual' restaurant.
The boys room was across the hall from the largest bathroom in the apartment and was only slightly smaller than the master bedroom, and while it didn't have an attached bathroom, but it did have a closet big enough to lose a bicycle in.
I'm not kidding. When a guy named Scott needed money he sold his bike to a guy he worked with at the Reliant trucking depot. The guy that bought it showed up at the apartment and wanted his new bicycle. Scott went to get it, and came back out in a couple of minutes and accused us of pulling a practical joke on him. So the rest of us went to prove that nobody was pranking him. Except I didn't see the 'full sized, twelve speed, two hundred and fifty dollars new not that long ago, just sold for a hundred and a quarter, including the nice saddle bag, bicycle' anywhere in the closet.
Scott swore it was 'in there just the other day', so the four of us started pulling stuff out of the closet and, then, after a good pile of reusable shopping bags, clothes, the backpack that belonged to a guy that moved out six months ago, and a winter coat that nobody in the place had ever seen before, we found the bicycle.
The other bedroom, which had a half bath attached, was mine. I shared the smallest bedroom with the other 'oldster' of the bunch. Walt was a friend of mine who was an almost full time seminary student pursuing a doctoral level degree in something I laughingly said I understood: "Comparative Political Theology". I just went and checked, that's the topic for his dissertation.
He stays here on weekends to get away from campus and, as he put it, decompress in the real world. While here, he watches a lot of sports on TV and does a lot of cooking, of which he said he enjoyed the cooking the most. And as he didn't mind preparing excellent, and almost gourmet grade food for people with really odd schedules who thought something out of a vending machine that you put in a microwave oven to warm up was a good meal, his weekends here were welcomed by all.
And, oh, yeah, I need to say this: His considering our apartment 'the real world' proves that you do have to be clinically insane to be a grad student in a seminary.
Now, pardon me while I describe my bedroom's half bath. The only thing I can think of is that when they built the place they discovered that they had put two closets in the same bedroom, so they converted the smaller of the two into a half bath with a comically small corner sink that would be right at home on an airliner, and the world's skinniest toilet in the other corner. The only thing in it that was full size was the medicine cabinet on the wall opposite the door, and, given the other two fixtures, it looked out of place. The room was small, but functional, and I'd become quite adept at taking my daily shower in the middle of the night and then using my Lilliputian water closet instead of standing in line to get to the hallway bathroom in the mornings to get ready for work or school because at least one of the girls would be in there instead of in their own dedicated bathroom.
Elizabeth hadn't finished her first week at the glass works when she had noticed something that she didn't like about the way the manager of the shipping department, with whom she had to work closely on a regular basis, treated the temps and casual-seasonal part timers they called in to help process large orders.
"She talks down to them and treats them like they've never done anything before in their lives. And some of them have been working there for years. Miss Penny said she's been working there for Christmas and during busy times for a dozen years. She's over fifty and Angela talks to her like she's in third grade." Elizabeth is one that likes to talk with her hands almost like she is using sign language. And if you stand too close to her when she really gets going you can feel the breeze. "I asked Miss Penny why she keeps coming back and she said that Angela is something like the fifth manager she's worked for that she can remember, and that she'll still be there long after Angela has moved on."
According to what Elizabeth said, Miss Penny is one of the longest running temps, not only at the glass factory, but at the employment agency, period. I asked her if her employee number was in the single digits.
"No, she's not that low, but since they are sequential, the new hires are in the three hundred thousand series, she's in the low one hundred thousands."
I've seen that sort of behavior myself. One of my friends is a teaching assistant at the seminary who works as a temp over the summer so he doesn't have to go home or sponge off his friends when classes are out. He's got a masters degree in teaching and is working toward one in education theory at the city university. Last summer he was called to fill in as a stock clerk at one of the 'warehouse stores' in town. When he went in for the interview the assistant manager assumed that because he was a 'temp' that he couldn't read or write well enough to understand their pre-assignment paperwork. My friend then took great joy in pointing out typos and incorrect usages in their packet as the manager 'helped him through it'.
Once, when I was working through another agency before I got on at this one, the manager that was working with a group of us at another firm actually used puppets to explain a basic procedure to us. I didn't stay there long after that.
Now, don't get me wrong, some people need that. I know a few of them. In fact, Dave Two who lived with us for about a year, was one of them. Give me a moment to explain that. To start with, we've had, at last count, four Daves.
Over the years, four Daves, although one was a David. Three Lynns. And no fewer than five Bobby's, of whom two were girls, one of whom spelled her name the same as the boys.
But anyway, Dave Two was unique. He worked, and worked hard. But you had to show him what he was doing several times. Even he admitted that. And that was true at work and at home.
Dave Two didn't have a high school diploma, and, at age twenty-three, he was still working on a "GED" type of diploma. Dave and 'book schooling' didn't get along and barely even spoke the same language.
And now you're going to ask me if good ol' Dave Two was a bit slow around the edges. And to be honest, yes, he was, in things that required him to read, as is my most famous example with him, reading the instructions on the flat pack entertainment center we bought, "with attractive storage compartment and player nook with matching patterned doors and opposite sided shelving units", and understanding that part G-3 and part D-1 are the same damned thing except one had four holes for the little screws and the other had two holes for slightly different sized screwed. But once the rest of us decided that whoever had written the instructions didn't speak English and had never even seen the final product in person and took a break, Dave Two put it together in about fifteen minutes, and it is still together.
He said he looked at the pictures on the box, so he knew how it had to go, so he did it. And never looked at the instructions. So the Spanish and French and some sort of Oriental script all on the same page booklet was still on the couch.
And, no, not every temp who doesn't have a lot of schooling will be a Dave Two, but not every one of them, of us, is a moron that needs a puppet show either.
It wasn't long after that that that Elizabeth told me that the shipping manager found another job at a call center for a bank.
I'm glad it wasn't a bank I had an account at.
Ed moved in slowly over the course of a couple of weeks. And it wasn't until they both came out early one morning for one of Walt's famous breakfast buffets when I finally got to see them sitting side by side and realized that they really were twins.
Some fraternal twins look like they're not even related, others, like Elizabeth and Ed at the breakfast table, are the male and female versions of the same thing. In fact, at least to me, if you just looked at their faces, you could barely tell them apart. On the other hand, when they were standing there discussing which toppings they wanted on their scrambled eggs, they were similar, but somewhat different. She had a nice athletic shape and was definitely female while he was a bit stout, and very well muscled, and, as I found out helping him move his junk into our storage unit, strong as an ox. No, strike that. He was as strong as a team of oxen.
It was on the other side of things where they were totally different. Elizabeth liked her clothes and accessories as much as any young woman ever has while her brother seemed content with two pair of blue jeans, one pair of 'dress pants' and a handful, literally, of T-shirts. While Ed didn't own a watch, or any jewelry, or even a really good pair of sunglasses. His sister made up for it and had enough and to spare.
Now don't go off accusing me of misogynistic sentiment here. No. It's not that at all. Elizabeth had no less than three jewelry boxes, one dedicated solely to rings and watches. But we've had men in the apartment that had a watch for every day of the week, as well a couple of spares.
One of the 'Bob's that's been through here had a ring that he never wore, but that he liked to haul out and show off with little or no provocation. OK, it was a cool ring. And I learned something from his being here with it. I didn't know the winners of the American League got a championship ring. I thought only the World Series winners got a ring. Like I said, I learned something. And Bob came by the ring honestly, it had belonged to his father who worked for the club that had won the ALCS but lost the big one.
Another male roommate had at least as many necklaces and earrings and even bracelets as Elizabeth had, but that's enough said about that for now.
"So, how many people have been through this apartment?" Ed asked me one Friday evening not long after they'd gotten settled in, it was the question and resulting discussion that ended up in this bit of literature being written.
Walt was in the kitchen making some sort of casserole that called for, of all things, steamed cauliflower and grilled bacon, and "with extra cheese" he said about three times. He stopped cooking and looked at me, "That's a good question. I mean, some of them have been in and out of here and I never even got to meet them."
"I keep track, give me a minute and I'll let you know," I went over and woke up my laptop.
As part of the sublet agreement, I have to know who is here, who was here, and who might join us here, how much they are paying on the rent and utilities, and where to have their mail forwarded to when they up and skip out and turn up in Denver. Not that that would ever happen.
It just took a minute, "OK, got it. Do you want the last year or the whole three years and change that I've been here?"
"All three years," Elizabeth said, "how many boys, how many girls, who stayed the longest...."
"... besides you..." Walt added in the middle of her statement, "and me. What have I got? Right at three?"
I nodded to him, "Three years, two months and counting."
"And who was here the shortest amount of time."
"The shortest would be easy. That'd be a girl named Sandi. She paid a down payment and signed the month to month contract, moved some stuff in, spent one night, and we never saw her again. The next day her and her suitcase were gone."
"What happened to her?"
"A couple of days later she came back to get the rest of her stuff. Her parents moved her back into their house."
The twins laughed for a minute, then I told them about the shortest term male resident. Instead of moving back home, his probation officer moved him back to a much bigger house after less than two weeks with us for his failing to stay in contact and all that. "It was his third violation. He just never learned."
Walt was nodding, "For the longest female, I'd bet that'd be either be Mary the nurse or, oh, what did we call her?" he stuttered for a moment, "I can see her face, lot of blonde hair and teeth. Worked at the place up by the Catholic school."
"Lynniepoo," I offered pronouncing it as four syllables for emphasis.
The twins laughed at the name.
Walt was looking at me so I had to explain it, "We had two Lynns here at the same time for awhile, one was a guy, and besides, she looked like a Lynniepoo."
"Yes, she did," he agreed.
"OK, I've got it. There have been three women here for over a year each. Those two and one more, which do you think was here for one year, and just over ten months?"
Walt stopped prepping the food, "The third one has to be the one that hated to be called Roberta, the office only temp."
"It was, she was one of the Bobbies."
He was thinking hard, "Lynn was cute," he said almost to himself but we all heard it anyway.
