Tuesday, August 28, 2012

8-28-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #192 (Working Temp in NYC: Typing for the Wrong Man, part 5)

Besides asking me to frequently update his list of many and sundry possessions for insurance company updates, Raymond Joslin had a little side project going (besides spending time on reviewing his investments -- he’d get Wells Fargo Bank statements that I’d file for him, in the filing room behind “my” desk).

He was working on his memoirs: apparently, he was seeing a psychotherapist who told him it would be good for him to reminisce about his early life and write it down. So, being an old school kind of executive (who didn’t type), he’d dictate these reminiscences and have his assistant type them up. Since his usual assistant was away, he readily dumped those microcassettes on my desk and had me transcribe for him.

Admittedly, I like to transcribe, but I couldn’t help smirking at the stuff he was saying and having memorialized. I guess it was the tone of the memoir, not the content: he sounded very first person Dickensian-cum-Horatio Alger. You know, the poor little waif who, by dint of pluck, hard work, and luck, pulls himself up by his bootstraps and makes something of himself. A sour note of resentment ran through it, though. . . maybe his parents rejected him and his grandparents raised him, maybe the people in his church didn’t give enough of a helping hand. . . I just thought some of it sounded unbecoming.

I did hope that he was going to do a LOT of editing. Or, I hoped that he could change the way he was thinking about things from his past. As Epictetus was teaching me by reading my little book of the Stoic philosopher’s quotes, daily, he points out how we’re powerless to change anything in life but our attitudes towards it and things that happen in life. . .

If that’s not invaluable advice, nothing is.

8-27-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #191 (Working Temp in NYC: Typing for the Wrong Man, part 4)

I’m getting a little fed up reading -- and writing -- about this temp job so I’ll recount two little anecdotes about that time and then (thankfully) move on.

Because Joslin was so connected and knew so many interesting people in entertainment and in syndication, one day his lunchtime visitor was a woman who wrote the “Heloise’s Hints” column. Only, the latter-day Heloise was the daughter of the original, who wrote about all kinds of household hints back in the sixties, and was syndicated by King Features (a member of Hearst Entertainment and Syndication Group).

When I met the woman -- a tall, slender, striking looking lady in her early forties who had flowing, straight, mostly white hair -- I got up from my desk and extended my hand: “I’m your biggest fan,” I enthused.

She reacted with mock horror. “I hope not!”

In a split second, I realized she was referencing the Steven King movie, Misery, where the Kathy Bates character tells the writer she idolizes that very same thing and kidnaps him, for starters -- then it all goes downhill from there.

“Uh, okay, well, not THAT big a fan.” We both had a laugh, shook hands, and I knew that this new Heloise was a very cool person. When her mother, the original Heloise, died in 1977, daughter Klah Marchelle Heloise took on the mantle and kept the column going. Now she has a website, of course: http://www.heloise.com/index.html

I was very excited to meet Heloise, just because, I mean, here’s a person who’s kept a very useful brand going for quite some time. . . she’s successful at doing something unusual AND she seems very happy. Hooray for Heloise!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

8-26-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #190 (Working Temp in NYC: Typing for the Wrong Man, part 3)

My first day there, I noticed some blunt yellow No. 2 pencils in the out box. “Clarice, what do we do with these?” I asked the other assistant. Mr. Joslin was out at a meeting at the time, and I was barely on speaking terms with the old grouch, anyway. He made it known that you only spoke to him when spoken to. . . 

“I dunno,” Clarice shrugged, going back to her work, which was mostly as a Portuguese/English interpreter, as far as I could tell. She fielded a considerable volume of phonecalls from Brazil for Mr. Joslin. He had some businesses going in South America as well as his work at Hearst, as far as I could tell. . .

I took those blunt yellow No. 2 pencils from his out box to my desk and sharpened them, one by one. I then placed the sharpened pencils in his in box, awaiting a reaction.

I also put a draft of some typing I did for him along with the pencils in his in box. Later on, when he came back from the meeting, I heard him say, “Sharp!” in his office, with a happy tone to his voice.

