When I was around 22 years old, I was laid off from a phone company in Ohio called Borecomm. I was actually quite happy to end the mindless position, and even happier to take their severance package. I took some time off and traveled a bit and ultimately decided to move to Northern California. I wanted to make some money before I left, and explored my options. This was just before the days of Craigslist, so I had mostly traditional resources to look for work. The thought of a temporary service crossed my mind. I remembered my first experience with temps, at Borecomm, about a year before I left. Typically, they were doing less work than us and getting paid more money too. I idealized the fact that they got to just come and go. They had no attachments to the position, no office politics. I remember thinking that my job wouldn’t have been such a bad gig if it weren’t so damn permanent. Temping seemed like a sweet deal. I actually tried to get work at a temp service in the past, but the agency I went to didn’t need people and the standard pay was pretty slim anyway. I didn’t realize there were such differences between different temp services. All the ones I had ever seen looked like they should have been attached to a halfway house or giving out government cheese. My friend Jeff gave me some info on a temp service that he used to work with. He was an actor, and often used temp services for brief work between gigs. They treated him well, paid well and had consistent work.
I interviewed with them, took a few tests to grade my Word and Excel skills. I did well on the Word test and just above adequate on the Excel. I told them I could do better, but they said the scores were sufficient. They told me the type of work they usually had. Data entry, admin stuff; all fairly bogus, but I needed to do it. I figured I could always quit. It was only temporary.
My very first assignment was doing data entry for Bed Bath and Beyond, a chain bathroom accessory retailer. I was working in something of a doublewide trailer office inside a giant airplane hangar of a warehouse full of lotions, soaps, towels and other bath and body things. This was the distribution center for the stores and catalogue orders. It was attached to the main corporate office, so there was a mix of suits with loud shoes against the cement floors and factory workers wearing back braces and work boots. There were mini forklifts always on the move. My two-day assignment was to insert numbers in place of products into a database. There wasn’t much to do or even think about when I was punching numbers into that computer screen. I pretty much sat there brainlessly for hours, thinking about anything but work, even while still working. I shoved off after an uneventful day-dreamy day with a yawn, just glad to have earned a day’s wage. Tuesday came along. Same old stuff. I was ready to get the hell out of there. 4:57 rolled around, creeping ever so slowly for those last 3 minutes. But I didn’t feel so bad. The previous day was my first day there; this was my last. I remembered my old job, stuck in monotony for almost 4 years. Every day I dreamed of walking out never to return. As a temp, it was like quitting my job 2 or 3 times a week, but still having a job. If I didn’t like my boss, I’d didn’t matter because I’d have a new one the next day. If I didn’t like my hours, I’d just get better ones. If I wanted a day off, it was no problem. I felt great, at least for a little while.
“Enron, oh, Enron”
Funny enough, my next assignment was at Enron Energy, a company I vaguely knew of at that time. I was an avid reader of the business section of the newspaper, but the mergers and buyouts were cumbersome to keep track of and simply quite boring to me. I often ignored the big energy companies the same way I disregarded telecom companies. I’d read the headlines in the newspaper but generally skip the articles. So Enron was a company I had heard of, but not very familiar with. This was before any misdealings were made public, or even known for that matter. My assignment, coincidentally, was to make copies of their financial files for ‘an audit they were they were undergoing’. I was oblivious to the implications of my task. All I knew was that the company eerily reminded of Borecomm. The people, the office itself, and the whole structure of the way the business was run. The same smooth talkers, the same people pushing paper and numbers. I found it quite ironic that I was being paid to make copies all day long at a company that was a near replica of Borecomm.
A year or so later the big scandal came into public display. I realized that those exact papers had been reviewed by the investigation team and used in litigation. I realized I had been involved, however medial the task was, in the whirlwind of a company crumbling and fat cats taking the 5th. It all fit perfectly into the picture that had been painted for me by my experience in the corporate workplace.
“Perpetual Temporary Machine”
So my girlfriend and I, now in NYC, were getting settled into our new 5th floor walkup apartment and accumulating furniture little by little. We got most of it up ourselves but there was one cabinet that required two guys to carry. Not knowing anyone who could help me move it right away, I turned to the natural solution: Craigslist. I posted an ad:
‘$10 for 15 minutes of work. Cabinet up 5 floors.
Looking for someone to help me move a cabinet up to our 5th floor walk up for a quick $10.’
I was uncertain of the success of this experiment. I didn’t know if I would get any takers. It was a pretty low offer. Five minutes later, finding 5 e-mails in my box, I realized that there was an army of willing people ready to take me up on the offer. The first to e-mail me got the gig. He came over and we exchanged names and handshakes. He was around 32, a little mangy, but not crazy or anything. He was friendly but not outgoing. I think he might have been a little stoned and in an antisocial state. But we weren’t there to socialize; we were there to carry awkward objects up stairs.
