Working

My workplace is hiring, and so lately I’ve been fielding inquiries from interested candidates who “want to know what my job is like,” as well as “what are the rewards/challenges of your position?” Also, whether or not it’s “stressful” [as compared to what, exactly? Feral cat wrangling? Retail? Being the one with the small hands and the weirdly long arms who always gets volunteered to grab whatever’s been dropped down a storm drain or into a gopher hole?]

As you might have surmised, I am maybe not the best person to ask about this kind of thing. But here’s my take on Employment, General:

The late Studs Terkel might disagree, but most jobs don’t require brains or skills, just an upright body that can breathe unassisted. That jobs like this outnumber the jobs that aren’t like this is another sad story…but I’m not really in any position to comment on that.

What I can say is that, if you are a person who likes to think about stuff for hours at a time or who likes to make up stories in your head, then any mindless job can be useful.

That’s why temp work was good for me, because I got to sit in a place with heat or air conditioning, depending on the season and, for a small paycheck, I got to perform what — to a rather shy, tic-riddled and anxiety-prone depressive such as myself — can only really be described as “clerical stimming.” There is something profoundly reassuring about having to perform a repetitive task such as filing or opening mail. You don’t have to learn anyone’s name or what their exact job title is, because — hey, you’re just the temp. Nobody cares. If you do your job properly, no one even realizes you exist. And technically, that makes you some kind of deity.

One summer, when I was a teenager, I ended up working (indirectly) for Big Tobacco. I like to believe that this was because I was hygienic, articulate, and a fast typist. (More likely, it’s because — to politely paraphrase my immediate supervisor’s assessment — I did not look like a prostitute, unlike my predecessor.) It also didn’t hurt that I had a knack, then as now, for unjamming printers and copiers…or that I was familiar with outdated software (remember Lotus 1-2-3? Chronologically speaking, I shouldn’t, but that’s the corporate world for you.)

It wasn’t fun, although it was certainly a surreal experience. How could it not be, with a statue of Mr. Peanut in the front lobby?* Also, WTF Scranton?**

Across from me sat a woman who’d spend her workday making up songs, such as “(Gonna Kill That) Fat White Bitch,” about her ongoing feud with a woman in accounts payable, and “Get Me Some Money, Go to New Jersey,” which is self-explanatory, with maybe one footnote, which is that if you happen to be stuck in Northeastern Pennsylvania, even New Jersey starts to seem like the better option.

The only problem was that I was efficient, maybe too efficient. My coworker, Tony — and by telling you that in the Scranton area there lives an older Italian-American gentleman named Tony, I am hardly infringing on anyone’s privacy — started to give me some of his extra work. I didn’t mind, because doing Tony’s work was miles better than approaching my nominal supervisor, who seemed annoyed whenever I showed up at her desk, saying that I’d completed whatever task she’d assigned me. And while I can look busy if I must, I’d rather actually *be* busy.

Anyway, Tony would hand me handwritten paper expense reports, which I’d take back to the Temp Box (which is not a box, not even close. It’s basically a cubicle with fewer than the typical number of walls, if you can wrap your mind around that)*** — where I’d total up the columns via adding machine(!) while playing “spot the hooker.”****

All in all, it was ok. But that hardly matters, because it was a job. Jobs are what you do, not who you are.

For, as my mother has always advised, “Never turn down paid work.” And, as my father never fails to point out, anything is better than a.) the Foreign Legion and b.) working at a light bulb factory.

(I believe him, by the way. I also believe that he may well have done both in his youth, because he is seriously old; because he comes from a long, long line of eccentrics; and because he grew up in a remote Pennsylvanian hamlet that, in addition to practically being in both Ohio and West Virginia, is also about 75 years behind the rest of the world.)

That said, I really like my current position. It’s like the grown-up version of the ideal job my seven-year-0ld self might have invented (e.g. “I want to read and write and draw pictures, and I don’t want to play soccer because I hate it and also there should be animals to make you feel better when you’re sad!” — in other words, while I am not required to play soccer, I can’t have a puppy at my desk. The rest, however, I do get paid for.) It has its challenges and its rewards. There are often baked goods. In summary, my job is like “awesome.”

*Also, I learned the secret of Oreos. It is horrifying and that’s all I’ll say on the subject.
**It’s just strange. Very few cities inspire a person to look around and say, to the entire physical layout of the place, “Go home! You’re drunk!”
***It’s hard to describe,  and probably even harder to create outside the theoretical realm, but the shape falls somewhere on the spectrum between “book end” and “open 3-ring binder”. Mathematicians probably have an actual name for this.
***Here are some hints, should you find yourself in this position: umbrellas almost never cost three hundred bucks (unless perhaps their ribs are made of Wolverine’s claws or something) and only rarely do “party supplies” if you’re not funding a cotillion for your clients.
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