I never knew by that monosyllabic reaction if he meant, 1. The pencils were sharp, which pleased him, or, 2. That I was sharp, for sharpening the pencils, or, 3. That I was a “sharp” temp who could type well. Beats me. . . other than that, he was truly cranky and deserved every mean wrinkle on his wizened-apple face.

8-25-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #189 (Working Temp in NYC: Typing for the Wrong Man, part 2)

So, I was sent to the corner of 57th and 8th, to the ultra plush offices of Raymond Joslin, President of Hearst Cable Network. I remember meeting him and feeling both scared and full of pity. He was about 5 foot 7, probably in his sixties, but his face had so many wrinkles. . . and they weren’t happy wrinkles by a long shot. His wizened-apple face had the angriest, nastiest look to it of anybody I’d ever seen up to then. I heard a distinct “Look out!” warning in my head.

This angry older man had the largest office of anybody I’d ever worked for, consisting of a large reception area with two separate desk spaces (and an impressive 8’ X 10’ filing room behind the desk where I sat), a waiting room to the side, and finally, Joslin’s “inner sanctum,” an office that resembled one for the president of a prosperous small country.

He had plaques all over celebrating his status as a “Cable TV Pioneer.” Wa hoo. He had weekly meetings with LifeTime, ESPN, and a variety of other cable channels, who all reported to HIM.

His impressive office reflected the life of a man who had it ALL: The wood paneling/plush carpeting/leather furniture/manly book and photographs-with-famous-Republicans in his inner office. The leather-bound in and out trays on his massive desk were all that we, the two assistants, were supposed to attend to. . .

Friday, August 24, 2012

8-24-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #188 (Working Temp in NYC: Typing for the Wrong Man)

As for the typing, there were different kinds of machines I’d work on. First, for a brief few years, on a typewriter like a large, clunky, loud IBM Selectric. Then came the in-between choice, an electric typewriter with memory that they called an early “word processor. . . “ the text showed up on a small screen above the keyboard and you could backspace and erase before hitting the “print” button.

Once actual personal computers with floppy disks did the work, using MultiMate or WordPerfect, soon enough Microsoft Office Suite took over and it was MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint. I’d say that was in the mid to late ‘90’s, though.

Right around that time, one of my tempjobs took me to work for Hearst. A super conglomerate communications corporation, Hearst at the time had several successful magazines and cable television companies that ran under its legendary umbrella.

(Hearst was the company whose founder, William Randolph Hearst, the Orson Welles movie classic, “Citizen Kane,” was based on. I used to walk the halls of the building I worked in whispering, “Rosebud. . . “)

When one of the Presidents of the Cable TV operations, Raymond Joslin, needed a temp because one of his two assistants had to take a few weeks leave, I was called to fill in. I was warned from the outset, “He’s a very demanding boss -- with a very short temper.”

Optimistic to a fault, and philosophical too (this was when I started reading Epictetus, the stoic Greek philosopher, and carried a tiny book of his quotations around with me for inspiration), I took the assignment, knowing it wouldn’t be a piece of cake but probably incredibly interesting. . . 

8-23-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #187 (Working Temp in NYC: What is so goshdurned great about TYPING, anyway? Pt. 2)

Maybe keyboarding reminds me of piano playing. . . how I long to be a boogie woogie piano player. . . I’ve always had a piano around, just hoping it’d beckon sufficiently for me to get good at it, but then, that keyboard on the computer beckons even more beguilingly and. . .

Anyway, when I worked tempjobs in offices, it was the last hurrah or the last gasp of the old school executives, the ones who’d bark, “Take a letter, Joan!” or whatever. Most of the older guys or the senior executive officers had no typing skills, so they’d write out drafts on yellow legal pads and just hand the writing to their assistants -- like me.

I’ll go into detail about him later, but probably the guy with the nicest handwriting -- or the easiest for me to decipher -- was Norman Mailer. But, he wasn’t an Accurate Temporaries client. That’s another story -- related, of course, but later for that.

Even though some men had horrendous handwriting, I am very good at deciphering handwritten script (it’s like a puzzle to me) so I did well at drafting copy for bosses who couldn’t -- or wouldn’t -- type their own.

