Go Fish

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 wetbars.  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 there.

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.

"What's this?" he asks.

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.

"Oh!  The calendars!" his wife says.

"No, no, the box is too small."

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.

"Huh.  Wonder what's wrong with him.  Malaria?"

"Could be dehydration."

"No, he doesn't seem to be hallucinating at all.  My guess would be malnourishment."

"You think so?  Look at the way he's clawing at his eyes.  Gotta be hallucinations."

"But he's not clawing very hard..."

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 thing.

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 short..."

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 out.

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 urnials, 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 water.

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 keyring off under the blowdryer, 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.

Dude, 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 concussion.

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 booklet 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 quizzically.

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.