Saturday, February 26, 2005

Walk on Through the Fire/ Temp Insanity

Semi-autobiographical with hyperbole thrown in to taste...

Following a stint working in NYC I'd moved back to LA to continue pursuing a writing career. As soon as I got back into Tinsel Town I hit the bricks in search of freelance work but the market was colder than a witch's tithe. After about four months of living off my savings I was forced to file for (and subsequently drain) the remainder of my EDD (that's unemployment in CA) as I became hard pressed to find gainful employment. I wasn't looking a gift horse in the mouth, but three months living on the dole (as they call it in the UK) tends to push the envelope of survival in the market driven economy of the 21st Century. I chalked my trials up to learning experience and forged on nevertheless. I was down but not out, I had a degree, I had a computer, I had a telephone, I had transportation - all was not lost.

I got jiggy with the resume posting. I made calls and I sent out a gatling gun barrage of e-mails, query letters and faxes-- I was soon on a first name basis with the operators at 411. I took every temp agency test under the sun short of juggling cantaloupes and sawing the receptionists in half, but after a few weeks I still had nothing- I mean Nathan. Taking advantage of all the spare time on my hands I continued writing but after a while I took a chill pill and stopped because everything I wrote began to sound like the same, dismal and nihilistic dreck that preceded it.

My "me against world" idealism was taken to task as I began to cut out all the activities that were not cost effective. Movies (even rentals) were out the window and dating went the way of the dodo because you can't make the scene, if you ain't got the green. Forget fog-cloaked castles overlooking misty Scottish Lochs, Los Angeles is the loneliest place on the planet when you're broke, busted and disgusted. My pockets were on E as I continued to sink downward toward a rock and a hard place -- like Chief Brody told Quint after seeing their Great White nemesis in Jaws, "I was gonna need a bigger boat."

One Friday morning I woke up and began what had become a daily routine that started with a generic cigarette and a cup of cheap 99¢ store coffee -- by this point everything I consumed was a conceive of name brand goods I used to purchase on the regular in some previous life. Following my hobo's breakfast, I logged online to carpet bomb cyberspace with various versions of my resume while simultaneously cold calling contacts, classified listings, recruitment agencies, etc., that I'd found since my last uneventful bout of searching. Things were looking grim, The rent would be due soon, the refrigerator was empty and the toaster was laughing at me, but that Friday my situation would take a turn for the better.

My granny used to say to me "God only gives you as much trouble as you can handle." By then, I'd become intimately acquainted with the meaning of that little idiom, and all it's shades and textures on a cellular level. My membership at the neighborhood gym had long defaulted, so my health regiment included a steady diet of instant noodles (with hot sauce), chain smoking which was evened out with miles of heavy pacing around a telephone that never rang. Around 3:45 I got a call, and anxiously checked the caller ID, I figured it was a bill collector or telesalesperson because if the agencies don't call you by 2:00 on Friday, they're not gonna call you -- case closed, thank you please drive around. As fate would have it, the goddesses of serendipity were with me, it was a temp representative (hereafter referred to as a pemp). She was calling from one of the agencies that I'd juggled apples for a few months prior and had never heard from. She told me about this job opening with "should you choose to take this mission" tones, while I pantomimed cut to the chase gestures on my end. We dotted the I's and crossed the T's and she reeled my ass in -- no shoe phones, no self-destructive microfilm or exploding envelopes.

Of course I took the gig, I had one foot in the soup kitchen door and the other one on a banana peel; what the hell else was I going to do? She could've told me they were paying me with burritos and Zagnut candy bars and I would've jumped at the opportunity. I was at the end of my rope and she knew it. Sometimes you got to swallow the bitter pill of pride and walk on through the fires of degradation to see what you're really made of. Besides, the pemp assured me; "this assignment might offer a full time position further down the road." Hindsight, 20/20: those sadists dangle that Pavlovian carrot in front of the faces of all their salivating job-seeking charges to keep 'em showing up on time. Bah-Stuhds! Now I had to figure out where I was going to canoodle gas money for a week until I got paid. I took inventory of everything I owned that I didn't need to sustain life and let's just say there's a popular record store on Sunset in Hollywood with a sweet collection of Coltrane CDs, they got from some schmoe for dirt cheap -- "only what you can handle," whatever Grandma.

I settled into my new digs quite easily, I learned what I had to learn and did what I had to do. Hell, I even began to rack up a little OT to offset the slave wages I earned doing the same job that full timers all around me were getting paid twice my hourly rate to do while they complained the whole time. Paid holiday? Nope, Sick leave compensated? Forget about it. Still I played the game, I was amiable, I took on tasks, in short, I faked the funk most of the time. "Maybe there's a real J-O-B around the corner" became my mantra. As the weeks wore on, however, the glass ceiling that is the bane of being a temp, began to boink on my forehead.

As fate had it, my department began to catch up to whatever preordained productivity point the suits upstairs wanted to attain -- ahead of schedule, no less. I'd shot myself in the foot by working hard and the writing was on the wall in more ways than one. I slowly began to accept the fact that 1.) I wasn't going to get a full time position at this place, 2.) I hated 97% of my full time colleagues and 3.) this really wasn't a job I wanted at any rate. I was getting nowhere fast, my Achilles Heel was that I had become accustomed to the loot every week because the freelance gigs were still thin on the ground plus there were forces behind the scenes working against me. Heed the warning: it's not paranoia if they really are all out to get you.

It was a Friday, ironically, and I was simply looking forward to the weekend but no sirree-bob. Instead, my supervisor, sent me a e-mail while I was on a break. The note was tagged URGENT and she requested me to "see her before I left" and when I did so she expediently pulled the lever to the old trap door which threw a monkey wrench into all my plans. I guess the beauty of putting a temp to pasture is that you don't have to feel too bad when you do it -- contract laborers should know the heave-ho is coming sooner or later, after all. I was fired, called on the carpet and clueless.

As a temporary you always hear stories of pass iniquities doled out to the temp staff at the companies you work at but you never think it's going to happen to you, well think again Poindexter. When this shite happens one feels like they're thrown to the wolves, left up the creek without a paddle and in my case, I didn't even have a canoe. Financially, I was still in the lurch from the rip tide of unemployment from a few months back. Just as I began to get a little secure footing, the logs on my raft began unraveling beneath my toes, with sharks circling in the depths and vultures squawking in the clouds - brutal. I'd been there, done that and bought the soundtrack, the same bat-crap on the same bat-channel, but this time there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

After the initial round of self doubt and loathing began to subside, I started to breathe again. I reasoned it wasn't the worst thing that could've happened to me and although I might get taken to the cleaners (again) on some other temp job, I'd done it before and I could do it again. So can you, if it ever happens and I promise you it will at least once in your lifetime -- as of this writing the probability, gentle reader, grows exponentially by the day -- just make sure you're heading towards a destination, somewhere you really want to be.

Another key thing to remember is to keep on keepin' on, especially in the face of adversity. I'm not going to lie, the job market has become a battlefield not unlike some post apocalyptic Thunderdome (Two men enter, one man leaves) so be prepared to adapt and survive at the drop of a hat -- suck it up. A couple of weeks of Mac and Cheese puts hair on your chest, builds character, nothing lasts forever, blah-blah. These days nobody's above getting the ax. Most firings are unforeseeable, and pink-slip paranoia is natural but for the love of all that's holy, quit the brown nosing. If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. Take it from someone who knows, the cloak of desperation can never be worn with flair.
Laters, CeeP.

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