"Yeah, made the 'no fraternization in the apartment' thing difficult." Then he sighed. "Not that she liked me like that anyway. OK, just because I don't have a clue, I'll say the nurse. Mary - something."
"Give the man a cigar!" I announced dramatically. "Lynniepoo was here for a year and a half, and Roberta Bobby was here for a year and four months."
From there we discussed the guys, including one of the Daves who had been here for almost two years total, but only about eight months at the longest at a time. He had just moved out again after three months, this time, just before Ed moved in.
Then came who had come from where.
"The closest would be Taylor."
"The divorced woman from downstairs?" Walt said from over at the stand mixer, "I remember her."
"Yes. Her and her husband got a divorce, he went into the army, she moved up here for...." I scrolled across, "Six months, then she moved over to Covington across the river. So that would be the closest before and after."
"Who came from the furthest to move in?"
"Which is further away? Malaysia or Ghana in Africa?"
"Not counting exchange students."
"Then it would be Miami or San Diego. Oh, here's another one, Ketchikan, Alaska. That might win that prize."
There was a round of random laughter and debate for a few minutes that was quite entertaining.
"So, all told, not counting the nine that are here right now, there have been about thirty people that have called this place home at one time or another. Some for longer, a lot of them for just a few months. It looks like the average stay is about five months." I said trying to do the math in my head.
"And we're the latest," Elizabeth said.
"And our first brother and sister combination, and first set of twins."
"Cool," Ed said with a nod.
Even with all the interruptions, the casserole was excellent, and, as usual, there was enough for Walt to make up individual meals to put in the fridge for the rest of our roommates that would come and go all evening.
And one of those was me. I put one of the small containers of the casserole and the side dishes he'd made in my lunch bag and went to get dressed for my evening shift on security out in front of the complex in the corner of the main office building.
Now about the "No Fraternization" rule that Walt mentioned.
Having this many otherwise unattached people all sharing the same small space, most of whom are young adults, males and females and all that entails, could become emotionally, and even romantically untenable quickly. And to be honest, again, we have had some unfortunate situations arise. But, because I also live in the real world, I've also added a caveat, if you both wish to take your friendship down that carnal path, and many have, you can move it to your car in the parking lot, or anywhere else, or you are even welcome to go down to the basement and 'straighten up' our apartment's storeroom.
Just clean it up and air it out after you get it all sweaty.
Some have accused me of living in a swinging pad of open three way fornication on the dining room table. Well, that is they do until they stop by and find out that on the whole, it is rather dull around here most of the time, and unless you enjoy listening to a prolonged discussion about hair care products when you have to wear a hat all day in an institutional kitchen, you might be a bit bored.
And before you ask, yes, once upon a time I did spend some time in the storeroom with a young lady who I had thoughts about proposing to, however, she was not of a similar mind, and still isn't, and later, she took a job in Columbus, and then later in Chicago for the same company. The last I heard from her, now making over six figures a year, she still isn't ready to get married, to anybody, including the lawyer she is dating.
Since then, I've avoided becoming involved with anybody I was living with. And, no, I don't 'get involved' with anybody I work with, or, for the most part, that I go to school with either. So, I guess my social life won't make very entertaining reading from here out, so I'll focus on the other aspects of our lives that will.
Later, after I finished up with the twin's history lesson, and refreshed my own memory about some of our former roommates, I changed into my uniform and headed off to work in our complex's front office.
One of the things I have found fascinating over the years as a temp at various assignments, was watching other temps come to work. Or rather, their transportation to work, or lack thereof.
The agency prefers that you have reliable transportation to the job. But that's it. And the working definition of 'reliable' is somewhat flexible if the rest of your work history is above average and has even been known to include Grandma the Chauffeur. For me, my 'reliable transportation' is my car that is almost old enough to drive itself to work on a learner's permit and the city bus that stops right in front of the complex. Dave Two had a bicycle, and the bus, and, at need, his mom. The rest of those that came and went had everything else in between.
One of the guys that worked on the loading dock at Bakker drove a six wheeled flatbed truck. I have no idea how he made enough to keep it in fuel and oil on a temp's wages. But he did.
Another guy rode a disaster of an imported motorcycle that smoked, made some really disconcerting noises when at idle, and had a bad habit of leaving parts of itself in the parking lot. But it always ran and unless there was an ice storm overnight, he always rode it to work. One of the regulars who had a fancy brand name 'American' motorcycle spent more time talking about what it was in the shop for this week than he did riding it.
The one with the best ride to work was a guy named Bruce, and nobody with any sense argues with me about it.
Bruce spent part of his time working with his brother who rebuilt classic cars. And, as is the way of things, one of his brother's customers couldn't afford their bill, so his brother ended up with the car, and Bruce had a chance to borrow enough money from their grandparents to buy the thing for what was owed on it. So, every now and then, Bruce would drive his Other Car to work.
Most of the time Bruce drove a worn out ten year old sedan, with one door and fender a different color than the rest of it, and a trunk lid that was missing most of its paint and was held closed with a bungee cord, and an interior that made my car look good. But then, like I said, every so often, Bruce drove the car his brother sold to him, and the rest of us just shut up and marveled at it.
Bruce's other car is a mid-sixties classic muscle car that has been restored to better than showroom condition. And, as I often point out, it sounded as good as it looked. And then I also add that nobody ever said life would be fair.
Like Dave Two, a lot of temps that live too far from work to walk rode the city bus, some rode bicycles in good weather, and a few carpooled with each other or somebody they knew that worked in the same general area.
An exception was a guy named Charlie that rode to work with a friend of his who lived down the road and worked near where Charlie lived and would bring Charlie to work to keep him awake on his way home. Then when Charlie got off work, he'd catch a bus home.
It's worth noting that our apartment came with two assigned parking spaces next to the building. Two.
There is a general parking lot in the center of the complex with first come first served spaces but it is usually pretty full, and then a larger unpaved lot in the back where other tenants park everything from RVs to overhead utility trucks.
To avoid complaints from the other tenants, I park my old car back by an older couple's motorhome in the gravel lot. As does Walt when he's here. As most of the others park in the big lot in the middle of the compound just by habit, there have been times when our two assigned spots next to our building have been open for days on end except when the pizza delivery guy uses them.
But so it goes.
For what it's worth, Seth was the only one of us who could park his vehicle in either lot and, unless the lot was otherwise full, there wouldn't be a car in the spots on either side of it the next morning. His pickup truck was just that old and rough looking, and it had been known to smoke for an hour after he shut it off. The most remarkable thing about it was that while the front half was a GM product, the bed of the thing was Ford and a lot of ugly welds, so we all asked him if the engine was a Dodge.
His answer was serious, "some of it might be."
Most of the rest of my roommates have had regular cars. There's been a few minivans, and the usual selection of hatchbacks, and a couple of motorcycles or scooters, but nothing as remarkable as Seth's mismatched mistake of the industrial age with the mirrors off a semi truck and a running board only on the passenger side. Seth said the other one was probably still on the side of the road in Tennessee.
And while we're discussing what my roommates have brought with them, and sometimes left behind, I'll mention musical instruments.
We've never had bagpipes in the apartment. But I've seen, and helped move in and out, almost everything else.
Do you know how many types of professional grade tambourines there are? Both with and without drumheads on them? Oh, and with different pitch jingles. That's what those that play the instrument call the little cymbals that are around the outside. See, I learned something else.
Of course we've had various sorts of guitars, and several woodwinds, one guy stored a trombone on top of the entertainment center for awhile, but he never played it that I know of, and there's still a keyboard that somebody abandoned in the front closet last year that somebody else will occasionally pull out and play.
Besides stray musical instruments and the usual collection of books, knickknacks, and decorative items, the apartment has also accumulated an impressive array of kitchen gear. We have enough small deep fryers to outfit a truck stop. I've lost track of how many electric skillets we've gone through, there's enough of both of them stacked on the floor of the pantry that if somebody mentions they want one when they move out, we let them take their pick. And then there are the pots and pans.
The funny thing is that when most people move out, they seem to take all their stuff with them. Somehow, this stuff has just accumulated. I know I've never bought a deep fryer or an electric skillet, and Walt always fries stuff on the stove top in a huge old black iron skillet that must weight twenty pounds by itself.
But there is an advantage to having two spare microwave ovens in the storage unit downstairs. Besides having backup for when the one in our kitchen suddenly went dark and cold, we always have something to donate to the rental office's 'white elephant' sale to support one charity or another.
Something else we accumulate that I do directly appreciate is some of the sporting gear.
For example, if somebody comes across a fishing pole or something else useful in pursuit of a free meal, I'm in favor of it. Our apartment is within walking distance of a couple of parks and other fishing areas on the Ohio River, and there have been many weekends when the madness in the apartment makes the mile or so round trip down the hill and across a couple of busy highways and a set of railroad tracks to see what's out in that huge muddy stream very attractive indeed. But, many of the spare electric skillets or hot pots, and a gadgety can opener or two, most of the unclaimed squash rackets and soccer balls, and, believe it or not, a set of high speed Alpine skies, end up in the sale after about six months or so of being unclaimed.
Now, I guess I should talk about work.
"I don't mind being 'temporary', it's 'expendable' I don't like."
"how about 'disposable?"
"Don't like that either."
2. Them, There.
You've heard some about the glass factory and Elizabeth's job there.
Her 'temp to hire' was supposed to run for three or four months, after which they'd either offer her a full time position, or thank her for her time and send her on her way. They offered her full time not long after they said good bye to Angela. The only thing those of us that were getting to know her were surprised about was that it took them a month to do those two things.
She got a nice raise, and benefits, but she didn't want to move out anytime soon.
"I like it here," she told us when she announced her new position, "if I had my own place, or just one roommate, it'd be dull when I got home. Here, I never know what's going to be going on or who'll be here."
"True enough," I nodded.
Some of the others that did temp work ended up at a couple of other places. One of them was Ed who had told the agency that he liked working third shift.
That was all they needed to hear. He fast became one of the lead workers at a trucking outfit that ran a twenty four hour break of bulk and less than truckload depot in the industrial park north of our apartment. He even spent a week with little sleep to take the safety class and his lift truck certification so he could become the dock supervisor.