“Is this it?” he asked.
“Yup.” I replied. “You mind going up first?”
“No” he replied. The next several minutes consist of grunting and shifting and hauling and more grunting. We got it in the door and in a suitable place in the apartment.
“Here you go,” I said as I pass him a little over $10. “Want some water?”
“No thanks,” he said.
“Alright, thanks buddy,” I said.
“See ya,” he said. It was such a funny situation and brief encounter with another individual on a path of temporary employment. It was funny being on the other side of the stick. All the sudden I realized that I was an employer. It felt very strange. I felt like I was in the cycle of life, or at least the cycle of modern life, and moving up in the food chain, if only by just a little bit.
“Over My Head?
Trying to make ends meet AND to keep myself entertained, I took a job as a security staff member at the Knitting Factory, an eclectic music venue in Lower Manhattan. Most days were pretty easy, but some were certainly tougher than others.
Walking into work one of my first few weeks, I was unaware of the havoc about to be bestowed on me. As I walked up to the door, Aaron and Bob were just laughing.
“Have fun,” Bob said, laughing with Aaron, “go straight to the main space, and watch the elbows.”
“Why, what the F#%k is going on?” I asked, noticing that it was a hardcore show, but the way they were laughing made me wonder if it was something out of the ordinary.
“It’s really not that bad, I just I happened to throw two guys out like 10 minutes ago, so we were just screwing around…but it’s still pretty crazy in there.”
“Why’d you have to toss them?”
“They were just being jerks,” meaning they were being rude in the mosh pit.
“Alright, I’ll be inside.”
“Have, fun bro!” said Aaron smiling leaning back and clapping his hands.
So I grabbed my walkie-talkie, production notes from the office and headed into the Main Space. I walked in, facing the WALL of sound of screaming guitars and roaring voices coming from the band behind a sea of flying arms and legs spinning and flipping so fast I couldn’t see them. I had been to hardcore shows in the past, but t was ridiculous. I remember Chuck, another security guy, tough as nails, Hells Angels kind of guy, calling it “Kill Bill Style”. I didn’t know what he meant until this point. I very quickly came to the realization that I was a bouncer in a NYC rock club at a hardcore show. The usually dimly lit, ‘charming’ performance space transformed into this dark caldron of brutality and destruction.
I watch for a few minutes to just get a feel for how the mood is and who the main idiots might be. Bob walked up and stood next to me while he nodded and laughed. We sort of continued watching the pit to make sure everyone was being ‘cool’ (the word ‘cool’ being used in a very general way). I saw this little skinny twerp kid walking around the perimeter of the pit, swinging on people and swing kicking girls into the wall as they cowered to avoid. I said to Bob, “what about this kid in the collared shirt”,
“Who, him?” he asked. “No, these kids are fine. You don’t know the difference yet?”
“I guess not.” I say briefly, as I didn’t need to scream this conversation at him at the immediate moment. We walked back outside after a minute or two. “I just think that kid is being a $%&*. I know he’s skinny and not doing much harm, but if you want to be a big shot, go to the center of the pit…don’t torment the onlookers. I know that it always spills over into the sides but that dude is just flat out kicking stationary people.”
“He’s fine,” said Bob, waving it off. There was a feeling like, ‘maybe if he were bigger…’
So basically the rest of my night I found myself the keeper of controlled terror. As crazy as the pit looked, there were a lot of good kids out there who weren’t deliberately trying to hurt anyone, even helping people up. I am familiar with pits enough to know that they aren’t always as evil as they appear. Kids, and some adults, just like to get out aggression and rage, even if only in 15 second bursts. There were definitely some trouble-makers here and there, but I figured I’d be idle until Bob said otherwise. It made my job easy. It was a very funny place to find myself at the time, watching this Kill Bill rumble going on and trying to maintain the idea that we had any control at all. As crazy as it sounds, I found myself peaceful, in an almost meditative state, sort of mesmerized by the flying bodies and limbs.
I got outside after the show to keep the streets orderly to some degree. After working there for a while, I knew that 400 punk kids, who didn’t even really come for the music, but for the scene, were planning to hang out in the street for as long as possible. It was my job to keep them in a space smaller than my one bedroom apartment.
“Yea, I think I threw out all the assholes before you got here,” said Bob. Laughing, he said “…but still a pretty crazy crowd for a Christian show.”
“What?” I asked.
“This is a Christian hardcore band,” said Aaron with a big grin on his face. “Can you believe it!?!?” he said, indicating that he had the same bafflement as I.
“Are you kidding!?!?” I asked. This was some of the scariest s&$t I’ve ever had to do, and this was a Christian show. Even more, all the jerks were kicked out? I realized that I might be in over my head…