Working Girl

Both Linda and Emily have posted recently about their first jobs way back when, which got me thinking about all the various places where I have toiled myself.  Back before I became the fabulous, rich, and successful non-tenure-track college instructor you see before you today, I had a slew of interesting menial jobs.

While some of these jobs were pretty shitty indeed, I never really complained about having to work — and I have worked basically every day of my life for the past fifteen years.  My dad insisted I get a job when I was sixteen — that whole thing about teaching kids about responsibility and the value of a dollar, you know?  While it seemed like an annoying philosophy at the time, today I assume that kind of thing is the standard.

At least that was my assumption until I heard from several of my students (who either told me directly or whom I overheard during their off-topic conversations before class) that most of them don’t work and that they are “completely freaking out” about the fact that their parents have suggested they get part-time jobs for the summer.  FREAKING OUT.  Like, “Oh my god I have never worked before and I really don’t want to get a job but, like, sometimes at the end of the week I only have, like, $100 of my allowance left for food.  I’m going to starve.”

Take a minute to unpack that little statement (a direct quotation from one of my adorable whippersnappers) and see what you think about it.  I suggest focusing on the fact that at the end of the week she only has $100 left for food and thinks she will, as a result of her parents’ perceived stinginess, starve.

Now if you have made it this far without punching your monitor, let me congratulate you.  Let me also say that hearing this kind of thing makes me feel truly, unironically thankful for those years spent serving up cheeseburgers and lattes and dressing on the side to rude customers.  It may have sucked at the time, but I’m immensely glad I learned to appreciate hard work and didn’t turn out like the whiny little princess quoted above.  Thank you, parental unit.

In honor of that, I’ll tell you a little bit about one of my favorite early jobs.  I started this blog back when I worked at the Stupid Bank with Suomichris, so if you want to read all about that you can find it in the older entries of the “Life in the Cube” category.  I also imported a post from my old blog where I wrote about my first ever job as a counter girl at Fuddruckers – read about that here.

The job I want to tell you about today, though, was at a glorious coffee shop by the name of Mochapelli’s.  Oh yes, it was named after the Native American trickster god, Kokopelli, only IT WAS A PUN. How clever, right? Needless to say, the shop was decorated with Kokopelli-like figures whose flutes were replaced with steaming cups of java.  I swear that this is true.

I got the job thanks to a recommendation from Clarabella, who had worked there for a couple of years already. The woman who ran the shop was this wonderful, kind of crazy, hilarious and energetic person who was able to decide pretty much instantly whether she liked a person or not — luckily she liked me, and I worked at that job part of my junior year and all of my senior year in college.

We had an all-female crew (with the exception of a male manager who was only there for part of that time and who turned out to be something of a dishonest asshole, but that’s a story for another time) and for the most part everyone got along really well. The coffee shop was where I learned everything I know about coffee and where I learned that I really like to cook.  The lunch shifts when the asshole manager could be convinced to let me run the grill were some of the most fun times at the shop.

The other most fun times at the shop, which in fact exceeded the fun had cooking by a factor of 100, were when Clarabella and I worked the closing shift on Saturday nights. I won’t tell you too much about those nights except to present you with a hypothetical situation: if you and one of your BFFs were working at a coffee shop on a Saturday night, and that coffee shop were located in between a grocery store and a liquor store, and that shop were also outfitted with a top-of-the-line smoothie machine, would you decide to get creative with a special, employees-only smoothie recipe?

Don’t answer that. You would; I know you would.

Your turn:  tell me about your favorite job as a young whippersnapper.  Where did you toil?

on discovering my temp-job nemesis

I just had a discussion with a particularly annoying co-worker in which he openly espoused the same worldviews as a Known Nemesis of mine.

But first, some background: this co-worker is annoying for a wealth of reasons, most of which could be summarized by just stating that he is overbearing with his opinions and desires.  Then again, when have you known me to be brief about the things that annoy me? One sterling example of his character is that he spent the week MicroSoft released the Zune running around our offices telling everyone who would listen how the Zune was going to “kick iPod’s ass,” just you wait, and boy oh boy was he eager to see that happen.  I’m sure we can each think of no fewer than fifty things wrong with that scenario, not least of which would be the fact that none of us in the office could fucking care less, and, of course, no one had asked his opinion on the matter.

So go ahead now, reader, and imagine yourself a teeming nest of annoyances like this one, and then hunker down in that teeming nest, all scratchy and festering, and you will have the background lurking behind everyone’s interactions with this dude.  Then, thrown boldly up against that background are his actual work-related behaviors, such as the fact that he is constantly bungling things and then trying to deflect attention from himself, or to trick other people into rectifying his mistakes.

Today he tried to convince me to start dissecting all the architect’s orders I receive and creating new spec files doing effectively twice as much work as usual just to create some kind of back-up for the next time he goofs, or, perhaps, to create the illusion that the thing he keeps fucking up is actually my responsibility and not his, retroactively assuming the blame for his past mistakes.  He turns his own gaffes into an opportunity to come hassle me about whether some unused computer has Illustrator on it and where I would like the hole puncher, and by the way, here are pages 3-6 of some random ten-page document, you know, so I don’t have to print them out myself.

