We Thank You,
Lord, For This Bountiful Temp Job...
A non-profit that manages
an orphanage in South America has hired me for the day. I've
worked here before, actually, in October, when I was brought in for a
week to create form letters and do mail merges for them. This
time, they called my temp agency and asked for me by name. Fools.
They're located in
downtown San Francisco, in a beautiful old office building that I'm
completely in love with. The place has a lot of character and
twice as much marble. Marble floors, marble walls, marble pillars,
marble fixtures... everything gleams and glows. The staircases are
wide and sweeping, even the elevators are ornate and classy.
Walking through the halls at the end of the day, one can almost see the
ghosts of the past bustling by: men in fedoras and overcoats, all
heavy smokers, heading home with a nice buzz from their three martini
lunches and the scotch from their office wet bars. The secretarial
pool with their beehive hairdos and seamed stockings, all heavy smokers,
gabbing around the water cooler or perched over their typewriters.
Desks are huge, squat, wooden behemoths, uncluttered by the computers
and fax machines that dominate the offices of today. Outside,
solid iron cars honk and jockey for parking spaces, while hippies carry
signs and chant for the end of the Vietnam war and Native Americans scan
the horizon for buffalo. Overhead, a pterodactyl swoops and cries
in search of a mate while the Black Plague ravages Europe and Mt.
Vesuvius rumbles ominously.
Okay, I may be mixing up
my time periods a bit, but you get the idea. It's a building
simply oozing with history, and a pleasant place to roam around while
neglecting my temply duties. Hell, even the bathrooms are awash
with character. It's an honor to crap here.
Ruining it all are the
people I'm working with. Frankly, they're dopes. I don't
know how they organize and run an orphanage in a foreign country, but
I'm hoping it's done with a bit more sense than this particular office
is handled. For instance, soon after I arrive, UPS delivers a box.
A few minutes later, the guy who runs the place walks over and stares
down at the box on the floor.
His wife, whom he works
with, comes and stands beside him, also scrutinizing the box.
"Did somebody order something? Office supplies?"
"It can't be the new
calendars," the guy says.
calendars!" his wife says.
"No, no, the box is
I should point out that
neither of them make any effort to, y'know, open the box.
"Oh. Joe, did
you order office supplies?"
Joe comes over.
"No, I went down to Office Depot for the supplies this morning.
I don't know what this is."
I'll give Joe some credit
for being proactive here, as he hunches down and peers closely at the
box. He's not opening it, either, but he's getting his face closer
to it, which is, well, something. That's about as charitable as I
can get, however, because I'm about to snap and start screaming
"JUST OPEN IT! JUST OPEN THE BOX YOU DAMN HELPLESS
BOX-CONTENT SPECULATING-ABOUT GOONS!"
I can't help picturing
some little Peruvian street urchin staggering into the orphanage, bathed
in sweat, his clothing in tatters over his skeletal frame, and
collapsing to the floor in painful spasms. And then the crowd
gathers around him.
what's wrong with him. Malaria?"
"No, he doesn't seem
to be hallucinating at all. My guess would be
"You think so?
Look at the way he's clawing at his eyes. Gotta be
"But he's not clawing
I have a pair of scissors,
but not trusting myself with them, I wait until everyone has drifted
away from the Box Of Infinite Mystery to go over and open the damn
But guess what? Even
I don't open the box! I have a reason not to, though, because I
notice that it has been delivered to the wrong office. It's not
even theirs. Cripes.
A note about the people
who own this non-profit: they're religious. The non-profit
is religious. Everything is religious, including the form letters
I'm creating today. They're asking for money, hoping to raise
$175,000 by Christmas time. This is fine with me. I have no
serious objections to starving children being fed or given X-Boxes or
whatever the money goes to. It is a little weird, however,
creating correspondence that ends with "God be with you" or
"Grace and Peace," and the letter itself is peppered with
mentions of the Lord. In fact, as I discover, He is given credit
for the money they've raised so far.
When I worked here in
October, a donation letter was created and sent out, stressing the
importance of this non-profit raising $300,000 by the end of the year.
This letter I'm working on now is the second attempt, as they have
fallen short of the mark. The letter is being sent to exactly the
same 1,500 churches and ministries and organizations and individuals
that received the first letter, including those who have already given
money in response to it.
And, right in the middle
of the new letter, there's a sentence that says "God has provided
us with a generous amount of money so far, but we're still $175,000
Wait a second. God
has provided? How about the people that got the last letter?
They're the ones who wrote $125,000 worth of checks, aren't they?
Sure, in the mystical, omnipotent sense, God has provided everything,
including the money, but still. Give the generous people you are
repeatedly bombarding with mail some credit, won'tcha?