Not so when it came to female executives; they’d invariably type their own stuff. The women bosses were few in number but towards the end of my temping in NYC they definitely were a force (maybe 1/3 of my jobs were with female bosses by the end of the ‘90’s.). And then, the younger generation of male executives (starting with guys MY age) were proficient on the computer; they didn’t need assistance with typing, either.

Now, when I first started the word processing/computer typing, I wasn’t so great at formatting (on WordPerfect, then MicroSoft Word, all versions). But after years, I got pretty good. . . also on Excel and PowerPoint. But then, I learned everything on the job and couldn’t have been happier to be working and learning. . .

But then, every job I’ve ever had has been a learning experience!

8-22-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #186 (Working Temp in NYC: What is so goshdurned great about TYPING, anyway?)

That’s the question I’m always asking: why do I like typing so much? Is it because, by an inexplicable (this is when science seems like voodoo to me -- might as well be, for all I can comprehend) muscle memory, a person can create words and punctuation, on a page? Is it because it seems like a miracle that it all makes sense and that we’re able to do this (when you REALLY think about it)?

Nowadays they have classes to teach “keyboarding” in school, but back when I learned to type by not looking at the keyboard, doing it by touch, it was called “touch typing.” It took me forever to get the hang of it and to not look down at the actual keyboard but. . . once it came to me, I loved typing. In fact, I must still love typing because I average thousands of words per (average) day.

Actually, typing isn’t writing, so strike the previous sentence. Here and now just for the record, when I worked temp and had to type for an employer, I didn’t mind all that much. Typing was preferable to phones, or filing, or photocopying. . . only transcribing was more fun, to me. I’m sure I’m in the minority, because in one sense it’s kind of a pain in the ass to have to type up other people’s thoughts and rough drafts (and make sense of their mumblings and meandering thoughts, taped on the DictaPhone).

I can’t say why I was so fond of it back then (wouldn’t be too crazy about typing up somebody else’s work now -- but probably would depend on the person and situation). But I do like “busy work” and respect the muscle memory of fingers flashing fast across a keyboard. . .

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

8-21-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #185 (Working Temp in NYC: Back to working for The Man and doing his/her filing. . . )

Some people can see/think in terms of black and white. Not me. I see things, people, situations in other terms, in shades of gray due to their complications, nuances, multi-facets. This extends to philosophical arguments and making decisions (pros and cons become lines on a page highlighted in lighter or darker gray tones). For an artist, it’s a great way to see the world; for a worker bee, it’s . . . complicated. Third nature, maybe.

That is why I’m, er, not ridiculously good at filing unless you specify the destination, because I see so many choices when it comes to filing other people’s documents. Actually, that’s when it comes to filing ANY documents, period. In my home, I have filing cabinets all around me organized with a “logic” that’s personal, whimsical, even. It’s a 50/50 chance I can find my own papers. . . but in the computer age of scanned docs and such, it’s easier.

Back in the day when I worked in offices for others, if you handed me a document with the place you want it filed clearly written on top -- which 90% of the people I worked for as a temp would do -- filing was a slam-dunk proposition.

Some offices had a “Filing” pile that they wanted the temp to tackle. I’d do filing when more pressing tasks (like phones, copying, faxing, typing) weren’t happening. But the smarter offices where I worked would tell the temps the Filing pile was off limits. It was important work to be saved for the regular employee (who’d, wisely, know exactly where to file the documents).

That was in what I call “the age of the hard copy,” back before so much work became digitized by computers. Of course physical filing was more important back then, before the Digital Age. . . 

8-20-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #184 (Working Temp in NYC: Questioning the temp employment agency worker’s choice)

On the employer/company level, how practical was that, hiring a handful of us temp workers to assemble annual reports for a week? That must have added up, along with paying overtime for god-knows-what and sending workers home after 9 PM in limousine car services.

Ah, the eighties were times for the luxe life, indeed -- even for the worker bees. No wonder Reagan was so popular. . . people thought he brought them wealth. To be kind, I thought that whole mindset was impracticable, though. . . it didn’t work, in the end, just like Lehman Brothers.

Anyway, as previously mentioned, office temps never got a raise or a bonus, and most wages stayed frozen at eighties rates well into the post Y2K world.