Evidently him and his sister inherited the same dedication to work gene from their parents, and it showed.
"You wouldn't believe the way some of the people there come to work," he said one Saturday morning after he'd been a boss for a couple of weeks. He'd come in just as Walt was putting out another epic breakfast.
"Oh, let's see," I said, "somebody came in an hour late..."
"... about half drunk." Walt added.
I nodded and continued, "And spent the next hour on their phone."
"... cussing at somebody named Yvonne," Walt finished.
Ed just stood and looked back and forth between us, still half wearing his work jacket. "It's wasn't Yvonne," he said. Then he chuckled and shook his head, "I forgot who was here. Actually, I think he was talking to somebody named Litch."
We could only laugh.
Seth's adventures as a temp worker usually landed him doing stuff for one or another local caterer. And one of them specialized in doing weddings, for which Seth got the equivalent of 'hazardous duty pay' because he was willing to work the front of the house where he sometimes ended up coming face to face with the mother of the bride.
The incident that I'm going to focus on happened the weekend after Memorial Day at a cathedral wedding that had seven bridesmaids, plus a Matron of Honor, and their assorted male escorts, a flower girl and ring bearer, a special soloist, and an expected attendance of just over three hundred invited and confirmed guests, the vast majority of whom should have also attended the reception in 'the big room' at one of the local country clubs where a band, full bar with two bartenders, and a three course dinner awaited them.
"There was maybe fifty or sixty people there all told," Seth said. "Both of the mothers were absolutely livid. I heard there weren't many more than that at the church for the ceremony."
The mothers spent some time blaming everybody they could think of for all the no shows. Then they started blaming each other. Then they began yelling at the catering staff.
"I just stood there and let'em rant. We were getting paid the same if we were feeding all of them or none of them."
After the upset mothers ran out of gas, the reception went ahead, everybody there ate all they wanted, including the band, and Seth still got to bring home enough Italian Chicken and vegetables and desserts for all of us to have a good meal from it for a couple of days.
One of my own long term assignments from the temp agency is at Bakker Glass, especially during the run up to Christmas, and sometimes Mother's Day.
As usual, they ran their special program on one of the big TV shopping networks and its related website, and they called ahead for everybody they could get for the week or so following the main two hour appearance and a handful of follow ups on the network over the next few days.
For that week, if you wanted overtime, you could work overtime, and if you didn't want overtime, you probably ended up with it anyway. But I knew that and going in, and I agreed to work five twelve hour days in a row, then worked the sixth day just because they offered.
The advantage I had was that I'd been there for similar runs the previous two years and I knew what jobs I liked and the ones I didn't. So I showed up early and told Mr. Killbourne that I'd work in my usual spot on the multi-pack line.
"I remember, you're good, go for it," he said.
My spot on that line was for those who ordered more than two items to be delivered to the same address. It took talent to pack three or more, sometimes a lot more, of the items in a box to be shipped halfway across the country, and have them all arrive intact. My record was getting eleven of the delicate fancy bottles in their delicate fancy boxes into a shipping box with enough cushioning and support that none of them were damaged when they got to Phoenix.
The multi item orders were picked by others in the warehouse and put into a big plastic tote with the manifest and shipping label on the conveyor to the shipping department, the rest was up to me.
It was a lot more interesting than stuffing one or two of the things into a small box with an air pack or some plastic peanuts, depending on what it was, and then taping it shut with the label and sending it out to shipping.
I had to judge the size of the box I'd need, and what sort of packing material, and then get it together, and make it happen as quickly as possible. But Mr. Killbourne and the other supervisors would rather the order was packed well and the items got to where they were going in one piece, and in one box if at all possible, than it being done fast and haphazard. Especially when you consider that the first order I got was five items that totaled well over two hundred dollars for the merchandise and another thirty for special shipping and insurance.
I got the next from the largest priority box and some of the foam packing and got to work. It had been about six months since I'd done the exact same job for their Mother's Day special, and it was like it had been last week.
"I wonder," I said out loud and opened the drawer between my work station and the next one over where a woman named Mary was packing three identical bottles in a custom personalized gift box. "There it is," I said and picked up the purple highlighter I'd been given last Christmas to initial the packing slip. All it meant was that nobody else had opened the drawer, otherwise, they would have borrowed the marker, and they never put it back.
Part of what I liked about doing this job was seeing where the packages were going, and reading any of the messages attached. My next order was a good example, "Katie gets the lavender" it said in the text box. As I now had a purple highlighter, I circled it to make sure the recipient saw it and went to get a box for four different items, all different sizes, and one that was a lot heavier than the others, and got it ready to head for a town I'd never heard of in Georgia.
But it also made it a quick twelve hour shift.
The best part of both their Christmas and Mother's Day sales weeks was that they fed you lunch at no charge for an eight hour shift, and two meals if you worked twelve or more. The factory's lunch room ran 24-7, and Seth had been known to work in there and had let us know that the food they put out was of overall better quality than some of the caterers he worked for.
"The Polish ham they use is great, I love it." He told us, "it's tender and not too salty or overly smoked like some of the others."
That was all it took for me, I had ham all week. And it was good.
And then there was an incident that got everybody's attention.
Part of the shipping department at Bakker is built over the old office complex. There's racks along the walls where various supplies like rolls of tape, markers, and even spare work gloves and other stuff is stored.
Tom was there one morning getting various outbound orders together when Carlos went upstairs to get a box of blank labels. He didn't come back for awhile and the others just figured he'd stopped to use the bathroom or was on his phone. They'd just called break when Tom noticed that Carlos wasn't there to borrow money off somebody to get a can of soda pop. Out of a five day work week, Carlos would borrow change off somebody at least three of those days. Oh, yeah, and he'd borrow a cigarette as well. Tom didn't smoke, but he always had a spare quarter or two for Carlos to borrow. And then, later, Carlos would pay him back.
"I'll go find him," Tom said to Marty, the dock supervisor, and headed off to the bathrooms.
Carlos wasn't in the restroom or in the hallway on his phone. Tom looked outside toward the smoking area, a lot of people were already out there, but no Carlos.
So Tom went up to the old storeroom to see if he was on his phone up there.
"I walked in and the sensor light came on, which meant nobody had been in there for awhile. But I said his name anyway in case, you know, he'd sat down to text his girlfriend and fell asleep or something. I stood there for a second and thought I heard something. So I said his name again."
Tom walked toward where he heard the name and said he saw the hole in the floor and knew what had happened.
"That floor had some bad spots in it. We all knew about them, and some of them had been fixed, but this one had gotten Carlos."
Tom got on his hands and knees and crept up to the edge of the hole, and in the darkness below he could just see his coworker down between a wooden wall and a metal one.
"I asked him if he was all right and he said his legs hurt. I told him I'd go get help and he begged me to not leave him. So I told him I'd stay right there with him and I texted Marty to come up to the storeroom and call 911 on his way."
Marty notified everybody while Tom kept Carlos company by talking about when Tom used to date his sister and his cousin.
The fire department showed up and decided against trying to fish Carlos up through the hole, especially since he was still talking about how bad his leg hurt. So they went downstairs to the office and evaluated the wall under the storeroom. The metal wall on the one side of Carlos was part of the oven assembly, so going in that way was out of the question.
The wooden wall was part of the main office. Unfortunately for everybody, it was right behind the desk of Mrs. Watson who was busy doing something that she said she couldn't stop until she'd reached the end of the section.
According to those that heard the exchange, the Lieutenant from the fire department told her that to get the injured man out he'd go through her desk with an axe to get to the wall. She said she didn't understand that it was an emergency and walked away from her desk just as as three burly firemen moved it.
They spent some time beating on the ceiling under the storeroom and knocking on the wall to figure out exactly where Carlos was so they didn't add to his injuries when they cut through. Then, once the decision was made, Marty said the wall in the office basically vanished in seconds.
It was less than an hour from when Tom heard Carlos's answer to when the paramedics and firemen eased him out of the hole and onto a gurney to take him to the hospital.
But the drama wasn't over. While they were digging him out, the firemen found somebody else. On the other side of the hole they'd cut they discovered a human corpse that was mostly bones and rotten clothing.
You have to hand it to the fireman that saw that body there. He took off his coat and dropped it over the remains and didn't mention it to Carlos or anybody else until the injured man was on his way outside, then he told the Lieutenant to call the police and the coroner.
So it was three days before Mrs. Watson got back to her spreadsheet that couldn't wait.
Carlos had a broken ankle, assorted bruises and cuts, and a bad case of the nerves for awhile.
Tom was called a hero and everybody made over him for awhile, but then it wore off.
The storeroom above the office got a whole new floor.
The story about the accident and the Bakker Mummy made the news.
It was several months before the report on the 'mummy' was released.
They had reasons to believe that what we had taken to calling Carlos' Special Friend was one Elmer Franklin who had gone missing in 1948. The poor man had evidently fallen through a similar hole and had bled to death before he could get anybody's attention because they found lots of evidence of a lot of blood on the floor under his body.
As no family of the late Mr. Franklin could be identified, Bakker paid for the funeral and several of us went to at least pay our respects to a former employee.
"How long have you been here?"
"don't know, cooupl'a years"
"I meant today."
"don't know that either"
3. "blame the temp"
One thing I don't put up with is a tendency of some FTE's... ok, I'll explain that term, it means Full Time Employee, and it is often used to include those who not only regular employees of a place, but part timers who work for the business directly instead of an employment agency.
Anyway, some regular employees will go out of their way to blame something that happens on any and every temp worker in a place instead of admitting that they messed up and something went wrong.
Fortunately the general manager of the agency I work though most of the time knows that this happens, and takes most reports of stuff like that and ignores them unless there is solid evidence that one of us did something to directly cause the problem.
I've got all sorts of examples from several different places involving several of us over the years.
I'll start, and end, with examples that happened to me.
The first time it happened to me was several years ago, and because I was young, and green, and insecure, and all that, I was left speechless and all I could say was, and I quote, "but, but, but..."