Once the new letters are
printing (on letterhead and toner provided by God), I'm asked to help
prepare for a board meeting, which is taking place the following
morning. Fifteen booklets need to be put together, and each
booklet is to be comprised of about twenty different sections. The
best way to tackle something like this, as anyone with a brain not made
of dryer lint will tell you, is to put a single booklet together, and
then copy it fifteen times. So long as the original booklet is
done correctly, you've got no problems, and if you need more, you still
have the original to copy from.
My supervisor has a better
idea, however, for certain values of the word "better."
He prefers I make fifteen copies of each section of the booklet, and
then put together fifteen booklets. This will ensure that there
are fifteen chances that something will be put together wrong or left
Well, he's the boss.
So, I've got my twenty sections in twenty stacks of fifteen copies each,
all lined up, in the exact order they're going to go into the booklet.
I'm ready, though not all that willing, to make fifteen passes over the
table and get these things done. My supervisor, however, wants to
make things easier on me, so he goes over the stacks, putting a Post-It
Note on the top of each, numbering the sections for me. Since the
stacks are already in order, his notes read like this.
Sec. 1, Sec. 2, Sec. 3,
Sec. 4, Sec. 5, Sec. 6... Sec. 20.
Um, okay. Thank you.
That's very helpful. Not only are there numbers on things that are
already in order, but instead of swooping over the table and slapping
these sections together, I now have to take from the bottom of the
stacks, or, even worse, remove and then replace the Post-It Notes from
the top of the stacks each time I pick up a section. That's going
to be an unnecessary pain in the ass, so, while he watches, I go through
the stacks, removing the notes and placing them on the table above each
section. I hope this won't offend him, and this way we can pretend
he's still helping.
But no. He has to
ask why I'm removing the Post-It Notes. Well, shit, I'm not
getting paid to be mindful of his feelings. I tell him I don't
need them, since everything is already in order, and to pull from the
bottom of the stacks is going to slow me down. It's always hard
explaining the concept of "I want to go home soon" to people
who don't care when they go home.
He's still hovering and
staring and standing in my way, so I grab the bathroom key and head for
the john, that charming room of solitude. I stand at the urinal,
whizzing and taking deep breaths, hoping my supervisor will have
retreated to his office by the time I get back.
Oh, good, I've dropped the
bathroom key into the urinal. These aren't your modern urinals,
where everything drains out while you're doing your business, mind you.
These are like little wall-mounted toilets, with a good three inches of
water sitting in them. Plus, you know, my own freshly-dispensed
For once, I'm alone when
something like this happens to me. Ghosts of men in fedoras not
withstanding, the bathroom is empty, and after hemming and hawing for a
few minutes, I finally stick my hand into the urinal and get the key.
Okay, fine, I don't hem and haw at all, I just stick my hand in
immediately and pull the key out. Hey, at least it's my
pee. I wash my hands and the key, dry the leather key ring off
under the blow dryer, and head back to work.
Once there, I start
putting together booklets as fast as I can, my back cramping up as I
hunch over the table. Halfway through, my supervisor comes back
with a booklet in his hand.
"I've put together a
booklet, as kind of a master copy," he says. "So you can
see what order everything goes in."
Instead of pulling a
picture off the wall and smashing it over his skull, I thank him.
I tell him, in my head. Everything is already in order.
You've also already labeled everything pointlessly. Why,
now, would I need yet another example of what order things go in?
Go away and let me finish this before God provides you with a
In response to my mental
command, or perhaps anxious to get back to stroking the piece of felt in
his office, he leaves again, and I get back to work. It doesn't
take me too long, and soon I've got my fifteen booklets in their fifteen
slipcovers and I'm done.
Only, I'm not.
Because for some odd reason, I only have fourteen booklets.
I can accept that I may
have somehow accidentally made only fourteen copies of one or two of the
sections, but all of them? Nuh-uh. That's when it occurs to
me. His master copy. He took the sections for his master
copy off my stacks. Of course. I debate asking for the
master copy back so I can leave, but the idea of explaining how him
taking a copy of everything has left me one copy short makes me tired
all over my brain. I undo one of the booklets, jam it into the
copier, and make my fifteenth copy.
"You know," he
says, coming back out of his office, "I think I want to label the
sections, like, with numbered tabs."
"Okay," I say.
A good time to mention this might have been while I was putting the
damn things together, so I wouldn't have to take them all apart again,
but whatever. You're obviously only on this planet to make my
ulcer bleed, and I can accept that. "Where do you keep
the numbered tabs?"
He looks at me
So, there I am, sitting
down with Post-It Flags, numbering each of the twenty sections of each
of the fifteen booklets, by hand. Writing numbers on the flags,
sticking them on, one by one.
It's eight o'clock by the
time I'm done. I'm two hours into overtime, which is
time-and-a-half pay, so at least there's that. I wearily rise, and
walk to my supervisor's office, expecting him have some other ridiculous
request, like that he wants a header added to each page or some section
moved, which would require another round of Post-It sticking, but much
to my relief, he says I can go.
"Thank you," he
says, "for your hard work."
Oh, don't thank me,
I think. Thank God. I know I am.