That is why there aren’t career temps, workers who just do temp work, I guess. For me, it was a viable solution to a creative life: I’d work in offices when I wasn’t on the road, or work in offices when I was trying to figure out my next creative move (in words and/or music).

I won’t keep on ranting here, but in a world where the price of everything else keeps going up and up except worker wages (the lowly temps!), how is that right? (If you call that Capitalism, I call it screwed up. . .)

I always was proud to sing about worker’s rights in the Washington Squares in the eighties because I was living that dichotomy, and my firsthand experience gave me added passion. Who better to care for the worker than a sister worker with a conscience and a voice?

Of course, I worked at my creative work and prayed for it to “take off” so I could stop worrying about the rent etc. But as you know, God works in mysterious ways -- as the stories in this blog surely attest.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

8-19-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #183 (Working Temp in NYC: Questioning the conscience of the temp employment agency behemoths)

The temporary employment agency business must have grown exponentially from the seventies to the nineties. More and more of them popped up, along with specialty temp firms (“consulting” firms for engineers, architects, graphic artists, even lawyers). At this point, in 2012, I know in the past five years they’ve probably taken a beating due to the recession, but temporary worker agencies remain viable businesses because they’re a practical solution to a hiring problem (“how do we get projects done with a finite beginning and end without using other valuable employee hours?”), or an economic solution to permanent hiring (“how can we get away with not paying any benefits -- and make a big cost savings? -- which means less administrative work as well.”).

And sometimes, in the temp-to-perm world, the companies just want to try out a few potential employees on a probationary basis, and hiring a temp is a safe enough alternative (and somebody else checks out/vets that potential candidate for a permanent job).

As it was, back in the ‘80’s, a lowly office temp like me was paid $15 an hour. The temp agencies charged over $30 to the companies. Knowing the workings of capitalism, I didn’t mind that, so much, but here’s what got to me when I realized it had happened: temp wages froze. Once I got up to the $16 per hour rate in the nineties, it never went higher. Over thirty years, I worked intermittently in the temporary employment field as a high level admin (with a 60 wpm typing speed and thorough knowledge of MS Office: Word, Excel, PowerPoint) and not gotten an hourly wage above $16 p.h.

That meant: no raise, ever. It also meant that wages didn’t keep in line with cost of living increases. . . So, rents would rise along with the price of milk, bread, cereal, fruit, meat etc.-- and the $16 per hour wage would remain. I don’t know how anybody could keep living that way, paying bills and trying to save for a home, a car, a baby, a rainy day. . . not even thinking about saving for retirement on a temp’s salary!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

8-18-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #182 (Working Temp in NYC: Questioning the wisdom of the man)

Looking at the example of the 120-page document that was glibly sent by fax and redone at great expense, I saw many more examples of what I considered wasteful and non-insightful business moves. Looking into the corporate history of the many mergers and acquisitions (M&A’s) of one such company (which became the very publicly bankrupt Lehman Brothers), all I know is what I saw from the ground, looking up.

When I first temped for them, the company was called Shearson/American Express (’81 - ’84). Then it became Shearson Lehman/American Express (’84 - ’88). And then, Shearson Lehman Hutton (’88 - ’90). After that, it was Shearson Lehman Brothers (’90 - ’93). And then, Smith Barney Shearson.

Lastly, as a spinoff company, Lehman Brothers enjoyed a lengthy (by these standards) history, from 1994 to 2008, until it all went south for them.

At any rate, I worked mainly for the Shearson Lehman/American Express company. They had offices in the World Financial Center, across the covered pedestrian bridge over South Street/West Side Highway. They were nice offices, modern, full of light, not too high up. Their lobbies were gorgeous, especially during holiday season, in December.

Those WFC offices all looked and sounded like money. . . hushed, serious, intermittently jocular (pealing laughter and sounds of camaraderie amidst the silent gasps of defeat). The sound of money is an oxymoron, as when people can afford to, they minimize or deaden sound, with thick carpeting and soundproofing -- anything to keep out the sound of anybody else because that would introduce somebody else’s reality and money doesn’t have to care about anybody else because money is special, you see.