Basically, I can not stand this guy.

So when he started asking me today about whether I use the online course management system for my classes (you know, the one I believe we all agreed to call “Chalkboard”), I just knew something horrible was coming.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t quite sense what it was, and I was unable to deflect the blow.   It turns out that the annoying co-worker is of the opinion that his professors should all post his grades to what he calls the “Chalkboard Spreadsheet,” so that he will always know what grade he “has” in the class at any given time (despite the fact that Chalkboard will in no way help him ascertain this; I have described its mathematical inaccuracies and/or general unhelpfulness before).  He is incapable of keeping track of his grades himself, see, even if the professors report his grades to him when assignments are handed back.

“I just don’t wanna keep track of them,” he whines, sounding exactly like a thirty-five-year-old version of those kids on MTV whose parents throw them hundred-thousand-dollar birthday parties and buy them custom-made “hot couture” gowns [sic], which the kids then complain are “hideous” and “not hot” and which they then ask if they can take out back and burn, just to escape the multi-thousand-dollar, custom-made, hand-beaded, perfectly-tailored hideousness.  I seem to have digressed a little bit, but while I’m here, let me just say that you should by all means check out this show if you are in any way dissatisfied with your boring, pedestrian, bourgeois life, because these children will make you so, so thankful your parents never bought you a horrifying, diamond-encrusted watch or a ninety-thousand-dollar car just to embarrass you.

In that moment, though, when my thirty-five-year-old, ex-military, married, college-educated, reasonably successful co-worker sat there moaning and groaning like a rich brat whose mother had ruined not only her quinceanera but also her entire life, I realized something.  I saw those ridiculous whippersnappers who, with one instance of bad behavior after another after another, become my nemeses, and I saw exactly what is going to become of them.   They are all, every last one, going to be fucking up simple tasks in offices all across America, and trying to trick their colleagues into not only fixing things for them but taking the blame, too.  Keep your eyes open for them, all of you.  Contant vigilance.

Happy Birthday, Zombie Jesus

The other day at work my supervisor was all, “Hey, Alfinina*, what are you doing for Easter?” And I was all, “Wha? Huh? Easter who?”  But of course I played off the confusion and made some stupid comment about how I wasn’t doing anything, thank you very much, well, maybe I would clean out my closet.  Then later I remembered what Easter is all about:  of course!  It is our remembrance of the day when the Undead Jesus lurched out of the cave where he was buried and went forth to feast on the flesh of the Apostles.  Of course!

Happy Easter!  And if you see Zombie Jesus coming for you, just make sure you have your cricket bat at the ready.  You may also need to consult this guide for more tips.

*My supervisor calls me Alfinina**, which I think is funny, because my dad sometimes called me that when I was little.  It’s like a nickname, except way longer than my actual name.

**Well, obviously not “Alfinina” exactly, but the real-name-based equivalent.

Case of the "Work"

a different kind of detective work

I don’t know if I have described exactly what I do at the temp job here, mainly because it’s kind of spotty and changes from day to day.  Right now, though, after having finished the project in which I was completely anal about other people’s penmanship (sigh. I know.), I am doing some work with our company’s property files–we own practically half of this town, I am finding out.  Some of the files go back decades, and I get so absorbed in the stories told by the various collected documents. 

I can’t tell you how many files I’ve read where families, often immigrant families, start their own businesses and fail within two years.  Two years is pretty long, for some of them.  The files always contain an ebulliently optimistic business plan promising to take advantage of Location! Location! Location! and Foot Traffic!  Letters dated only a few months later reveal that things aren’t going as well as planned, and they’re really sorry the rent is past due.  Will they renew the lease for another year?  Will they have to break the lease midway through when the business is forced to close?  It’s so common, and always so sad.  I always wonder; if I had only eaten lunch there more often. 

Then there are files that just raise more questions: mysterious fires, the paperwork for which is cross-filed in a now non-existent folder; a blank piece of notebook paper with four keys taped to it; a document that has been seventy percent blacked out with sharpie marker and that seems outwardly to have nothing to do with the file it lives in.  Sometimes I try to solve these mysteries, poking around in the archives looking for those cross-files or holding that blacked-out page up to the light to try to make sense of the ghostly words lurking under all that ink. 

The other day I read through an especially fascinating one:  a retiree in her nineties and her husband were living in a house we own and they had been for forty-some-odd years.  Their rent was ridiculously low based on an unofficial rent-control-type situation, and the house needed about $15,000.00 in repairs.  As you can guess, we were hard at work behind the scenes thinking of some way to kick Grandma and Grandpa out of their house, and not only that, but we were also discussing ways in which this might be done so that the city wasn’t clued in about it in time to try to have the house declared a historical site (a famous Zemblan had lived there years before).  I cast my memory about my mental map of the city, and remembered that the only thing on that block, these days, is a parking garage. It seems we succeeded.

