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Of Rice and Men

I start a brand new job today, and I have determined that it will be a good one. Iím coming off a week-long break following a string of absolutely horrendous assignments. During my week off, Iíve had time to do some reading, time to catch up on my letter writing, and time to completely clean and re-organize my apartment. I have, of course, done none of those things, but Iíve had time to do them. But the one thing I did do was think.

It really seems impossible that I could have so many terrible jobs right in a row. I mean, you would think that a few months of work would bring some good jobs, a couple bad ones, and then, maybe, a truly awful one. But all Iíve had were the awful ones. So, during my downtime, I started thinking that maybe it wasnít the jobs that were awful. Maybe it was me.

Impossible, you say? Believe me, I dismissed the idea several times before lending it any credibility. But after all is said and done, who do I really have to blame? Besides my idiot temp agent and those freakish companies she sent me to work for and the Republicans: just me. And perhaps awful isnít the right word. Itís just that if you go into something with a bad attitude, youíre going to have a bad time. And perhaps thatís what Iíve been doing. Perhaps Iíve been a bit to cynical, too judgmental and suspicious, not tolerant and upbeat enough... well, thatís going to change right now.

Positive. Iím going to be positive this time. Iím going to feel positive, act positive, and be positive. And thus, by the laws of positivenastisity, this will be a positive job. And one heck of a positive essay.

Iím off to a bad start almost immediately, when I find out who Iím going to be temping for. Iím hesitant to reveal the actual name of the company, because Iíve seen their payroll reports and it appears they employ several skilled assassins. Not that Iím going to say anything bad about the company, or itís policies or employees. Not at all! Iím only going to be positive in this essay. Itís just that this company, wellÖ they have kind of a silly name, and their ad campaign had a really lame jingle for a whileÖ Letís just say they make pasta and rice side-dishes, and they are closely associated with a major US city that I happen to live near that has cable-cars and a famous bridge and a well-known prison on an island that housed Al Capone and a certain Bird-Man. Okay? And they have a jingle that implies that their product is a particularly favorite "treat" of this city, which I forgot to mention has a lot of hills, and a famous singer left his heart there. Got it? Are we all on the same page here? And, to avoid just calling them the "company" the whole essay, why donít I make up a nameÖ letís just call them "Noodle-Doodle." I think that has about the same amount of dignity as the true name of this company. And while this may not seem like a positive thing to say, I am just being honest. When I told several people, independently of each other, mind you, that I was working for Noodle-Doodle, they all giggled and then burst into the jingle: "Noooooo-dle-Doodle! The Undisclosed West-Coast Major U.S. Cityís Specialty Food of Choice!" Youíve got to admit, itís catchy.

Anyway, I will be filling in as administrative assistant in the "side-dish" division of Noodle-Doodle. I have about eight people to support, which is a lot, but everyone always seems to be in meetings or traveling. Of course, I have to schedule those meetings and arrange those travel plans, so Iím screwed. I mean, um, Iím challenged! Nothing wrong with being challenged. Itís a positive thing.

Part of my job will be to publish a newsletter, I am informed. Thatís exciting! Iíve always wanted to be in charge of something like that. You know, writing little blurbs and articles, gathering news tidbits, watching the press releases, selecting photos and graphics to use, maybe even adding an editorial, or some humor, cool fontsÖ I always thought that would be fun.

The woman training me hands me the latest edition of the "Flavored Rice and Noodle Newsletter."

"You wonít actually be writing anything," she tells me. "You get blurbs e-mailed to you from the corporate headquarters, and you just format them. You can scan in pictures of the noodle boxes if you want, though."

Yes, I always thought a newsletter would be fun! You know, formatting blurbs, scanning noodles, not writing anythingÖ

I meet my counterpart, the admin. assist for the other department. I guess Iím in the rice department, and sheís in the noodle department, I really donít know. I donít know my rice employees from my pasta personnel at this point. But we do the same sort of work, and are expected to help each other out when we can. I help her all morning by making copies, sending faxes, and filing documents, and then, in the afternoon, she helps me by talking my ear off about her son. Her nineteen year-old, impossibly brilliant, incredibly handsome, terribly wonderful, frightfully charming, college-attending, youth group-leading son. She chirps away happily about her pride and joy while I idly wonder how long her lifeless body could remain hidden in the noodle storage chamber before itís discovery.

UhÖ okay, thatís not exactly positive. Letís seeÖ I am fairly certain that it would be weeks before they discovered her lifeless body in the noodle storage chamber! Thatís positive! Right?

A little later, the woman who trained me drops by my desk to see how Iím doing, and we chat for a bit. Then this other guy shows up, one of the managers.

"Have we met?" he asks.

"I donít think so," I say, standing and shaking his hand. "Iím Chris."

"Iím Rich," he says. "Good to have you aboard."

"Thanks, itís nice to be here."

Rich leans forward, his face growing serious. Quietly, he says, "I know that youíreÖ lonely."

Huh?

He continues, pausing frequently to show me how thoughtful and concerned he is, "I knowÖ that youíre scared. I knowÖ that everything must seemÖ newÖ and differentÖ you look around and all you see areÖ unfamiliar facesÖ strangersÖ Well, you hang in there. You. Hang. In there."

Itís all I can do not to burst out laughing. Iíve been temping for over a year, and now this jerk comes up to me, like itís my first day of kindergarten, and starts in with this condescending, meaninglessÖ

No! Positive. MustÖ remainÖ positive.