At least, that’s how it felt in these companies. . .they’d spring for private cars to take temps home afterhours. That’s because, instead of the bosses spending five minutes at the start of work and the end of work, monitoring what work had been accomplished by the temps, they ignored them. Temps would stay as late as they could, accruing overtime pay, then get a nice free ride (in a limousine service) home.

I wasn’t at all surprised when it all went bust in 2008. . . I wondered how Lehman Brothers kept going that long, really. . . 

Friday, August 17, 2012

8-17-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #181 (Working Temp in NYC: Faxing Documents for The Man, Part 2)

“A hundred twenty pages?!” The admin in the receiving office scoffed. “You’ve gotta be kidding me. They need it faxed? They can’t just get it mailed?”

I checked back with my exasperated temp boss. “If I wanted it mailed, I’d have said to mail the sucker. Just fax it,” he ordered, with a dismissing wave of his pudgy, manicured hand.

I called back the other assistant. “Yup, he definitely wants to fax it to your office. Is that all right? Is this a good time?”

The other assistant groaned, “That’ll keep all the other faxes from coming in, so I’ll give you another fax number to send to. And, I have to check if we have enough fax paper. Once you start sending, that will take hours. . .”

I groaned sympathetically back with the other assistant. At any rate, us two assistants watched over our respective fax modems like mother birds watching their eggs hatch. . .  we had to make sure the transmission was successful, each and every page of the 120 pages. . . because each page took about a minute, and then occasional machine jams occurred, so in the end, that damn fax took almost three hours to send.

The next day, my temp boss said, “That document you faxed yesterday? Trash it. We’re doing a new draft.”

That was one of those times, as a temp, I was fit to be bound and gagged. How much more wasteful and non-insightful could those bosses be? Well, look at the corporate history of one of many big business failures, like Lehman Brothers. . .

Thursday, August 16, 2012

8-16-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #180 (Working Temp in NYC: Faxing Documents for The Man)

(This is acutally a later version of a fax machine, an all-in-one by Samsung. I'm talking here about the fax machines that still used the thermal fax paper!)

We’ve covered the photocopying task, pretty much, so now it’s on to sending faxes. When the telecopier or fax machine (“fax” is short for “Facsimile”) first came out, it was pretty revolutionary stuff. How amazing, then, that people could send copies of documents over phone lines and get stuff that previously had to be mailed and the whole process would take several days, not minutes.

From Wikipedia: By the late 1970s, many companies around the world (but especially Japan), entered the fax market. Very shortly after a new wave of more compact, faster and efficient fax machines would hit the market. Xerox continued to refine the fax machine for years after their ground-breaking first machine. But, in later years it would be combined with Copier equipment to create the hybrid machines we have today that copy, scan and fax. . . “

The early fax machines used rolls of thermal fax paper, brittle stuff that would fade eventually. Wisely, some bosses asked for copies to be made on regular paper of those thermal fax transmissions.

Normally, faxing wasn’t at all difficult unless the fax phone # given was wrong, the machine was jammed, or the instructions on the machine weren’t clear. It seemed that every fax machine was different, which made things a little more challenging with each new temp assignment.

At any rate, faxing documents wasn’t an onerous task. One time, when I worked for an insurance company, I had to fax a huge binder. I figured it had to be sent in chunks, and of course, I had to alert the receiving party that this mega-document was on its way. . .

8-15-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #179 (Working Temp in NYC: Xeroxing for The Man)

I know they call it just plain old copying now, but back in the dark ages of the copy machine, we called it photocopying and most of them were called Xerox machines, and so we used the verb “Xeroxing” a lot for making copies of documents.

The early Xerox copiers weren’t as fast and reliable as the current generation of super copiers, of course, but they weren’t without their usefulness and charms.

Before using copy machines, we had carbon papers to make copies with, and they were messy (the carbon stuff came off when you touched it). But we use the initials for that expression to this day, on our emails as well. Some jobs I worked, the bulk of the tasks were to make copies and distribute them to a big “cc” (carbon copy) and even “bcc” (blind carbon copy) list.