I had been called out to work for a local retailer who had a large booth at the fair. Our job amounted to walking back and forth between where they had parked several supply trucks and the booth in a large pole barn type building where they were having their "Special Fair Promotional Sale" of various products.
In short, I was fired by them for doing what I was told to do by one of their supervisors. He wanted everything we brought up from the trucks put on a folding table just inside the outside door behind their booth and their staff would move everything out to the floor. So me and the guy that I was working with did exactly that.
On about our third trip we noticed that the table was getting overloaded.
Mr. Supervisor said, "Just bring the stuff in, we'll take care of it. We need more picture frames and vases. Bring eight cases of each."
So we went out and got all the boxes of frames and vases that we could carry, because they were heavy, brought them in, and put them on the table. Then we went back out to get the rest.
When we came back, one end of the table had collapsed.
"Those temps should have known it wouldn't hold all that," Mr. Supervisor was saying.
And the manager fired both of us.
I heard later than that very supervisor did EXACTLY the same thing the next day, and had nobody to blame but himself when he pulled a wagon full of supplies up and put everything on another table. Oddly enough though, the manager didn't fire him on the spot.
One of the worst, which resulted in criminal charges against Becky, but ended up with those being dropped and then being filed against one of the managers where she'd been working, which were then dropped when that individual resigned and paid restitution to the employer.
She was working in the office at a factory out on the interstate when she was accused of stealing a piece of office equipment. She was even arrested and hauled down to the sheriff's office and booked on a couple different flavors of theft.
But something odd happened when the district manager and a sheriff's deputy watched a surveillance video from a camera in the parking lot. It wasn't Becky that was seen carrying a big box of supplies with a printer sticking out of it and heading toward the parking lot with it. Becky WAS on the tape a few minutes later, coming out of the building carrying her purse and heading out to the bus stop. It is worth noting that the printer in question would not have fit in her purse.
Becky was asked to come back in, she got an apology and the good news that she was not fired and could come back if she wanted to, she thought about it and asked if she would be considered for the now open position of assistant office manager. She got the job, got a good raise, and a few months later, moved out of the apartment.
There's another side to the story that may be of a 'human interest' nature. As it turned out, one of the deputies that had investigated the theft called her after the case was closed and they went on a date. Then another, and so on, and when she moved out, she moved in, with the deputy, and then we all got wedding invitations.
Another incident involved Seth and a caterer who was just bad news all the way around. But Seth said he'd pay cash for overtime, so he worked for him now and then. But he always went in knowing what he was dealing with.
At least he did until the caterer skipped town with the up front money for a large corporate dinner and Seth and the rest of the crew, most of whom were either temps or day workers the caterer had hired for the occasion were left with a huge room, which would be full of people in about four hours. They also had about half of the supplies they needed, and no idea that the owner of the catering business was, by then, about halfway to Las Vegas on I-40 in Oklahoma.
The good news was that the customer, who was understandably angry, said they'd deal with the owner later, but for right now, he wanted to feed his people and asked Seth what they needed to make it happen.
The landlord for the rental hall wasn't nearly so understanding and came in looking for her payment for the event and threatened to have Seth and the crew forcibly evicted from her kitchen unless somebody coughed up the cash she said would be paid by the caterer for the banquet hall and other facilities that morning.
The lady kept accusing Seth and the others of stealing her money and said they'd probably gone out to a strip club with her money last night because she'd worked with the caterer before and he was as good as gold.
She even went so far as to unlock the utility closet and turned off the power to the ovens that they were preheating.
At least she did until she tried to call the caterer. Seth said that whatever she heard over the phone totally changed her outlook on life and she became a bit more cooperative but no less unpleasant.
They fed the people, nearly two hundred full meals, with dinner rolls and a simple but tasty dessert. Then the businessman paid the crew for their time and said he'd recommend them if they ever needed a reference. Then he called his attorney to sue the caterer for everything he had ever owned.
As for the caterer. Both the State of Ohio and the IRS spent some time looking for him, and then they cooperated with each other and, after a long round of legal nonsense, found the caterer other accommodations for a significant period of time.
I've got a good one that happened to a couple of the people that lived here for awhile, and also happened to several others that they worked with for a couple of weeks doing some demolition in a building that was being converted from a large department store into a mini-mall of smaller retail outlets.
The work seemed to involve making a lot of noise and dust, hauling the results of the noise and dust out to a large dumpster, then going back in and repeating the process until lunch time.
Mike and Dave C. had signed on through the Other temp agency and reported for work as told Monday morning.
They were met by a couple of bosses, and several other temps. They were given gloves, dust masks, and safety goggles, and showed where to begin making dust and noise. Which they did.
They said there was a small smokey skid steer and an old electric power pallet jack with a big bin on it to put stuff in, and a collection of more or less dilapidated wheel barrows for them to use. Dave C. was the only temp there who claimed he knew one end of the skid steer from the other, so he got to drive it. Being the nice guy he was, he showed Mike how to use the pallet jack, so they got to make runs back and forth to the dumpster while the others beat false walls and old displays into submission.
One of the bosses disappeared on Thursday right after they got started and Mike said they never saw him again.
But the other guy was there, and he was there again the following Monday and seemed happy with their progress, there was even a scissor lift for them to use to take down what was left of the ceiling in part of the old store.
Dave C. showed a couple of the others how to run it, and they began dropping ugly old yellowish tiles down on whoever was unlucky enough to walk under them.
They said it was Tuesday afternoon when The Old Man from the temp agency came out to the job site and hollered for them all to come over.
Mike said the remaining boss was standing next to him shaking he head and waving his clipboard.
I'll try to put it in their words as best as I can remember what they said:
"The Old Man waited until we were all there and quiet, then he said that the contract with the employer had been withdrawn and invalidated by the agency's home office and we were to all get whatever we had with us and go home. When we asked he said that we would be paid by the agency for what we had worked to that point in good faith at the agreed upon rate, but that was it.
"Then boss said that he had to get the rest of the demolition done by that Friday and that he had been told the contract for day labor was in order and everything was cool.
"The Old Man looked back at him and said it had been, until the construction company had filed an emergency bankruptcy last week and the agency had just found out about it yesterday."
From what they said, as soon as The Old Man said that the boss with the clipboard took out his phone and started calling his bosses trying to find out what was going on. It didn't take long for him to come back and told them that The Old Man was right and they'd all be better of just calling it a day.
Mike and Dave C. went and got their lunch boxes and some other odds and ends, and left.
Dave C. had the good sense to walk away with the tool belt and stuff he had on like it was his.
It took an extra week, but they did get paid for a full week's work, plus a day and a half from the second week, and Dave C. got a worn but serviceable tool belt with some equally worn but serviceable tools in it. Mike ended up with an extra set of work gloves and the goggles he had been given.
The store sat empty for about a year after that, then it was totally demolished and turned into a parking lot for a couple of restaurants. The construction company ended up in receivership, nobody went to prison, but the assets were sold off and the majority of it ended up being owned by an outfit out of Kentucky.
One of the Dave's worked at an auto dealership for awhile cleaning and detailing used cars for a sales event they were going to have over a holiday weekend. It was in the summer, and it was hot, and many of the cars stank, and he found out the hard way the most of what is under a car seat is either sharp, or disgusting, or both. But he said he enjoyed the work, and he found enough 'good stuff', including a surprising amount of money, to make it worthwhile.
But then the downside hit.
He'd been at it for three days when the sales manager came over and said he wasn't doing as good a job as their regular guy. Whom, incidentally, was the son of a friend of the sales manager, and who had taken the week off knowing there was a lot of work to do. And the sales manager wanted him to go back over the cars he'd done and 'get all the spots'.
There were no spots. All the 'blemishes' the manager pointed to were part of the car. Some of their used cars looked like Used Cars and there was no getting around it.
The sales manager didn't like to be embarrassed by their own ignorance and tried to blame Dave for damaging the cars. The GM basically told Dave to ignore his "he'll do it every time" sales manager and do the best he could with what he had to work with.
Dave said the best part, besides finding twenty dollars in one car and some more money in another, not to mention all the other stuff he had in his lunch bag from other cars, was that when he needed cleaner or more rags or whatever he had to go back to their parts counter where, to hear Dave say it, a former State Beauty Queen worked the counter. Not only did she smile when she gave him a roll of paper towels, she was pleasant and asked him how the job was going and did he know the bottled water in the fridge in the customer waiting area was free.
But he still had to put up with the sales manager.
The next one happened to one of the female Bobbys at a soft drink distribution center and reminded me of that story about Joseph from the Old Testament.
In short, the foreman claimed she had been "coming on to him" and was trying to flirt her way into a full time job.
Bobby said, and I'm quoting here, "he's fat and gross, he smells like beer and cigarettes, and he's like sixty or something."
I'd worked out there once in awhile and knew who she had had a problem with.
To be honest, the foreman was overweight, and he did have a bit of an aroma about him at all times that was described as a combination of a failed shower and a worse cologne, but I'm pretty sure he wasn't much over forty. And I'd seen him flirt with every woman in the place, no matter what she looked like or even if she was married. The vast majority of them knew he was all talk and no action. They'd let him boast about himself and pose and strut, then the women would go on about their business doing their job and he'd go off to check on the order of canned drinks on their way to a convenience market or something and if there was a female working that order, he'd go through his routine again after verifying the order, and that'd be that.
It was the ones that didn't want anything to do with him that had problems.
And with this Bobby, she didn't want anything to do with Any Male. Ever. Period.
I heard from reliable sources that when the foreman reported her to the agency liaison for the distributor's location, the job lady laughed at him, then she said she'd talk to Bobby. What she did was ask her if she wanted to switch shifts or work someplace else. Bobby opted to work at the glass factory until school started again.
Eventually, the foreman picked on a married woman with a good lawyer and he ended up with charges and then unemployment. Oh well.
The last one is another one of mine.
I had taken a summer position in a small plastics factory that stamped out pieces and parts for all sorts of things. If it could be made out of hot plastic by pushing it into a metal mold, we could make it.