Okay. Um, letís see. This guy Rich is just, uh, trying to beÖ nice? Yeah! He knows that it can be awkward when youíre a temp, he thinks maybe Iím feeling worried about the jobÖ even though I was sitting there happily chatting with someoneÖ I mean, why would he think that I needed my spirits lifted? Huh? I mean, maybe if I had my head down on the desk, sobbing or something, then he would have a reason to give me his corny little sermonÖ

No! Not cynical! Ignore rage!

Okay. Rich was just concerned, thatís all. It was decent of him. He was being sincere. He was, really. Heís a genuine guy. I mean, he may have laid it on a little thickÖ but IÖ IÖ (come on, I can say it) IÖ appreciate his concern.

"Thanks," I manage, the word sounding strange and foreign to my ears.

"No problem," says Rich. "Iíll talk to you later, Steve."

Steve? Steve!?!

Great. So he wasnít even listening. Just completely did not listen when I introduced myself. I mean, I forget names all the time, but I donít get them completely wrong ten seconds after I learn them! What a jerk. See? His whole little speech was just him showing off. He isnít concerned, he wasnít sincere, his mind was thousands of miles away when he was talking. Heís a big phony. You know, forget this positive garbage, it pays to be cynical! Otherwise, you believe this kinda crap is true instead of dismissing it, and you wind up thinking that people like Rich are really great people, and you respect them, and then you work hard for them, and then you get promoted, and then you get your own office and a corporate expense account! Well, not me, Mister! Iím no fool.

Steve. Of all the nerve. I mean, I didnít forget his name. Rich. Or Richard. Or maybe it wasÖ

Dick.

Later, I walk to the copy room to work on some sort of important high-priority noodle-related reports. Thereís a woman making copies, a very pleasant, attractive person, and we talk for a bit while she works. She seems very intelligent and funny, and I must admit the thought of asking her out crosses my mind. There is a snag, however, as her name turns out to be Olga. Olga. What kind of a name is that?  When I say "Olga," I picture a large Russian woman with a moustache.  I could never date someone named Olga. Especially while Iím working for Noodle-Doodle. "This is my girlfriend, Olga. We work at Noodle-Doodle together."

See? Itís just too many silly words to have in my life at the same point. And it doesnít exactly help that I drive a car called a Probe, either.

"Iím going to drive my Probe to Noodle-Doodle and pick up Olga."

Forget it. I might as well just put on a clown suit clown and spray people with seltzer water. As nice as she is, and as dateless as I am, I plan to avoid her for the duration of my job here.

Some good news!!! It appears I have won thirty-seven million dollars in the California lottery! Rich is immediately dispatched to console me.

The day is almost over. My counterpart walks over to my desk, the one with perfect son. "WELL, GOODNIGHT CHRIS," she says, loudly. "OH, BEFORE I GO, I WANTED TO ASK YOU SOMETHING ABOUT THE COPY ROOM."

What the hell is her deal? I reluctantly get up and follow her down the hall.

"YES, JUST A QUICK QUESTION ABOUT THE COPY ROOM. NOTHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY. I JUST HAVE A NORMAL, WORK-RELATED QUESTION FOR YOU."

We get to the copy room, her speaking unnaturally loudly the whole way, and she just walks by, heading towards the front door. There, she takes me aside and whispers, "Sorry, I actually wanted to ask you a question about my son."

She pauses for a moment, perhaps to allow me to gasp, and exclaim, "What?? No question about the copy room??? But, why, why the clever subterfuge???"

It seems her son is interested in becoming a temp (which shows he isnít that brilliant after all) and after he signed up with an agency, they told him the most he would be paid for a position would be thirteen dollars per hour.

"I mean, thirteen dollars?" she exclaims, mystified. "Heís worth so much more than that, and I told him so! Can you imagine them expecting him to work for a pitiful thirteen dollars an hour? Who would work for that little?"

IÖ am working for thirteen dollars an hour. And itís a new development, too: I usually get paid a bit less. I know she didnít mean to insult me, but I still want to beat up her son in front of her. No, no, I canít do that, I donít know where he lives. Sighing inwardly, I ask her what his skills are and what sort of experience heís had. Turns out, he knows about two computer programs and heís nineteen. No office experience, no graphics, no programming, no management, no accounting.

But heís her son! Heís the wonderful son of this shrewd, crafty woman, who so deftly tricked everyone in the office into thinking she had a work related question for me!! In fact, I think she fooled most of Northern California too, she was speaking so loudly. My word, her son should be paid millions to sit at a desk and answer phones.

I tell her that the rate sounds about right to me, and that if he feels itís too low, he should just look for a regular job. The whole concept of temping is that you make a sacrifice as far as pay goes, but you get exposed to many opportunities that lead to bigger and better things.

Such as Noodle-Doodle.

Grumbling over the days events, I go back to my desk and prepare to flee this chamber of horrors. Rich the Dick stops by yet again, tells me to "hang in there, Steve," and leaves. Oh, Iím gonna hang something, Dick, and it ainít gonna be "in there." Whatever that means. I think it might have been a threat on Dickís life, Iím not thinking too clearly at this point.

Well, this day has certainly shown me that being positive and tolerant of others isnít something you can just decide to be. I mean, despite my resolve this morning to be a more positive, less cynical human being, today Iíve entertained thoughts of murdering two people and beating up a teenager. Plus, Iím now hiding from a very nice woman, simply because her name is Olga. Itís just all so silly. I really need to change.

But, I mean, come on! Olga!

You would hide too.