I quickly learned how to load those early copiers, troubleshoot, cajole ‘em into cooperation. I always checked the paper supply and figured out where the extra paper and toner cartridges were kept, first, when I arrived at a new office and knew I’d be visiting that room an awful lot.

This was invaluable knowledge once I went into my brief teaching career decades later. Teachers live and teach by generating lots of paper assignments to classes, especially in Social Studies and English. And a teacher who knows the ways of a copying machine is lucky indeed!

At any rate, we did do stupid stuff back then like Xerox our faces, our hands, our butts even. . . because it was hilarious and you weren’t supposed to, of course!

Another fun thing to do was to make copies of personal documents -- another no-no, but believe me, when you feel small and powerless and disrespected and put upon, you try to milk the system for every little convenience. I had a lot of song lyric sheets (even then) and felt compelled to always keep a hard copy of any correspondence I’d send out, personal or business. Some day I’ll find them and probably torch the lot. . .

Anyway, office temps were often sent off to make copies for other secretaries too, so I spent many days sequestered off in the copier room. I didn’t really mind too much, though. At least, I was away from the phones.

8-14-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #178 (Working Temp in NYC: Personal Errands for The Man)

Another thing about me, I love doing anything that’s uncommon or not part of the plan at work because I like change. I also like to think that life isn’t boring, and when you get out of the same ol’ same ol’, boredom disappears - poof! -- like a cockroach when you turn on the lights.

As it happened, some bosses had interesting requests as far as errands. A few asked if I wouldn’t mind picking up their lunch orders if I was going out -- that was well and fine. One or two asked if I could fetch their shirts from the cleaner’s down the street. That was cool, too.

The most interesting errand -- since this was pre-Ticketmaster -- was to pick up some concert tickets for my groovy divorced older guy boss, Merv Weiner, who was a Sr. VP in M&A at Bristol Myers-Squibb. The concert:  Leonard Cohen Live! at the Felt Forum. Everybody Knows he’s my man and so, I was more than happy to go in person to get tix for Merv because I also picked some up for my boyfriend and me.

Of course, I’d not have been as ecstatic if he asked me to get tickets for Billy Joel or somebody I loathed. . .but the trip outside the office to do just about anything other than work at a desk between 9 and 5 was kinda heavenly.

So, thank you, Merv -- and thanks, Len, for an awesome concert way back when at the Felt Forum. That was where I bumped into Allen Ginsberg and discussed our favorite songs off Cohen’s I’m Your Man album. He said to me, “I like that Manhattan song. And how’s Tommy (Goodkind -- from the Squares) doing?”!

8-13-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #177 (Working Temp in NYC: “Take a memo, please” and Speed Typing for The Man)

Because I have a great love of language and can visualize words on a page while people are speaking, I am an exceptional at transcriber. And because I had plentiful experience as a freelance journalist, writing up interviews from mostly musicians and celebrities, I also had a lot of transcribing under my belt.

As a journalist, my transcribing tools weren’t as highly functional as in an office where they had the almighty DictaPhone machine. It was like a tape player but had a foot pedal attachment with a play, rewind, and fast forward function. You could also adjust the speed on your DictaPhone console so that it played at a good rhythm that you could type as fast or slow as your speed and keep up with the words.

A note on my typing speed: For years, I couldn’t get up to 45 wpm. The better, higher paying hourly jobs went to those who typed 55 wpm and over, so that was an obstacle I needed to surmount. I practiced very hard for a few weeks, then called Accurate about retesting my typing speed.

Because Denise had a soft spot for brash, funny little me, I re-tested and just made it: 56 wpm. My rate increased by $2 per hour! Oh boy, I was on my way to riches, then!

Anyway, when the bosses wanted me to “Take a letter,” I’d explain that I didn’t know shorthand but could make do with a fast longhand. I’d scribble away on a steno pad, then rush to the typewriter to type what the boss had just dictated relying on scribbled phrases and memory. After a few edits back and forth, the letters could be typed in final draft, on company stationery, signed, Xeroxed for the files, and sent. Whew!  

On the days where I had to mostly take dictation, transcribe, and write . . . as the saying goes, “I’d be laughing. . .” It was something I was really good at, and don’t we love feeling good about what we do well?

