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
"Oh! The calendars!" his wife
"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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
"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
Oh, don't thank me, I think. Thank
God. I know I am.