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Stinging in the Rain

Today is my last day at the California Teacherís Association, a two-week temp job that has proven to me both the value of a good education, and that teachers are absolutely retarded and evil.

The office is located in Oakland, a city I am beginning to find, well, a little alarming.  The other morning I parked my car, got out, and then watched as a SWAT team swarmed around me and into a hotel across the street.  Not a couple cops, but an entire SWAT team.  With machine guns and everything, just like in the movies.

I told my supervisor about it when I got to the office, and he said "Oh, you shouldn't park there.  That's a crack hotel."

Crack hotel?  I've heard of crack houses, but never a crack hotel.  

I wonder if they have non-smoking rooms.

But back to the job.  Here at the C.T.A., we only deal with teachers who have problems, such as missing paychecks, overcrowded classrooms, and the inability to complete a coherent sentence. I understand that people can get very upset and agitated when they have an issue that is not being dealt with in a timely fashion, but some of these teachers are downright hysterical. One woman has come in every day this week, growing more and incomprehensible on each visit, until today, when I think her synapses all fired at once.

"-and my problem is just being ignored because for years this principal has been treating me like I donít know what but Iím used to being treated differently because Iím a headstrong woman I mean at UCLA I was the first woman to wear pants and they had to chase me around the campus but this school and-it-was-I mean I donít like to rabble-rouse and I mean donít rock the boat but my rights are being complet-"

Here she takes a huge breath.

"-ly ignored and I know itís because Iím a feminist and I know that men feel threatened by a woman with a brain but this principal Iím considering bringing in an attorney because I need some representation and I made some flyers and posted them everywhere because itís become a matter of the governmentís interference into the schools on a state level and the only prob-"

She sucks in another deep breath, and I take the opportunity to slyly chew off one of my hands, providing myself with an excuse to leave.

"Oops! I seem to have chewed off my own hand," I say. "Be right back."

Her lungs full, she looks around for someone to continue babbling at, and just then, the postal carrier arrives. He is doomed.

"-ably a matter for the courts right now because-"

She continues for, no lie, fifteen minutes, only pausing when her lungs become empty. She spews her flood of words at anyone who comes into range, not bothering to start over or determine if the person actually works here or not. Itís really kind of disconcerting to think that she works with children.  Of course, I find most children to be erratic and incomprehensible as well, so maybe it's a good match.

Since the SWAT incident, I've been parking much further away from the office, somewhere that seems a little safer, outside a crack retirement home about five blocks from the office.  I'm on my way back after lunch now, and I'm soaked, as it's been pouring rain all week and I have no umbrella. 

I am beginning to notice a social barrier, not dissimilar to the smoker/non-smoker rift that exists in this country. This occurs to me as I am hurrying along the sidewalk in the downpour, feeling big drops of rain hit my head, and feeling bigger drops hit me from the edges of the so-called protective awnings and canopies above the vandalized store fronts. 

I hate awnings. I mean, let's be honest: sure, they keep you dry while you stand under them, but as soon as you try to step out, bam! You get a tennis ball-sized drop of water right down your collar or on your glasses from the edge of the awning, where it has been clinging gleefully, just waiting to drop on you. And I know this has happened to everyone, because they told me. I'd also like to know what scientific principle explains why the drops of water from the awnings are always ten times colder than the actual rain.

Anyway, I am moving along the sidewalk as fast as I can, and ahead of me are three guys with big umbrellas, walking side by side. The sidewalk is only so wide, and their umbrellas keep them farther apart from each other than they would normally walk, even though guys walk far apart anyway so people won't think they're gay (and don't even get me started on how guys sit when they go to the movies together). 

So, I can't get by them without going into the street and getting killed by a bus or gunfire from a passing SWAT team. And they're just taking their time, walking incredibly slowly, under their huge umbrellas, preventing me from passing or reaching "safety" under the next awning. Totally inconsiderate, I think. 

And lest anyone think I am being unfair to the male umbrella-carrying population, a few blocks later I am behind two women in the same situation. Can't pass, and they're walking very slowly, and then, get this, they stop and hug. While they hug, their umbrellas stick way out on both sides, preventing me from dashing by, so I have to stop and wait, in the pouring rain, for this show of affection to cease. As I stand there dripping, I figure, "Well, they're probably going their separate ways and won't see each other for a while, so sure, why not have a hug." 