8-12-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #176 (Working Temp in NYC: Setting Up Meetings for The Man)

 So, other than answering the assistant’s phone on their desk outside the boss’s door in the course of a day and sometimes making all kinds of personal calls for the boss, the killer thing would be: setting up meetings.

Because this was the pre-email environment, setting up meetings for me meant taking a deep breath (even though I’m quite good, even sometimes brilliant at it, I have a slight phone phobia) and dialing the extensions.

“Hello, Mr. Whoosit’s office? I’m filling in for Mr. Dutcher’s secretary and he was wondering about setting up a meeting with Mr. Whoosit on August 17? (pause) Oh. Mr. Whoosit’s out of town then. Well, let me get back to you with some other dates. Thank you.”

This kind of thing would happen many times, the invitee not being available and a lot of back and forth, phoning. Aaargh!

Until I got the hang of it, coordinating meeting dates and times was a killer. You had to have multiple possibilities in order to nail one date and time down, and then consider the seniority of the invitees and prioritize. You had to have an org chart for that because usually the boss was too busy to ask. And usually at some point in the process when you reported back to the boss about who was in and who couldn’t come, you’d be yelled at, anyway.

When you finally made all the calls and nailed down the attendees, then you had to find a room for the meeting. I’d rely on other “office gals” for help, regular employees who knew the ropes and rooms.

Setting up meetings was never fun, always work, always stressful. Later on, with computers and emailing, it got better, but still. . . I found that experience useful when I had to set up band rehearsal schedules, or plan a big family gathering.

On the days where I had to set up meetings and it didn’t go well I would NOT laugh, inwardly, that they paid me to work. . . and I’d wonder why anybody would want to work full time, permanently, in an office. Ugh.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

8-11-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #175 (Working Temp in NYC: Phoning Home for The Man)

I previously described a nightmarish job, working reception. Well, since most of my temp jobs were for more general office work, it didn’t matter about the phones as much. I grew a mounting respect for receptionists who had to handle so much at one time.

Most jobs, the phones I had to answer were just one of two buttons on an assistant’s phone on their desk outside the boss’s door. And that was a piece of cake, as it’s easier to keep track of a couple of lines/buttons than a few dozen. So today, let’s explore another one of the clerical/secretarial tasks in more thrilling detail. Today’s task: 2. Making phone calls for the bosses.

Hmm. Wouldn’t you think that answering the phone would be the thing we were exclusively responsible for? Ah, not so. In the old days of secretaries, they’d be asked to do any number of multitasks. That would include personal stuff for bosses, even if you were filling in for their assistant. It actually made me kind of laugh -- though I didn’t dare chuckle aloud.

One guy, with Shearson Lehman (before they became Lehman Brothers), had a great name: Dodge Dutcher. I worked for him for a week or two, and I always marveled at how little he seemed to do. Maybe it was because it was the summer? Anyway, he probably had a very patient assistant because quite soon he stared talking away to me -- not that he wanted me to talk, just listen -- and he had a lot of personal agendas.

He’d hand me a list of people to call/things to do every day. Being a hired gun, it was all well and fine to me -- because, with my sense of humor, it was constantly amusing to be around somebody in such a high place with such energy and such apparent ability to run his life AND a business. Then again, my work for him rarely had anything to do with business.

Dodge Dutcher had me call his dry cleaner’s; his Episcopal Church office; his travel agent (making travel arrangements was part of many jobs -- and this was when you called the agent and THEY did all the work that computers now do); his mother (!); old college friends; and last but not least, his wife (who he angrily called at one point “A World Class Bitch”).

He was mad at her all the time, so his assistant had to phone her with his plans. “Ah, Mrs. Dutcher? This is Lauren, Mr. Dutcher’s temporary secretary? Uh, he was hoping to have dinner with you and the Wests at the club on the 21st, at 7?”  I felt truly lame, having to call the boss’s wife, but I supposed that DD’s ol’ secretary/assistant was used to making such calls.

Thank the heavens for the way things have changed, since: now people call and text their friends and relations from work on personal phones in their pockets. Admin Assistants (not secretaries) now have other busy work that doesn’t include making awkward cold calls of a personal nature for the bosses. . . or at least, not that I know of (say something if you have a job where you have to do that kind of thing, still)!

