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As a temp, you'll be making your living inhabiting a series of desks that belong to other people.  You will sit at peopleís desks in their absence, do their work, in essence becoming them for a few days, a week, a month. When they return, you will go and fill in for someone else, sit at their desk.

This has a certain gun-for-hire appeal, a nomadic sort of charm to it, and it can be interesting to sit at a stranger's desk, to see what they have chosen to place around themselves, presumably objects and belongings that make them feel comfortable, items they feel best reflect their personality, or at least the personality they want others to think they have.

But like everything else in the world, there are good things and bad things about sitting at someone else's desk.  And, like everything else on this website, I'd like to focus on the bad things.  Every cloud not only has a silver lining, but also the potential for dumping softball-sized hail on your unprotected cranium.  Take a seat and get ready to flinch.

First of all, you will be subjected to the other employeeís comments when they see you sitting at the desk of their absent co-worker. Highly original witticisms such as "You donít look like Cathy!" or "What have you done with Steven?" or "Muriel, youíve changed!" will assault your eardrums on an hourly basis.  I have developed, much to my shame, a polite laugh to deal with such encounters, rather than my instinctive reaction, which would be to lay my head on the desk and sigh mournfully.

What usually comes next is an inquiry about where the employee Iím replacing is. The person is usually on vacation, at a doctorís appointment, or stuck at home with a projectile-vomiting Jack Russell Terrier, but I grow weary of telling everyone the same thing and am often tempted to make up more interesting stories.

"Tod is having a painful groin fungus removed," Iíd love to say just once. Or maybe, "Janet seduced a grade-school boy and canít make bail."  Of course, "He's dead" is the one I'm most tempted to give, but it seems needlessly cruel, so I generally stick with "He's dying" instead.

Answering someone else's phone isn't fun either, as callers will be completely baffled by the fact that you're not the person you're filling in for.  From their level of incredulity, you'd think they'd dialed their phone and been instantaneously teleported to Pago Pago in the middle of the Polynesian Basket Festival of O Le Tala I Le 'Au Uso (a confusing festival even if you're expecting it).

What's worse, sometimes the caller doesn't even question the fact that you may not be the person they were trying to reach.  Many times I've picked up the phone, saying "Hi, this is Christopher, can I help you?" only to hear "Hi, Janet, this is Ralph, can you fax me the new updates?"  

Of course, these are all just minor annoyances when compared to the real problem of sitting at a desk that's not yours.  In order to drag this out a little bit, letís look at a hypothetical situation.

Let's say you have trained for years and years to be a lifeguard. You can swim like a dolphin, you know dozens of lifesaving techniques, you have a great tan, youíve had had all the brain matter removed from your head (I base this on repeated viewings of Baywatch), and you are ready for action. The only problem is that there are currently no lifeguard positions open at the beach near your home.

You wait and wait, and finally a call comes in. It seems that Chad, one of the senior lifeguards, has taken ill with a slight case of death, and will be out for a few days. Can you fill in?

You jump at the chance. This will be a great opportunity to show everyone what you can do. The next morning at the crack of dawn, you head down to the beach and meet the Administrative Assistant Supervisor of Coordinated Lifeguard Support Services (or whoever it is that is in charge of lifeguards).

The supervisor shows you the beach. He points out the ocean, and the numerous people whose bloated corpses you will no doubt be fishing out of it later in the day.

Then he hands you (and this is the important part) a pair of sand-caked, sweat-stained Speedos. "Put these on," he says.

You donít want to put them on. You don't want to touch them.  You wouldnít even want to set fire to them, for fear of accidentally inhaling the fumes they would produce.

"These are Chadís bikini swim-trunks," the supervisor tells you, apparently mindless of the hair and grime stuck to the offensive scrap of material. "You are filling in for Chad, so you have to wear his thong."

Sound revolting? Well, welcome to the life of a temp. No, you donít have to wear another manís snug-fitting swimsuit, but you will have to sit at someone elseís desk. Trust me, it can be just as disgusting.

After all, people live at their desks. Sitting at someone elseís desk is like going to a strangerís home and crawling into their bed. Desks collect hair, crumbs, dust, and sticky substances you don't even want to speculate about. If it were your own desk, your own hair, it wouldnít be any big deal, you just brush it aside and tuck into your microwave burrito. But when its someone elseís... well... its disgusting. Itís like sitting down on a public toilet and feeling someone elseís butt-warmth.

Here are some of the delights you might find at "your" desk:

1) cups or mugs with petrified lipstick on the rim
2) "scrunchies" with hair in them
3) mascara caked eyelashes
4) the socks and tennis shoes women wear instead of heels while commuting
5) Little stuffed animals that stare at you with bright button eyes until you go crazy
6) partially-full coffee mugs supporting as yet-undiscovered bacterial life-forms
7) the ear-piece of a phone headset with... with... well you know what stuff is on it...
8) Greeting cards displaying children dressed as asparagus
9) food stuck between keyboard keys
10) electric nosehair trimmer
11) trimmings of the aforementioned trimmer
12) lots of unfinished work (not disgusting, but certainly annoying)

So it can be pretty gruesome. Not to mention the fact that you will often be filling in for someone who is out sick. That means the day before, they were coughing, hacking, blowing their nose, and then using their keyboard and phone. So you need to be concerned with disgusting stuff you canít even see.

You may get strange looks if you insist on boiling every single office implement you use but trust me, its worth it. I mean, you might think that swabbing something with alcohol will do the trick, but it probably wonít. There are only two other choices: wrapping yourself from head to toe with some sort of air-tight rubber garment (which I do every Friday night anyway) or just chilling out and dealing with it. After all, you probably eat at Arbyís. What kind of disgusting crap do you think goes into your burgers?  You know, I canít believe youíre getting so worked up about a little dirt. Jeez.

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