I meant 'They could make it'. They had a small crew of experts that worked making the molds and dictating the exact specifications of the plastic used, then they assigned a production engineer who made the thing, then people like me cleaned them up and packed them to be shipped anywhere on three continents.
The problem was that the plastic parts were usually hot, sometimes razor sharp, and often brittle.
I was helping to separate and pack some large angular pieces that were the upper left section to a large piece of medical equipment when one of them broke apart in my hands totally shredding the fancy plastic gloves I was wearing, and in the process, gave me several deep cuts.
I was taken to the office where one of the admins wrapped my hands and arms up, then they took me to the walk in clinic where a doctor with three names pulled bits of plastic out of some of the cuts and gave me a few stitches here and there, and a tetanus shot, and a bottle of pain pills, then they sent me home.
The next day I got a call from the temp agency telling me the plastic plant was supposed to do a post accident drug test, and was I OK with one of them stopping by to do it now. They'd allow for the pain pills I was taking for the cuts.
She came by in an hour or so and got her sample, then she told me that I had been terminated from the plastic plant because they determined that I had been working in an unsafe manner when the accident occurred.
"That's all they said," the job lady from the agency said, "they always say that. No matter what happens, if you get hurt, it has to be because you did something unsafe."
I told her the part basically exploded when I took it out of the mold.
"I know, that's what both of the people you were working with said, but that is their standard procedure."
"I could take it to the state industrial review board."
"You could. You can get a lawyer and go through all that. Or you can go back to the doctor next week and get your stitches out, and we'll find you someplace else to work after that."
"I could do that."
"I can't tell you what to do, but I do want you to think your options through before you do anything. But first, you have to stop bleeding," she nodded to the side of my left hand that had the most stitches in it and my moving around had angered some of them.
"Yeah. I think I'll do that first."
"If you need anything call. I'll be in touch in a day or so."
"Thanks, I think I'll be OK."
Since then I've talked to a couple of others, one of whom got a settlement over an accident, but was then unemployed for about two years, so I decided that unless something happened, like there was ligament damage to where I couldn't move my hand, I'd let it go and just chalk it up to experience, and maybe add it to the list of jobs I didn't want to do any more.
Which sounds like a good idea for the next chapter.
"have you ever worked for Mr. Henning at Victory Lumber"
"Yeah. Awhile back."
"what did you think of him"
"The place was all right, but I thought he hated everybody."
4. "I really don't want to work there again."
Over the course of the years I've been in the apartment with the others we've accumulated a checklist on the bulletin board on the back of the closet door with information on all the places around that use temps that we've worked at.
The list included things like how often overtime was available, did it require you to bring your own tools or safety gear like steel toed shoes, was there a lunchroom, and other information that somebody here thought might be important to somebody else.
There was also a single small column next to the place names where we put red dots if there was a serious reason you might not want to work there, and green dots if the place was 'cool'.
Victory Lumber had green dots in different places, but then there was one red dot in that special column as well.
I'll explain it like this: the metropolitan area of Cincinnati includes parts of Indiana and Kentucky as well as a good chunk of Ohio and has a population of just over two million people. If somebody had a contest for disagreeable bosses, Mr. Henning would finish on the podium for the biggest old grouch of the lot.
How did his lumber yard stay in business with a man who even one of his long term contractor customers called "a real jagged edged ass"? Simple. He would order stuff and make deals with those contractors for the oddball or specialty items that most of the major named places never heard of, and didn't want to bother with. And there was the odd chance if you needed a set of antique brass fireplace mantle brackets and a damper handle that matched, he might just have it in his warehouse, do you want it delivered?
I was part of a team that he'd called in to 'pull an order' for a major remodeling job on an old house that included a free standing fireplace made of custom stamped steel body panels that looked like an old style New York taxi cab. Complete with all the accessories and fixtures such a thing demanded be around it. Such as black and yellow floor tiles and wall panels and an art deco ceiling fan. See if your national outfit has that, In Stock!
If the job was relatively small, like the house with the fireplace, he would call in a couple of temps that day to help his staff, which consisted of him and a couple of his relatives, to put the order together and move it to the loading dock and then, whenever the buyer showed up, you'd help load it out.
If the job was huge, as when he won the bid to supply all the parts and pieces for an addition to a middle school, he called in several to help over the course of a week or more while the majority of the supplies were being pulled and delivered.
The thing was, he always thought he needed less help than he really did. So if he called for four workers, he probably needed seven. So you worked like a dog and a half for the duration. But you also got paid some of the top wages for any of the unskilled or semi-skilled day labor jobs the agency had, which was one of the green dots. In my time with them, I've only gotten more per hour on one assignment, and I'll tell you about it in a minute.
Mr. Henning always thought everybody, including him, his son and his nephew, could work harder than they were. If you were carrying four boxes of light fixtures, he'd ask why you couldn't carry six. If you loaded a two wheel dolly so you could barely see over it, he'd suggest that next time you could look around the side of it. And so on. But that was only when he was on the floor working with you. And, true to form, that sixty some odd year old man would be carrying five boxes of fixtures or trying to peek around the side of an overloaded cart, so it was best to stay out of his way. So the red dot was Mr. Henning, it was that simple.
Bottom line, he worked you like a galley slave, but you got paid a rate that made it tolerable. And, on big jobs, you'd get time and a half for OT.
The only job I'd been on that paid more than Mr. Henning was when the job lady had been contracted to supply workers to assist in the repainting of the Spence Highway Bridge over the river. The Feds needed support help on short notice and I was just dumb enough to say "sure, where do I go?"
The bridge carries two Interstate Highways over the Ohio River on its upper and lower multi-lane decks. It is one of the major North-South connections in the country and carries hundreds of thousands of vehicles across every day, a sizable percentage of which are tractor-trailers.
And I was in the middle of it, two hundred feet above the muddy water, wearing a bright yellow vest, carrying five gallon buckets of paint from a parked van to a big spray paint compressor that three guys on a suspended scaffolding rig on the outside of the bridge were using to paint the thing. All the while every sort of wheeled vehicle in North America went by at highway speed... or more.
It could have been worse, and I'd only made a dollar an hour more, which I was fine with not getting. My friend John had told the boss that he didn't have any problem with heights. And now he was out on the scaffolding making sure the hoses from the compressor stayed unkinked and doing whatever else the two painters needed done out there. To me, he should have been paid more than an extra buck an hour for it.
What I was doing earned good enough pay for me to go back as long as they needed me. And the job came with a spectacular view to boot. And as long as I stayed in the shadow of the trucks and equipment they had parked in the outside lane to protect us, there was minimal risk of a sudden violent death. And I tried to avoid getting all that close to the open part of the railing where the window washer basket crew and supplies came and went.
By lunch of the second day, I was somewhat used to it, and was grateful for the nice workout I was getting hauling the paint buckets back and forth.
We worked out there for a total of two more full weeks, by which time they had hired in a new group of regulars, two of whom I trained to do the job I had been doing by myself, and another one was out in the basket with John.
If they called me again to feed paint to the sprayer, I'd go. John said he'd rather do anything but hang out in the basket where the highlight of the day was when you had to pee, you peed in the river!
One of the jobs several of us had put red dots on, one with a hand drawn exclamation point on it, was at a local 'golf club'.
The place was gorgeous. The main clubhouse was one of those stately old buildings that they just don't make any more. They paid reasonably good, and in some of the positions they'd call for workers for, you got tips as well. And there was even the off chance you'd catch an event with celebrities in attendance, or a concert, or some host would insist that the held join him in a celebratory toast, or three, and the food was pretty good. But the working conditions made you wonder if maybe Mr. Henning's place or the bridge painter's basket wouldn't be a better gig for the day even at the lower hourly rate.
The first thing that happened was when the group of us showed up and went in the employee's entrance. Some vicious looking lady in a club uniform with an unreadable embroidered name below the club coat of arms snarled and asked us who we were.
"We're the temps, they called for extra help for today," I answered for all of us as I was the 'lead' for the day.
She responded with the most condescending voice I've ever heard from a human who wasn't portraying an ancient god in a TV show, "Well. That's fine. Go see Chef Taylor." Then she turned on her heel and marched down the hall.
So we spent the next five minutes trying to find Chef Taylor. Who was less unpleasant, as are our local copperhead snakes, but didn't seem to hear anything you said besides "yes, chef". I'll come back to the snakes.
I'd been cussed at and had a handful of garbage thrown at me because a member felt I didn't clear off their table fast enough. Another member insisted that I not look at his wife, who wasn't anybody's idea of a raving beauty, because I was 'just the help'. Another member, this time a right proper battleaxe of a middle-aged woman made a point of saying to her equally over made up, overweight, and frigid forty/fifty-ish friends that anybody with any pride in themselves wouldn't take a job doing what I was doing out there.
I just stopped getting the towel basket next to the large steam room and looked at them, then I shook my head and went back to what I was doing. I don't know if she reported my affront to her status as the queen 'B' of the place or not.
And then there was the time I was out there to help with a hospitality tent for a tournament. We were told by the tournament staff to not enter the tent when the participants were in there because it might give them the wrong impression.
"What impression is that? We're picking up used plates and taking out the trash," one of the others asked.
"That we're trying to hurry them. We want them to enjoy themselves."
"They can take out their own trash then."
"You stand by outside and if we need something done we'll come and get you."
OK, I know that people who belong to these clubs, and enter themselves in their events are better than everybody else, or say they are, but there's got to be a limit.
One of the other temps liberated a serving tray of canapes that were in a rolling cooler, we found some cold drinks, and spent the next three hours sitting around listening to a baseball game on an old radio. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.
During that time we only went into the tent once, to pull out a full bus cart and two trash cans under the watching scowl of the guy in the event polo shirt who closed the back flap of the tent as soon as I had the trash bag out of the can. I suppose he put the new bag in it, but I don't know. Once the event was over, we descended on the thing and declared war.
They had left the beer tap unlocked, as well as the wet bar with its many bottles of booze, all open, and there was a LOT of food left on both the serving line and in the holding containers behind it.
The five of us made good and for sure that the tent was cleaned up, and ready to restock for day two of their tournament.