I probably oughtn’t poke my nose in this sort of thing, and I’m sure I oughtn’t write about it, but hey; that’s just how I roll.  All those years of watching Alias have gone to my head.  Unlike Alias and unlike my usual detective work, unfortunately, this involves neither fantastic wigs nor whiskey.

i talk too much about how i hate talking too much

My temp job is painfully easy, in the a-monkey-could-do-it sort of vein. Nevertheless, I often find it completely exhausting, and I think this is due to the fact that, at these sorts of jobs, I am always struggling to make small talk and seem pleasant around people with whom I have very little in common.

Our office is, in itself, quiet as a stone, but when people are in it, doing their work-like tasks, it fills up with all sorts of human noise. People are forever on the phone, making deals, having meetings, talking to their neighbors, hanging out at other people’s cubes, and just generally interacting in vocal ways. Not that this is anything unusual, but I mention it because, since the office itself is so quiet, we can hear literally everything everyone else says. I know about my neighbors’ health problems (urinary incontinence! sleep apnea!) because I’ve heard them on the phone with their doctors; I know whose wives and daughters are pregnant and when they’re due; I know who goes to church (hint: almost everyone) and who doesn’t (hint: me); and I know some really scandalous and verrrry interesting information about one lady’s daughter who is in violation of her parole and on the run from the law. But it’s all so wearying. I really don’t want to know these things.

This sort of enhanced transparency (if indeed “transparency” can be applied to the auditory field) makes me stress all the more about the random conversations I have with people. In all honesty (and this should come as no surprise), I’d rather just be left alone to work in peace. What winds up happening, though, is that people toss their little conversational gambits my way and I have to volley back something that’s sufficiently friendly but also fairly benign. It’s a damn minefield: if you wind up praising the homemade cookies someone brought in, you risk freaking out a volatile dieter who’ll wind up on some tear about how the cookies weren’t supposed to be put on the filing table because they were supposed to be in the kitchen because they are too tempting and good lord she shouldn’t have to face walking by them twenty times a day, does no one listen. On the other hand, you may wind up having some very nice conversations when some one asks you for the zillionth time what you study, and then when you say literature, they wind up quoting Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabelle Allende and talking about the emergence of Latin American fiction in the American mainstream. So it’s a crap shoot, I guess.

They’re all just so chatty; I’d probably love hanging around with them when I am tipsy and all yakety-yakety, but since they don’t stock the kitchen with booze, it seems unlikely that will ever happen. I do have very strong opinions about one office subject, though: pens. I like a 0.5 mm ball point, but here, as in many other areas, I am in the minority. Rather than try to persuade them to see the fine-tipped light, I suppose I will continue trying to get things done while attempting to feign interest in Local College Sports Rivalries.

This has all been a preamble to the discussion of work yesterday, which was awesome. There were only three of us there, so it was dead quiet, plus I got bonus points for coming in when I could have stayed home. We finished the huge, stressful floor-plan project ahead of schedule, which really relieved my immediate supervisor, who had been wringing her hands about it for weeks. Her boss had been putting the pressure on, too, so she was pretty ecstatic to see it finally wrapped up, and she took my supervisor and me out to lunch as a thank you. I was happy to be recognized, you’d better believe. Half the time I feel like I am toiling away while a good portion of the manager’s don’t know my name or what I am doing in their office. Honestly, I can’t blame them: it is just a temp job, after all, and it’s not like I am going to be there for very long. That all just makes it nicer, though, when someone’s happy about what I’ve done.

Seriously, though: the highlight of yesterday had to be the absence of the existentially crushing stream of mindless chatter. One whole entire day where I wasn’t silently screaming to myself for them to shutthefuckup already–oh the sweet, sweet relief.

i have a few things to say about penmanship.

I swear to god, this job. I am working on a project that requires a very small bit of artistic ability, a very big tendency toward neatness, and a very high tolerance of tedium. I have to ink the floorplans of the place we’re building in different colors according to department, and then I have to label each department clearly. I like this task just fine–the long sessions of repetitive inking are quite soothing, actually. The problem is that everyone else seems to think so too.

Cries of "Oooooh, I wanna color tooooo" ring through the office, and before you know it, two more people are crowded around the drafting table with me, "helping." That’s annoying enough, as I don’t especially enjoy being pressed up against other people or waiting for an errant elbow to be moved before I can finish inking the HR department. Just an example.

The main reason why I can’t fully enjoy this is that I am about a million times neater than everyone else, or at least a million times more anal. (I take almost no joy in saying this: on the one hand I don’t think having nice writing is anything to brag about, but then on the other hand, I don’t think there’s any excuse not to write neatly. If a person has functioning hands and eyes, what’s the damned problem?) The person who asked me to do this very pointedly inquired first as to whether I had neat handwriting (I do) and then whisperingly showed me the work of another person on this task as an example of "what not to do." Fine, I thought; I will just be neat.

But that same messy person whose work my supervisor had shown me is still working on the project, still scribbling happily away. New recruits have joined forces, mimicking his hideous anti-aesthetic. If I were in charge, I would just tell these shiftless no-‘counts to stop with the damned chickenscratch already or I would have to cut them deep. I am not, however, in charge. Therefore I must continue to sit there and witness their general incompetence, my blood pressure rising with every scritch of pen against paper, all the while trying to dodge their flailing limbs. Gah. Time for lunch.

Art, Work, and Freud