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the temp circle of hell
how i learned to stop worrying and love the job
by mike julianelle
4.29.01
humor


I've heard about people who've always known exactly what they've wanted to do all their lives. Hell, I've met a few of them. And I've even spent some time wishing I were like them. But I never have been. My future is a blank slate; I have no calling, at least nothing that has beckoned me just yet, and nothing seems to be on the horizon. Despite a phase in elementary school when I wanted to be Indiana Jones and a period in high school when I wanted to be Atticus Finch, neither a career in archaeology nor one in the law has developed. Time has gone by but nothing has really changed. In college, rather than major in a practical discipline such as Computer Science or Business, I chose an interesting yet essentially useless study track, Communications.

Years later, successful in my college career, yet remaining desperate and jobless, I sat and watched as my friends sold their souls for job security. They decided that they just wanted to make money, calling or not. I didn't care; I had taken the high road. I hadn't wanted to trade in my happiness for a fat money clip. So, I didn't have a professional niche? Big deal. At least I had my integrity. Or so I said. After getting by on such self-satisfied reinforcement for a few weeks, and unsuccessfully attempting to parlay my "valuable" integrity into a salaried position, I realized I still needed to eat. I hadn't wanted to trade my happiness for a fat money clip - I had wanted to keep my happiness in spite of the fat money clip. But at that point I would have taken a smile and a subway token.

It was time for Plan B: temping. I could go to a temp agency, give them my resume, and wait for thousands of jobs to come my way. I might even be able to find a position at a company I liked (!) and then parlay it into a salaried job. Sure, it wasn't exactly storybook, but I knew I could find something. There were temp opportunities by the thousands.

Soon I knew why. Most temp jobs are menial tasks and consist of joys like filing, opening mail, typing, and phone jockeying. In fact, I quickly discovered that while I would, indeed, have a lot of choices, they were all basically the same. Boring. But rent was due.

So I took a data entry job through a local temp agency and decided to hack through it for the sake of survival. The work was repetitive, but easy. I could deal with that. The pay was only all right but it was steady and I could deal with that. Unfortunately the working environment was a bit unpleasant. And by "a bit unpleasant," I mean unbelievably hostile and spine-crushingly despairing. I never knew that being a temp was basically the same as, say, having a massively contagious disease that is spread by eye contact, small talk, and industriousness, but apparently it is. At least to those out there fortunate enough to have "permanent positions." But I had no choice, so I dealt with that, too. I sat at the same desk everyday, saw the same people everyday, and did the same job everyday. Not only did people not greet me when I saw them, they would glare at me and then quickly look away when I looked back. By about the second week I realized that in all probability, temping was the tenth circle of hell and Dante's editor had had to squeeze out those few stanzas to make the publishing date.

I have learned a lot since that first job. I have temped for a day and I have temped for months at a time. I've made a million phone calls and typed a thousand numbers into the computer. I have never once had any idea why and I rarely cared. I took the good with the bad, mostly bad, and I dealt with it. I put Neosporin on my paper cuts, I drank bad coffee, I felt the cold shoulders, and I heard the silence. But I also got time and a half, took an hour lunch, had no loyalty, and called in sick with a stubbed toe. I took every holiday off but had a hundred bosses. I got no respect but I listened to my Discman all day. It balances out when you use your leverage. And the trick to surviving as a temp is finding that leverage and making it work for you. Remember they need you more than you need them.

And, should you ever find yourself at a place you like (HALLELUJAH!), there are three surefire ways to ensure they keep you. First and foremost, kiss ass. Second, never talk about fight club. Third, kiss more ass. Bring a box of donuts for a few Wednesday's in a row, and then skip one. They'll notice and wonder why that temp--what's his name again?--didn't do his usual Wednesday donut thing. This is low-level brainwashing. After a month or so, you'll have made yourself, through your donuts, a fixture in the office.

Realistically, though, temping is not a place to find a job. It's an employee's purgatory, a musky attic to hide out in until you find a real job. So, for those seeking any port in the storm of unemployment, I offer these simple guidelines to making your life as a temporary employee go more smoothly. They come with a warning: TEMP AT YOUR OWN RISK.

1) Never EVER make eye contact with anyone but your specific boss and other temps. (If you do, attempt to look away before they look away. It is one of the few ways a temp can assert himself.)

2) Only speak when spoken to or when a question must be asked.

3) Do not attempt to correct people when they call you by something other than your name: they don't know, they don't care.

4) Do only the work assigned to you and only in the manner instructed. Assume that if you find a more efficient manner in which to complete a task, you are somehow wrong.

5) Do NOT attempt to make friends in the office. Don't bring donuts, don't smile, don't start OR join conversations, don't say hello or goodbye, and never bless anyone when they sneeze. It is your responsibility to make the real employees not notice you. Not only are you disregarded by the rest of the office, you are disliked.

6) Ask your boss every possible question. This helps you maintain your speaking voice by saying a few things over the course of a day, and it insures that you don't make mistakes. Better to be a stupid temp than an incompetent one. Plus, your boss is the only person whom you can incessantly question without being ignored, and a fierce inquisitiveness might help to make his or her day almost as miserable as yours.

7) Never brew a fresh pot of coffee, even if you take the last cup. The coffee is not yours, be thankful you are allowed any.

8) Never express that thanks to anyone in the office.

9) Horde clerical supplies.

10) The only good temp is a dead temp (Actually, I just needed one more to round out the list, but it's not that far from the truth at some places).

Now, it might sound like a tough working environment, but remember these words of encouragement: You might only be a temp, but you get paid every week and if your boss expects you to work a holiday with the rest of the office, just mind your manners and try to keep from laughing in his face.


ABOUT MIKE JULIANELLE

Let's get real here. You don't want to know about me. You want to know about "me".

more about mike julianelle

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COMMENTS

alicia coleman
3.22.01 @ 6:22p

Been there, done that, didn't stick around long enough to get the company t-shirt. But, when sufficiently pissed off by the powers-that-be, I did manage to rearrange all the filing I had done for the past week as a little good-bye gift for all the memories. No wonder they never called back.

james pearce
4.29.01 @ 11:14a

A wonderful essay. I give this a "4" instead of a "5" for only one reason ~ I don't like to see the popular rear-end reference in print, and that's just a personal thing. In my lifetime I always was a "permanent," but I went through apprenticeship and fought my way up with organized labor (gasp). I was around when capitalism came into full flower in the '70s and started resorting to "temps" and "permanent part-time positions" to avoid running the risk of having long-term employees who might worm themselves into positions where they could present problems ~ or demand and get more benefits. TEMPS of the World ~ Unite! The only thing you have to lose is your slave status.

adam kraemer
4.30.01 @ 11:30a

Not that I'm not for offering benefits to temps, but from a corporate point of view, wouldn't that basically defeat the purpose of hiring temps?

jael mchenry
4.30.01 @ 2:52p

I think even permanent employees are a bit too zealous in their pursuit of #7. Possibly also #9.



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