I was lucky to find my way from the bus stop to the apartment later.
On the second day, we were ready to do basically the same thing, but this time there was another staffer in a polo shirt who wanted us to 'be discrete, but keep the place tidy", during the run of their reception. We never saw the "wrong impression" guy again. We took turns walking through and doing what needed to be done, then going back to our holding area and listening to the radio and eating different little funny looking appetizer things with toothpicks in them.
After a short but dull and badly done concert by a nasally folk singer who also told lame jokes, we went in and cleaned the place up so they could take the tent down the next day. Once again, there was food and liquor and we collected a box full of personal items that the fancy people who liked bad folk singers left behind.
Being the most sober of the group of us I was volunteered to walk the box up to the front office and explain what it was. Fortunately, there was nobody there, I wrote out what I hoped was a reasonably coherent note about where the eyeglasses, two purses, a pair of ladies shoes, several car keys, a handful of cell phones, umbrellas, and other random stuff came from, and walked, slowly, back to the tent. Then I caught the bus home.
Do you want to hear about the time another member, this time a decent looking young mother told me and another temp that we were NOT to come anywhere near her and her children until the older one was done throwing up all over the hallway? I don't know how the kid held all that, but he managed, and was in the process of not bending over a trash can to puke, but was standing in the middle of the hall and spraying it wall to wall. While crying.
Then the younger kid, encouraged by its older sibling, joined in. Fortunately, mom got to deal with most of that mess because the younger one managed to keep most of it in the stroller with them which she then pushed into the locker room while towing the demonic vomiter behind her.
We went and got help from their regular maintenance crew who brought a Big! Carpet Cleaning Machine, and a hose to spray down the wall, and we spent the next three hours cleaning up junior's mess.
But we did it. And Mom must have snuck out through the other door to the locker room because she never brought her kids back through that way while we were there.
I like the building, I like getting paid to eat fancy food and drink whatever, and listen to ball games. Or when in the big dining room, watch them on the TV in the bar while waiting to serve the next course. But I can't stand the members, and that's why I put the exclamation point on the red dot.
Yes, I'm a temp. And yes, you're a member, or a fancy staff lady. But in every way that counts, you're no better a person than I am. And in some ways, you're worse.
"It was hot and filthy, you had to wear a respirator, and goggles, and gloves, and a bump hat that would fall off if you bent over, and those paper coveralls they gave us were useless and came apart five minutes after you put them on, and no matter what you did, you still smelled like dead animal funk for days afterward."
So was what one of my roommates reported from a gig they took through another agency cleaning out an old farm building that had had a problem that resulted in a large number of animals dying, and not being discovered for some time afterward.
The carcasses had been removed. Or, at least, most of most of the dead bodies had been removed, but parts still lingered, and, of course, there were flies and maggots, and whatever else in there.
But, they were being paid double what most temps earned to clean it out. So they ignored what they had to ignore, and got their shovels, and did it.
He marked the job red because of one reason that had nothing to do with the smell. While the farm's owner was paying them good money, they were also not taking any taxes at all out of it. Which is something the workers did not find out about until the next spring when they went to file their taxes. Not a nice surprise at all.
There were other red circles. Most of which had notes that had nothing to do with the duties of the job.
One place had a shop owner who insisted on searching anything the employees brought in and out with them, including coat pockets, purses, lunch boxes, and even loose clothing. She was convinced that the people that worked for her, her own employees and any casual or seasonal help were stealing everything they could carry. According to those that had worked there and talked to the regulars, she never found anything, and, apparently, her sales records and inventory accounted for very nearly everything that had ever been in her store. But the facts didn't matter, she still didn't trust her people. And, not long after a couple of those from our apartment worked through a holiday season for her, the place closed and the lady moved to someplace where she could trust everybody. California.
One red circle was for a location that repacked orders for small retail shops like gift shops in hospitals or hotels, and independent convenience stores and what have you. Someplace that might have four bottles each of a handful of the most popular brands of shampoo on their shelf, and no room to store a case of twelve of each, so if they sell a couple of one or the other, they need more. And while you're at it, they'll need a couple of those kid's travel games, a handful of small stuffed animals, somebody bought one of the cell phone chargers, and so on. The place was a large warehouse building with open cases of all sorts of stuff, and their own system for keeping it organized.
The red dot wasn't because of the management, or that they had 'office cats' that glared at everybody that came in and didn't suit them in some way. The place was really fun to work at according to one of the girls that stayed here, but now I can't remember which one. The problem was the customer stores, or rather, the way some of them submitted orders.
I remember her telling us about handwritten orders on some sort of random paper that they then took a photo of with their phone and sent in. Another place faxed theirs, except somebody there insisted on using odd colored gel pens to write the order on the paper before they faxed it. Part of the challenge was figuring out which store had sent in the unreadable order, then calling them and hoping whoever sent it could remember what they needed. Her comment included that it caused a lot of stress and got you yelled at an awful lot for a quarter an hour more than minimum wage.
There were a couple of black dots on the board the meant exactly what you'd think a black dot would mean. A couple of places had gone out of business and would be removed the next time the board was updated, which was usually when Walt had a long weekend off from school. A couple of them had gone union 'closed shop' and no longer used temps. Oh, yeah, the caterer in prison for tax fraud now had a black dot since I have recently reminded myself of that incident. Another way your business got a black dot was to call in temps, and then not pay them, or to pay them less than was agreed upon.
And then there were some more interesting notes included on a couple of places.
One of them always made me chuckle: "will pay more for topless wait staff for parties- women only!"
One said: "night shift plays really loud music," and then added in another hand and bold marker "REALLY LOUD!"
Another was about the locker room in a factory. "The shower on the left is always too cold and no pressure."
Then there was a note I'd left about the parking lot at Bakker: "Don't park next to the smoker's patio."
And lastly there was a note about working events at the big stadiums downtown. "Get a ride home, the buses are horrible afterward."
Let me add a bit about that last one.
I've worked at a few of the events they've had down there. It can be a madhouse. I've worked a couple of concession stands, and as general crowd control, and all I can say is this, if you like lots of people, and lots of noise, and if you work the right spot in the right event, pretty good tips, by all means, sign up for stadium events.
"It was a great place to work, I played games all day, even won a couple of prizes doing it, and the boss even paid for my lunch."
5. "One of my favorite jobs of all time"
I thought a lot about this section, then I developed a plan and started asking the others about their Two Favorite temp jobs.
I wanted to know their favorite short term or one-off job, and their favorite long running assignment.
Mine's easy. My very favorite short term assignment was supposed to be two days but turned into a week because the owner of the medical office we were helping to remodel changed her mind on the second day about how the new waiting room should be laid out.
The agency called us to come meet the owner of the office, and fill out some paperwork. She had a contractor, but told him that she'd hire the day labor to keep his charge down. Then to keep the labor cost down, she said she'd feed us all lunch on the job. And she bought a bunch of tools, and even two different kinds of work gloves.
The owner was the widow of a long time local doctor. She was hiring us to remodel the office for the next member of the family to go into the medical profession. Not their son or daughter, one of whom was a physician and the other was some sort of administrator in a clinic (I didn't pay a lot of attention to the whole story, sorry), but their granddaughter was coming out of her residency and was wanting to go into private practice with one of her classmates.
The office was in a classic old brick building, but while the outside was some sort of tribute to the Pennsylvania type of commercial buildings from over a hundred years ago, the inside just looked and felt old, not classic, just old, and a bit dumpy.
The owner lady wanted the waiting room and front office gutted, and about half of the exam rooms taken apart, and they'd already started work on the nurse's station, but the granddaughter had specified that she wanted "grandpa's office" left just as it was for her and her partner to share. We could clean up the woodwork and clean the carpet, but not to touch it otherwise.
So we showed up bright and early Monday morning and picked our tools and found out where the construction dumpster was, then the lady insisted we take a tour of the office and listen to her and the contractor and look at the hand drawing and sample photos Doctor Granddaughter had sent.
The contractor had his own crew doing the construction of the nurse's station and the storeroom that had been a jumble of aging cabinets and rickety shelving, so we did what we were told and took apart the waiting room. Made fun of some magazines we found under one of the bus station style rows of chairs that they did want to save.
"Top fashion choices for spring," Kyle read off one of the covers.
"Which spring?" Somebody asked.
"Give it to Rev, it'll be a step up."
I shoveled some more antique wallpaper into a barrel and then added the magazine to it. "Thanks, but I'm OK."
A few minutes later, the owner lady brought us and the contractor's crew coffee and sweet rolls.
For lunch that day she provided deli sandwiches and pizza and enough soft drinks to make us hyper. But she promised us something better the next day.
Then there was an afternoon break with cookies and drinks.
Between breaks we worked, and worked hard. Besides removing ugly wallpaper and worn out carpet, and the counter behind the false wall, and then the false wall itself which put us behind schedule, we carted supplies and scraps in and out for the contractor and his helpers.
The carpet in the office had been glued to the floor, so it fought over every square inch of the room. And when it did come up, it brought the ugly old linoleum that had also been glued to the subfloor with it as often as not. But the contractor told us they'd be laying a new fake wood floor over it, so as long as we didn't leave huge holes, like when part of the subfloor came up with is, it was OK.
There were five of us temps from the job lady's agency for a week. Not to mention somewhere between three and seven people working for the contractor.
We did all of the demo work in the front half of the building, a lot of work in the five identical exam rooms and in the two larger procedure rooms, one of the bathrooms, and the hallway outside the exam rooms. Doing all that pretty much filled the construction dumpster up.
But what made it my favorite was the lady owner's idea of feeding her workers.
When we got there Tuesday morning, she had breakfast for us. Biscuit sandwiches loaded with bacon and fried eggs and cheese.
Break was some sticky rolls she had made that morning as well.
Lunch was homemade chicken casserole with a lot of chicken in it and a creamy sauce all through it that I spent the next month telling Walt about.
Afternoon break was more store-bought cookies, but, after everything else that day, it was more than enough.
Wednesday we finished up getting the front office floor ready, and removed the lighting fixtures in the exam rooms because she had found out that the circular florescent bulbs were almost impossible to get any more.
