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
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!
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."
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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.