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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

(Very) Odd Job Lauren

All right. Today I just about had the weirdest experience at a new (temp) job, ever. This is saying a lot for a person who seemingly has made a career out of job sampling like bon bons in the sweetshop of life. Not that I WANT to be jumping about so; it's probably all on account of being small and realizing that writers must have interesting lives in order to have something to write about. And now, my husband laughs when I tried to describe how my day went. "Well, it'll give you something interesting to write about!"

Well, try this one on for size (I'll try to be brief): I apply to this "Executive Admin Assistant" job via idealist.org six weeks ago. Being slightly depressed about my station in life, I've been striving not for something amazing, but for the old tried and true thing I could do for a nine to five, being an office worker drone (in addition to considerable amounts of writing and music, which I actually do believe I excel at; more people seem to need an admin than a writer or a musician, though I could be wrong!).

So, Monday night at dinnertime I get a call from a woman who has a nonprofit in New Haven. It centers around the Arts and Culture as being vital to society, and racism in healthcare, and film projects. It's all classy stuff and on a well made website. I won't mention her name or the organization -- and you'll soon see why. I say graciously, "How can I help you?" She tells me she's desperate for a good admin. . . had to let the other one go. . . AND her project coordinator is leaving the job at month's end. . . she wants to hire me to temp for a month at $20 per hour. . . then she says, "I'm going to ask you a question that's totally illegal but I have to. Are you over the age of 34?" Sadly yes, I respond. "These people 34 and under, this generation just doesn't get it!" Anyway, I pass that test.

Then she asks about my typing speed. "Last time I tested, it was around 6o wpm. Probably more now, as I type all the time." "Oh, good," she sighs, "This other person typed 35 wpm -- and she TOTALLY misrepresented herself in the resume. She looked good on paper, but she WASN'T HER RESUME!" Well duh, I could have said, but held my tongue. A resume is a billboard that highlights what the person wants you to see. People aren't resumes, and vice versa. I still don't know why people lie so much in this world. Exaggerate a little, OK, but blatant lies are ridiculous.

She tells me she's confined to a wheelchair, doesn't leave her house, and that everybody on her staff works right there, in her small NH apartment off Whalley Avenue. OK, I think, this is REALLY getting interesting. . . maybe not in a good way?

OK. I get out my Shoreline East Train schedule to see about going in to meet her. I am resolved to get into NH by train. She says that "Carny," from her office, will call the next day to make arrangements. The pseudonymous Carny calls, sure enough, and we figure out that it's best I come earlier, like 10 AM Wed. OK, that's cool -- I'll get done what I have to and get to the 9:15 train. No problem! I am glad somebody wants me. Maybe I can be helpful; we'll see.

So I get to the NH station and wait until, like, 10:15 -- and Carny has been delayed. So I wait around and she turns up by 10:30. We have to pick up carrots on way there -- which is OK too. She asks if I have lunch and I say no, so I pick up some protein bars to augment my fruit and cheese. We get to the apartment, and it smells like old food, cooking. There IS some old food, cooking. The small front room contains three desks & chairs with lots of files and piles of paper etc. Attached to that, a small dingy but functional kitchen. I notice there's no microwave so I might as well toss my leftover coffee.

I meet the woman's husband, a nice guy who seems kind of exhausted, and a young man who is in their care who doesn't talk, just grunts and honks repeatedly, like a Canada goose: "Hoh, hoh, hoh, HOH!" I realize this aimlessly shuffing about teenager is developmentally challenged, so I don't get into engaging him in drawn out conversations. I also meet a few women who function as housekeepers or cooks, and they're nice, too.

I am handed a manila folder full of papers to do data entry with. I ask, "Am I going to meet her (the boss) today?" Carny's face falls. "Oh, you don't know? She had a rough one last night -- was in the emergency room. . . " Apparently, this woman -- the boss -- has Muscular Dystrophy, diabetes, and a host of other major health issues. No meeting with her today! I am pretty disappointed, as this was the purpose of my trip.

Then I inquire if I will be paid to work. "Yes." All right, I dig in and start to do the pile of data entry after Carny explains to me. All this goes on for a few hours, smoothly, the sounds of the street outside lulling me interspersed with the young man honking away and other sounds of painful aspiration from the bedroom. . . I feel guilty that I'm turned off by the surroundings, and very conflicted about my future with this company. Everybody is certainly nice, but the lulling sounds and smells and thoughts all mingle into a not-too-agreeable feeling. On top of that, I'm kind of struggling with a major depression and then I start thinking I'm such an asshole for aiming my sights so low. . . . though $20 an hour was what I was paid in my last job (plus benefits). That job wasn't very interesting, and sometimes my coworkers simply toxic, but. . . ah, to go back. At least it smelled nice and there was a fitness center onsite!

So on the trip back to NH station on our way back (2 1/2 miles on the odometer), I asked Carny about more general job stuff, like does she always work there, in that litte apartment. No, not necessarily. Good. Then I ask if there are any breaks, like if I could step away for a walk or at lunchtime, occasionally. "No, we work straight through." I mention, trying to hide my dismay, that that's not healthy. . . she comments that maybe the boss could learn from that. Hmmm.

Before leaving the apartment, the boss woman, via phone intercom, cross examines me about my work schedule and so I tell her -- to feel relieved and off the hook, oddly -- I'll come next week, Monday through Thursday. Thursday is a major event in Albany, and she asks if I would come along for that. "It will show you what we're about. Will be very important." Plus, the pay rate for events is $200. Hmm, that's not bad, I think. Anyway, I figure I'm on the spot and I'll give it a try. . .

Once at NH station, after all this, I'm in shock and I walk around so troubled that I forget to take my coffee from Dunkin' Donuts and have to go back for it! I call a few friends and try to figure it out. One says that times are so hard, sure, stick with it! My friend Dave says we'll talk about it tomorrow. My husband just chuckles. He often has to do jobs he doesn't like at all to bring in money. I figure he thinks, why not Lauren? Who knows.

I just know that I saw a NYT subhead on my way out of the train back to OS station, and it read, "In Medicine, The Power of Learning to Say No." I do believe that was a message intended for me. . . but meanwhile, please send me your own thoughts/comments/experiences. I am struggling with whether I should return and work for a month and have them think I'm signing on and training for this position, or just come out with the truth: it's a grim environment for me to work in and I can't be a part of it because it's a really bad fit. I'm not a quitter; I just have this sinking feeling . . . though first impressions aren't always lasting.

HELP!!