Breakfast was more of her own special recipe biscuits with ham and eggs this time. All of them still warm when she unwrapped the metal cake pan she brought them in.
Somebody who I'm sure I was introduced to but don't remember was wandering around taking pictures of the work being done. Whenever the camera was there we made sure we looked like we were really working, which meant we didn't look at the camera and smile with a mouth full of ham and cheese biscuit.
Break was another calorie packed pastry with fruit filling.
Then for lunch she fed us thick slices of meat loaf that she said she put in the oven this morning when she took the biscuits out.
We worked hard, but I think I may have put on a couple of pounds anyway.
Thursday morning we mainly spent the time cleaning up and moving what needed moved so another crew could come in and do the walls and floor in the front reception and office area.
Break was another epic sugar loaded pastry, and lunch was her own special recipe baked chicken.
Then we cleaned and polished the doctor's office, and tried to clean the carpet. The floor covering was just too old and worn to do anything with, so then we removed it, and worked on the floor that was under it so she could have a similar style of carpet installed.
Friday was another day of hard work, and overeating, but by afternoon break, we were out of things to do.
We finished up a couple of odds and ends, and took out all the trash we could find and thanked her for the work. She hugged everybody, and gave us all a cash tip, and looked like she was about to cry as we said goodbye.
I didn't hear any more about the place until about six months later when Doctor Granddaughter and Partner sent a message to the Job Lady to thank her for all of our work. She was very happy with the way the old building looked. Then came the punch line, as a thank you, the new doctors would offer half price new patient appointments to any of the agency's employees.
I always use the campus clinic for anything I need that way, but I do know some of the agency's people did take them up on their offer.
Walt's favorite long term assignment was one of the few times he had worked at Bakker Glass.
For reasons unknown to anybody, the ranking brass at the glass factory decided they needed to rebuild the receiving docks on the north end of the factory. So everything that came or went by truck had to use their outbound docks that were part of the shipping department, on the south end.
There were two things that regularly arrived or was sent from the factory by something other than the docks at either end. One was First Class Mail, which came in by the main door, the other was sand, or rather, bulk silicon dioxide, which arrived by rail car along the back.
I'll admit, the old docks had long been in need of repair. The old windows and wooden walls only slowed the winter wind down, the lighting was such a joke that a couple of the regulars had bought clamp on spotlights so they could read the labels on incoming supplies like chemicals and dies for the various types of glass without getting off their lift trucks. But to shut them down made life far more interesting for everybody than it needed to be.
For part of that time, they called in extra help to transport incoming supplies off a temporary dock built next to the main outbound shipping facility to receive stuff.
Somewhere in his travels, Walt had sat through a couple of classes and did some hands-on training and work and had a fork truck driver's card in his wallet.
So for two months one summer he went in at four in the afternoon and spent his evenings driving an ugly green lift truck back and forth with crates and boxes on pallets of supplies from the very furthest south point of the factory to the mid north storerooms.
He still says he loved it. "They all left me alone, I had the same rig every day, I'd go get a load and ferry it up to storage or to the lab or wherever the tag said it was going. And then go get more." Then he'd grin and get a twinkle in his eye that I don't think his faculty advisor at the seminary had ever seen. "And that good-looking woman in their supply department really likes it when you put stuff where it belongs without being told to. There were days there when she'd be the only one to even speak to me for the entire shift."
"I know her," I said to him one time, "she's twenty years older than you."
I thought about it, she was good looking, and, to coin a phrase, stacked like the boxes in her storeroom should be. "Good point," I answered.
Seth's favorite one off gig also involved a pretty woman, or to be more accurate, dozens of pretty women, and world class food, and endless good music playing in the background. He had answered the call of one of the caterers he worked for, one that wasn't now in prison, to come down to a hotel and tend to the refreshment spread for an event. And he did so without knowing what the event was going to be.
So he showed up at the hotel and put on the supplied 'kitchen whites and tall hat' getup and reviewed the menu so he knew what he would be dealing with.
He described the 'refreshment line' as two sections, hot and cold, and the offerings on it as 'fancy bar happy hour food', with an emphasis on vegan and meat free options, although on another table there was enough high quality meat to make a lion smile. Then he noticed that a lot of the labels on the foods said things like 'fair trade' and 'diet friendly'. Finally he thought to look at who they were feeding.
It was a meeting for one of the major national beauty pageant outfits. The primary officers, ranking sponsors, judges, talent coordinators, and a good number of former winners who were now with their respective state outfits, all there because they were discussing changing some of the format and requirements and they had to get the states to buy into it.
Seth said that all afternoon in the convention center, no matter where he looked, he saw stunningly beautiful young women. And, in his words, "some of the older ones looked like they could still compete too". Then he added something else, "And, it was like this, once you saw all the women, then you saw the men, I mean, come on, a lot of those guys did not belong in that group. There were a few of the distinguished gentleman variety, but most were just guys in suits."
Yeah, I was jealous.
I remember the short-term assignment that a girl named Carol did who said it wasn't even really work. She went out to a group interview with a real estate outfit for a week-long job at a new subdivision. Well, in the end, they hired all five girls that they interviewed and gave them each a house.
Well, they only got the house for a week, and then only eight to ten hours a day, during the open house and sales promotion. The one stipulation was that they had to "really dress up" for the job.
They wanted a 'hostess' in each of their demo houses to meet and greet and smile at any potential clients that came through, and if the people had questions, she was supposed to use a small two way radio to call for a sales associate, who would then make every attempt to talk the people into buying a house.
The houses had been partially furnished, had power and running water, and she could even heat up her lunch in the built in microwave. So she sat in a brand new house for ten hours a day from Wednesday morning through Monday afternoon for their Holiday Special, and watched TV, checked her phone, read the paper, chatted with the other girls on the radio, and only saw a handful of people who even walked into the house. And on Saturday and Sunday, the company had lunches delivered for everybody.
It was her favorite assignment of all time.
"We got to dress like we were going to a formal, spend the day in somebody else's brand new house, and get paid. What could be better?"
My favorite long term assignment is probably Bakker Glass's shipping department, and I've told you about that. So I'll skip that and tell you about what Lynnipoo had always said was her favorite job that she was told was short term, a couple of days, but went for almost two months at forty hours a week.
She had reported to a county office to be their receptionist for two days. That's what they said they needed, somebody to answer the phone and greet people that came in the door while their regular receptionist was out for a minor medical procedure.
About halfway through day two the director asked her if she could come back for the rest of the week because the woman was still out sick.
Then the woman was on a cruise.
Then after that she had a follow up doctor's visit and they had to do something else to, for, or with her.
Finally, on the third day of her seventh full week, Lynnipoo met the woman she had been replacing. She finished out that week bringing her back up to speed, shook hands all around Friday afternoon, and left.
"I took maybe a dozen phone calls a day, nobody ever came in except the mailman or somebody wanting the Treasurer's office, which is down the hall past the big window, their door is on the right," she spoke and gestured like she had been doing from behind the desk.
I asked her what she did all that time.
"I got tired of reading the magazines they had in a big pile, so I spent one day cleaning and organizing their files. I know nobody ever touched them because the new stuff is online, but the old ones were a mess. Then I started playing 'online world game'. As long as I was at the desk, and awake, the director didn't care what I did, including hunting aliens and searching for treasure in a haunted castle. Oh, and I put together their lunch order every day and had it delivered, and he paid for mine, every day, for two months."
Other short term favorites among those I asked included sitting in the press box at a professional sporting event watching the big scoreboard counting how many times somebody in the crowd wearing a team logo shirt or hat was shown to the rest of the crowd.
They always explain it like this, "It turned out that there were three of us there, in different spots, and we all just guessed. Whenever they showed a wide shot of the crowd, I just guessed at like four or five. So did they. We were all fairly close on our numbers because there was just no way to keep track accurately. And the team properties manager was happy and we got paid."
"Well, you know how they get away with it."
"It's a government office."
6. I can't believe they get away with it.
Something you learn quickly as a temp is that some businesses and even government bodies will call in temps because they are doing, or want to do, something that they probably shouldn't and if they used union members, or other full time workers, they'd get in trouble for it.
We're not supposed to work at heights over twenty five feet, or handle hazardous material, or anything radioactive, or wild animals, or for that matter, leave the state, unless that was prearranged and all sorts of paperwork and training was done ahead of time.
I've done all of the above.
And once, on a short term job working on a hospital renovation, I did a couple of those in one day. We loaded hauled a truckload of hazardous chemicals, medical waste, and out of date radioactive medical material all the way to a disposal site two states away. They gave us some protective gear, but one of the guys I was working with looked at it and shook his head and said he didn't want kids anyway, and so we did it.
On another job helping a contractor renovate a farm dairy building that had been out of service and was now going back into production we spent the first part of the day chasing some very upset raccoons, then some of the biggest spiders I've ever seen, and later, several nests of snakes. And that was all before we evicted the bats and then started the actual cleanup.
"That's a wolf spider."
I just looked at the construction foreman.
"They're not aggressive unless provoked, but their bite is really painful."
"And you want me to kill it."
"No. Catch it in something because if it is a mother and you smash it, hundreds of babies will scatter and we'll never get them all."
I caught it in an old can with a piece of cardboard and carried it out to a brushpile across the road. Which made me the official spider wrangler. The next one was one that might have been a black widow, or maybe not, I didn't ask it for an ID, I just caught it in my can and took it to the other end of the brush pile. Then I caught what looked like a recluse.
After break, we dealt with the nest of snakes. After we got them, one of the other guys said he thought we should get the snakes out of the room he was told to clean up. So we did.
"That's a copperhead. They usually don't live in buildings."
"You tell him."
While we captured snakes I told the foreman about the suit lady from the country club. He said that given the choice, he'd rather work with spiders and snakes, they didn't talk.
It was the next day before we really started cleaning the building out.
Another job that involved wildlife was one for a county where we were helping clear some overgrown campsites and there was an armed deputy sheriff standing guard because there had been sightings of rabid coyotes in the area.