No. They start walking again, together. They weren't even saying goodbye or anything. I have to get extra wet because one woman probably said something like, "Cindy, your hair looks so good today," and the other probably said, "Oh, Cheryl, you're soooo sweet!" And then they both said, "Hug!"

Tomorrow I am going to inch along the sidewalk holding an umbrella the size of an above-ground swimming pool, stopping every few feet to hug.

Even if I'm alone.

Even if its not raining.

I only have about two hours left until I'm done here. This job has been somewhat of a downer because, being school-related, they have no budget, and therefore no cool stuff to steal. Itís a challenge locating a few staples or a Post-It note, let alone enough to load my pockets with. I mean, the floor of my car has more office equipment than their whole supply closet. I donít even have a computer, just some weird thing people keep calling a "typewriter." I canít get it to work, because someone apparently stole the mouse. Ha ha. I am young.

Thereís a nice older man who works there, Todd, who Iíve helped out from time to time during the week. I like Todd, he seems capable but a bit absent minded, and helping him out beats trying to wrestle teachers to the ground and inject them with sedatives.  Todd leads me over to his file cabinets. "Okay," he says. "What I want you to do is this."

He opens two half-empty drawers, and starts pulling files out of both of them.

"I basically want you to take these files," he says, pulling out the files, "and put them in this drawer," he puts them in the drawer, "and then take these files," he takes out some other files, "and put them in this drawer," and he puts them in the other drawer. "So, just, basically moving these files into that one" he says, again pulling out more of the files, "and those files into this one," and he puts the files in the drawer. "So, these in here," he demonstrates again, pulling out the remaining files, "and those in there," he says as he finishes the task completely.

"Let me know if you have any questions." He walks over to his desk to work on something else.

I do have a question. But I donít ask it. I just stand there by the file cabinets for about ten minutes. Then I say, "Done!"

He gets me started on another task, which involves taking files that are stacked on the floor, sorting them by name and district, and putting them in a empty drawer. This is a huge task, as there are hundreds of files, and I donít know how he expects me to get them done before the end of my last day.

As I yank the drawer open, it comes completely apart in my hand. Long metal things slide out of the side and fall in a clatter on something that can only be described as my foot, causing what can only be called immense pain. 

It takes almost an hour just to get the drawer fixed, and by fixed I mean "still broken but not evident unless anyone tries to open it." Of course, I still have to organize the files and load them into the drawer.

Thereís only an hour left before Iím done with this job, but luckily I am experienced in these types of things, so I kick into high gear, shove all the files in the broken drawer in random order, ram it shut, get my paycheck signed, and split.

Thatís the great thing about being a temp. You can just shove some crap in a drawer and run away forever. You donít have to deal with the day, a few weeks or months down the line, when someone will open the drawer and actually try to find something. Thereís no stammering and shame as you try to come up with an excuse for such a poorly done job, youíre already across town, screwing up someone elseís office. Chances are, five other temps have worked there before or since, thereís no way they can single you out and rat on you to your agency.

If I ever write a movie about temps (blockbuster! youíre thinking) I know what the first scene will be.

Iíve seen this in dozens of movies: itís nighttime, thereís an office, dimly lit. A window slides open, a thief (or our hero, the private detective) creeps inside, dressed in all black. There is a click and a small circle of light dances over the walls to a desk, then a file cabinet. He pulls the drawer open, flips through some perfectly alphabetized files, finds the one he wants immediately, sets it on the desk, takes pictures of the contents with a little camera, and then heís gone, silent and stealthy.

My movie would have a scene like that, only when the thief/hero opens the drawer, it falls apart and metal things land on his foot. Then he begins searching through the files, but theyíre horribly out of order. There seems to be no system to these files, even random placement doesnít account for how jumbled and chaotic they are. After three hours of searching, he finds the file he needs, but the contents are only a copy of the "Kirk vs. Picard" list office workers love to hang in their cubicles. Frustrated, he goes through another cabinet, then another, hours pass, the sun comes up, and the thief is finally forced to flee, unfulfilled, much like the audience, who has sat and watched some guy look through a cabinet for three hours.

Don't worry.  If there's a sequel, I'll add a SWAT team.