Temporary Insanity

About ten years ago, when I first arrived in NYC armed with two suitcases, a boatload of youthful optimism and one laboriously earned work permit, I figured the fastest way to enable myself the luxury of staying alive in a city where you need a mortgage to buy a sandwich, was to temp. So, I signed on with a large Madison Avenue agency and started being whored out for any basic office job that required a live body that could tell a keyboard from a grapefruit. Reception, collating files into binders, secretarial jobs…I would do anything that would send lesser minded beings hurtling into a coma of tedium, for a lousy $12 an hour pay check

I worked in all sorts of places. Financial firms, law firms, I did a stint at Fox News, PR and ad agencies and the like. If it was monotonous, degrading, torturous or suicide-inducing, I probably did it at some point. I kept my sanity on the weekends by mainlining heroin and hitting myself over the head with a mallet at ten second intervals.

Being a temp is a strange way to eek out a living. On the plus side, you are fairly anonymous which makes long lunch hours, extended breaks and being “liberal” with office supplies, not only possible, but necessary in order to maintain one’s sanity. Also, most of the time, you’re not actually expected to do a whole lot except fill a chair and on the odd occasion you are given a task and you screw it up, no one cares or even notices since you’re “only a temp”. If you hate a place or the backwards, diseased lackeys that staff it, you never have to see it again after your assignment is up. It’s really quite perfect in many respects. And if anyone severely pisses you off you can righteously take a leak in their coffee cup and never have to see them again. Not that I would encourage such a thing of course. Much.

Of course temping has its own myriad of cons as well. No medical benefits is a big one. Break your leg while temping and you better steal some crutches and use your last few pennies to buy stock in Advil because that, in a nutshell, is your health plan. If you contract some disease that requires a doctor poking you with things and murmuring in worried tones, that’s just too bad, you will have to suck it up and die if necessary. You can forget paid vacation too, unless you count the two measly days you get after six months of full time employment, making your agency a metric shitload of money while you count pennies to see if you can afford a loaf of bread this week or if you’re putting ketchup on your shoe again.

Interestingly, at one assignment, I was working in the finance department of a high end gourmet foods store. While processing invoices I came across one from my temp agency invoicing this company for my services. After I’d read the invoice ten times and also tried reading it upside down, in case I was seeing it wrong, I concluded that somewhere on my body is stamped the words “Please take advantage of the stupid foreigner” because the agency were making twice as much money from my 40 hour week than I was. Twice! I’d have run to the nearest bar and drunk myself into the following week if I could afford beer at the time.

Most places I temped were nice. Someone would point out the coffee machine, tell you to help yourself, show you where the bathrooms were and how the phone system worked then leave you to it for nine hours during which time you’d answer the phone twice (once would be a wrong number and the other would be someone “important” whose name you had no hope of pronouncing or spelling and who you would cautiously “forget” called ten seconds later), drink ten cups of coffee until your teeth chattered and you talked to yourself incessantly, doodle on several pages of a notepad, nap under the desk and officially come to the end of the Internet.

Occasionally though, you’d come across a company stuffed to the gills with almighty fuckwads. It’s probably something subliminal in their want ads that enables them to get such a high concentration of disagreeable, poisonous assholes in one place at one time. At one such corporation, the man I was supposed to be working for (old as the hills, stank of cigar smoke, farted like a trucker, openly screamed boob jokes all over the office and had body odor that could fell a buffalo) was engaged in an all morning meeting in the conference room. He buzzed for me to come in to see him. I go in there and he and all his equally unpleasant cronies, are sitting around the table smoking and watching a slide show. Boss guy pats my butt like a puppy and says, “Scoot across the street to Starbucks and get us some coffee, will you toots!” like I’m some little bimbo with no IQ and a desire for greasy old man hands on my tooshie. Now I really needed that twelve bucks an hour so I wasn’t about to tell him where he could shove his latte or anything, but I did consider bringing the coffee back then ceremoniously pouring the contents of all ten cups over his old, balding, rancid noggin and screeching, “HOT ENOUGH FOR YOU, TOOTS?”

Temping pays the rent though and it does let you scout out companies where you might have a vague interest of working one day as well as give you a much needed heads up on the ones you should treat like a leper colony. If nothing else, you procure a few interesting office supplies and the satisfaction of peeing in someone’s mug.

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2 Responses to “Temporary Insanity”

  1. pistols at dawn Says:

    I always hated temping, because the fact that I was the hired help made it nigh impossible to slack off. I’d have no internet access, no desk (sometimes getting set up in the kitchen or break room), and the jobs would be filing, typing, and very lengthy boring mail labeling.

    Then, when you’d finish the amazingly simple job, they’d pat you on the head and say, “Verrrrry good!” like Barney. They’d check in on you every so often to make sure you hadn’t stuck a fork in a socket and killed yourself. If you did, they’d just hire another temp to dump you in a nearby river.

  2. The Guv'ner Says:

    See I’d have the odd assignment where you’d be in some closet somewhere filing shit from 1968, but for the most part I’d be in some cube, doing nothing, watching the big hand turn and stapling my thumb.

    Temps are the lowest of the office food chain. Of course, this is often a GOOD thing.

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