I've even had run-ins with tomcats who thought they owned the dumpster I was supposed to be throwing trash into.
And, of course, there's always mice and rats that usually run when they see you pick up a broom or shovel. Usually, but not always.
Again. None of that was prearranged.
And when one of the other guys mentioned that he didn't think we should be grabbing venomous snakes even with leather gloves the foreman told him he could go back to the office, which meant he wouldn't complete an assignment, and if that happened too often, the job lady didn't call you as often, and, eventually, not at all, so you shut up and did it. He shut up and did it.
Yes, sometimes we'd get a warning from the temp office staff, but usually it wasn't serious, and I always said something like "if I think it is really too dangerous I'll either ask for more help or tools or ask the job boss to show me how to do it." The office staff usually buys it.
I know of temps that have been asked to supervise work crews from the local jail, which violates just about everything there is to violate.
Some have been working with individuals who, in the middle of the day, were scooped up and taken away because they were wanted fugitives with open warrants on them. Fortunately, they had not been hired through our employment office.
Another thing that I've done that I was not supposed to do by the employment agreement was to use my personal phone or 'electronic account' for business purposes, excluding ordering lunch or calling a taxi for a ride to work or something. I've used my phone to contact HVAC people, and to call in a weekly report to a home office, and to answer questions from an insurance investigator who had questions about some building supplies being used on a remodel. I've also emailed photos of everything from moldy mops to car wrecks to whoever wanted it.
I've even spent most of a day at work almost naked because we were cleaning stuff out of a hotel swimming pool and the manager didn't want to drain the pool and none of the three of us packed a swimsuit. So the two guys stripped down to 'skivvies' and went in. The woman that was with us stayed on shore, and later only in the shallow end up to her knees, to remove whatever wasn't pool water.
The hotel had rented the pool area to a local for a party, and, after the party, or maybe during it, they had decided to start throwing whatever was handy into the pool. Including all the tables and chairs in the pool room, towels, the first aid kit (after opening it of course), and all sorts of other stuff.
"Hey, look at this!" I said after surface diving in the deep end and pulling something off the grate at the bottom of seven feet of water. I handed it to the hotel's assistant manager.
"Good, now we've got somebody else to call," she said after looking at the license in the wallet. She had said that the hotel's lawyer had already been in touch with the people whose name was on the rental. Apparently, they had never heard of the place and had already reported the fraudulent charge to their bank.
It took several hours to get the crap out of the pool, then to put the area back together and even to clean it up because not only did they throw furniture in the pool, they'd evidently fought a battle of the infamous "soda war" in the locker room and around one seating area, so it was all sticky.
When we were done I took a shower in the men's locker room and then stood naked and used the hand drier to blow hot air on my underwear until I felt they were dry enough to wear home.
On the way out, I told the assistant manager that it had been an interesting day and if she ever needed anything else like that done to call us. I'd be happy to come back.
That is, in spite of being in that state of undress being against the agency's rules. To get the job done, unless they start issuing wetsuits, it had to be done.
But the worst offender of the rules are almost always government agencies. City, county, state, even the Federal Government will call in temps when they want to do something stupid.
I guess the worst that I wasn't involved with was when Seth and a guy named Bill that I knew from Bakker were called to do some stuff at a new correctional facility.
They took them down a cellblock and locked them in and told them to try to escape. Then the admin that had locked the door left. They didn't see anybody for hours, and they couldn't escape.
"We beat on the door and windows. We tried to pull the vents out of the ceiling. Everything. I even broke a light fixture and tried to get something to break the window with, but it was all plastic," Seth told me.
Bill confirmed the story the next time I saw him. He said they had done some damage, and the prison worker had documented it as something to have the contractor look at, but overall, they'd basically proven nothing of value.
Later somebody came back looking for them and apologized for their having been locked up and forgotten about. But they had proven that the cells were reasonably secure, so they got paid for their time, and a cash bonus, and the firm idea that neither of them wanted to ever do anything they might really get locked up for.
Something else "We The Temps" are not supposed to do is to take sides in anything official with the businesses we work for, or to get personally involved with one of the other employees, temp or full time, or even worse, get involved with one of the bosses or owners and end up as a witness in a divorce trial with partial ownership of the business on the line.
That last bit happened to a guy I had been working with for a couple of years. He was an experienced carpenter but was really trying to find another line of work and had taken some business classes and then, since he spoke that language, got a call to help out at a construction company sorting out a backlog of contracts and bids and the invoices that were supposed to be attached to them.
He ended up working very closely with the wife of one of the owners for a month or so while they did the account audit. Very closely. Yeah, that happened. Several times. Then it all got really ugly. He got fired by everybody that could fire him. And then he had to testify. And they had security camera footage of him and her, and so on.
One night after he had spent a couple of hours on the stand he finished his beer and said, "it was fun, she was good, but if you're ever in that situation and it starts to go that way, get out and don't go back. It isn't worth it."
When it was all finally over my friend ended up moving to Nashville to try to get away from it.
I've only ever been involved in one on the job romance, and that with with another temp, although she was from another agency, and we had dated a couple of years before we reconnected on the job.
But even that made working there more complicated than I wanted it to be, even though eating lunch with her at the picnic table on the back dock was pleasant enough.
Over all these years there's only been one or two relationships between coworkers that I know of that have worked out long term with them keeping their jobs and each other. Yes, there's been flings, and affairs, and all that, I'm talking about relationships that lasted for a couple of years or more. One of those was when they ended up married, with kids, and the last I heard, they were still married, and one of their kids is now a temp while he's going to high school through that other agency.
The other couple never got married, but they may as well have. They've gone through the "we're seeing other people" phase at least three times, then they're back together, then they're broke up, now they're just friends, and finally I gave up trying to keep track. And they've been like that for five or six years.
We're also not supposed to take sides in disputes between unions and management or owners. The agency leaves it up to us if we will cross a picket line.
I'll be honest, I have, and I've been called a 'scab' and all that for it, but for double what I usually get paid per hour, and they paid for lunch to be delivered as well, I might do it again.
And there have been times when I've been called in to explain my side of some incident or other that resulted in some sort of official paper being filed by somebody. I'm here to tell you that, as a temporary, day labor, casual - seasonal, whatever, worker, there is no future in that at all. And I've come to expect that no matter what happened, or why I'm sitting in front of some boss or board or arbitrator or whatever they call it, as soon as I'm done talking to go find my lunchbox and whatever else there was 'mine' and get ready to leave. It might not be right then, but no matter how it went, and more likely sooner than later, somebody 'up yonder' is going to thank me for my service and show me the door. And I've come to know that that time is shortened proportionally to how many times the bosses say some version of "we won't hold this against you." It's simply the way it is, I'm a temp, and all of the sudden the bosses feel like they can't trust you in some way.
I've had jobs I really liked and was honestly good at pulled out from under me because of everything from jealousy to incidents where I'm pretty sure I had a good case to file a lawsuit for reverse racism, or sexism or something, but I hate lawyers more than I hate venomous spiders, and you've seen how that worked out. Besides, a temp trying to prove that something a manager or owner did at a client business was somehow untoward is almost unheard of, and makes it really hard to win a lawsuit. It HAS happened, they can be won, but it wouldn't happen to me, because I'm not going to file. Period.
"So, you've really been through a lot doing this."
"Why don't you write it up and share it?"
"Because nobody that hasn't done a lot of temp work will believe it."
"I haven't, and I do."
7. So I wrote it up.
Elizabeth and Ed had been sitting there for long enough for the casserole's melted cheese and butter that was on their plates to congeal into some sort of industrial adhesive.
"So why do you work as a temp? You said you've been offered full time positions at different places," she asked me. "Everything is a lot of work, little pay, and no appreciation."
Walt nodded, "THAT should be your title."
I shook my head, "I like what I do," I answered. "And I've got one advantage that FTE's don't have."
"I don't get in a rut at the same job day in day out, year after year. And maybe after five or six years decide I really don't like it. Or worse, work for six months or whatever and just when you are ready to come off the probationary period and get a nice raise and all, they let you go." I paused. "That happened to a guy that used to live here. The week before his period was up he worked on Tuesday and everything was fine, when he went in Wednesday for his shift, his timecard was gone, when Gary went to get another one, the timekeeper asked for his ID."
They got quiet for a minute.
Then Walt had another reason, "Or this, how about somebody that's worked there for years and is about six months from being vested and having money in their retirement account and they fire them for some nonsense reason?"
I nodded, "That too."
Elizabeth nodded. Ed shook his head. They'd both been around enough to know that that kind of thing happened way more than it should.
That's the sad, almost unacceptable truth of doing this kind of work, and really, many other kinds of work as well. There were good parts to living and working like that. And yes, those are separate: Living, and Working. When you're a temp, real life and work life can really be two totally different things. A lot of people who have full time long term jobs find that the two slowly but irrevocably merge into the same thing, and then they start telling people that they are a 'pipefitter' instead of whatever they themselves are. If you know what I mean.
Me? I'm "Rev", I'm a student, and a temp, and, currently, a boyfriend, and at least for today, an author. I don't identify myself as any of my jobs. Somebody has to ask me where I work for me to say what I do to pay the rent.
I know some of those I work with through the job lady's office say they're 'a temp working at ....' whatever it is this week. Dave Two was one of the best at that, followed by Lynnipoo and a couple of the others. There were times when I had no idea where they were working that week, but they always knew, and could say, on short notice, in the laundry room for instance, that they 'were a fry cook at the club'.
I had cooked at the club, and packed boxes at the warehouse, and all the rest, and I was still Rev.
I'm still Rev.
And for the rest of today I'll be sitting in the guardroom at the plant, and I'll answer the radio as "Main Gate", but after I say that, I'll say, "... this is Rev. What's up?"
And that's OK for me.
[NOTE: No temporary workers, Or Bosses, or anybody else, or even spiders, were harmed in the writing of this story. All characters are to be considered FICTIONAL. While some of the Situations are based in reality, Overall this Piece Is A FICTIONAL STORY, enjoy it as such.
Thank You the Author. ]
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