8-10-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #174 (Working Temp in NYC: Answering Phones/Reception)

So today, let’s explore one of the clerical/secretarial tasks in more thrilling detail. Let’s start with answering phones/reception. Being in the age of the push button reception phone system -- no longer patching in the cords like you see on old movies with phone operators -- in some places, being temporary receptionist was almost a breeze.

But if the large phone console on the reception desk was poorly marked with names or at all dysfunctional (sometimes buttons stuck or there were broken connections wired internally), beware.

Such a thing happened at a small company I once worked for in midtown, Quantum Science Corporation. I took the receptionist temp job because that was all that was available on that particular day and even though it paid a few bucks per hour less, I was feeling industrious and needed the work.

My temperament wasn’t ideally suited to working a busy reception desk, though -- I got easily flustered and when the heat was on I was brusque with some callers, which I instantly regretted but there, it happened, harm was done. Oh well. I never said I specialized in reception but could be a pinch player.

“Hello, good morning, Quantum Science Corporation, how may I help you?”

“Looking for Mister Coodleschnook.”

“Ah, um, just a minute.” I’d put the caller on hold and try to find that button and the instructions on how to transfer the call (each phone console was slightly different each place you went, it seemed). Then I’d go to the phone list which was key to what extensions went to which employee ‘cause the phone consoles weren’t always marked accurately.

“I’m back, thanks for holding, transferring to Mister Coodleschnook,” I’d say, and deftly make the transfer. Well, on a couple of calls, the transfer button stuck so they didn’t go through, and I had a few irate callbacks.

Then, in the middle of all that mishigas, one of the queen bees of the office sashays by and tells me what a crappy job I’m doing on reception, wondering aloud where they get the awful temps from. Of course I tried to bite my tongue, but being the type A communicator, I tried to explain to her that the list wasn’t updated, the buttons were sticking etc.

Frankly, my dear, she didn’t give a damn.

At any rate, if that was the nightmare scenario, there were better ones, too.

8-09-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #173 (Working Temp in NYC, Getting the jobs and NOT Calling In Sick)

In a funny way, sitting there sort of felt like being in a police line up -- only our crime was to be an office temp for hire. Waiting there in the lineup, most of the workers preferred not to make eye contact or talk to anybody, but there was the occasional extrovert who’d attempt to reach out and strike up conversations, friendships, even.

To work, I’d bring along a big tote bag with a book or two, a notebook to write in, makeup, hairbrush, sanitary supplies when needed, extra shoes, food. In the era before cell phones, we didn’t tote any such electronic devices around (how the hell did we live or do anything before them? Blows my mind!).

Sometimes -- because I lived south of Houston Street and because I earned a good reputation as a reliable worker who NEVER called in sick (through fifteen years of temping it’s true: I did NOT call in sick, ever) -- Denise at Accurate would say it was OK for me to just call in to the office to see about work and not wait around, which I found dispiriting and kind of hated doing.

But otherwise, when they would change the rules back to playing the waiting room game again, I’d be there with my comrades-in-temps, between assignments, sitting there patiently (or not), waiting for a job in the front Accurate office (then located on the 21st floor, 2 WTC in the World Trade Center before it fell in 2001).

There was a back office with two or three desks where Denise and the counselors received their phonecalls from the firms, probably a 10 by 12 -foot room pretty crammed up with people and furniture (like an old sweat shop).

But us worker bees waited in the front office, a 12 by 15 foot- room if that, occupied by a receptionist desk, a copier, a fax machine, two typewriter desks (for testing applicants on their typing speed and accuracy), and about eight chairs in an L formation to the left of the door, in the corner.

In one of those chairs, waiting around for work one December, I started writing my first Christmas song, “Xmas Wish List,” which I still sing in December when the mood calls for a rockin’ Christmas song. The chorus goes, “Since you’ve been asking/I guess I’ll tell you/How ‘bout a blender, candles and a cat suit?/Imported Olives, purple leather gloves/and a sweetheart who’ll love me, too?”