|In which the reader learns that Jason has only had two permanent jobs and yet seems in every other way to be a respectable member of society, and not in the least a despicable slacker;|
The way that I currently spend my life is to administer over 50 UNIX Machines for a really cool company in Medford, Massachusetts, called Thomson Financial Services, Technical Operations. This is one of those companies that you never hear of directly, but it turns out they're the ones running the whole and entire show from behind the scenes since forever and a day. It's also owned and operated by the Thomson Corporation, which is a big multi-national media conglomerate. This translates to near-nil chances of the company drying up and blowing away anytime soon, which is a big concern to us twentysomethings.
I spent the purest, fullest year and a half working for Focus Studios, a
computer game company startup in Cambridge, Massachsetts. Essentially,
I spent day after day drawing great stuff, making fun art, and getting
first crack at a ton of hardware and software that wasn't yet on
the general market. All this, and getting paid too! Can you dig it? |
Focus Studios was and is run by a Mr. Mark Tsai, who may in fact be one of the coolest, most engaging individuals to walk the earth. You wouldn't know it to first meet him, and I'll bet he doesn't even think this of himself, but he has that self-assured awareness of the world around him that makes you want to do just about anything for the man.
My official title at Focus Studios was "Mr. Art Guy", that is, I provided artwork, drawings, computer-generated scenes, and what-have-you for whatever the project of the day is. This translated to a lot of creation in a lot of media, and the opportunity to express myself artistically in a billion different ways. Needless to say, I loved every second of it, but a guy's gotta eat, and Mark was way too nice to a bucket of bastards.
|Focus Studios was the first job where I was a salaried employee. Previous to this, I was what is generally called a "temp". For about 7 years, I was assigned by different "agencies" a mind-numbing variety of jobs that ranged from the truly heavenly to the sick and bizzare. In all cases, I worked at a rate generally lower than my co-workers, while my agency took a cut of the total cost of hiring me that actually put my price above that of my co-workers. This sort of dealing is common in the temp industry; if you wonder why your assignee is treating you like you're making $18.00 an hour when you're getting paid $9, there is a good chance that's what they're actually paying for you.|
Here, then, is a short listing of some of the high and low-lights from my temp experience. This should not be considered some sort of vitae or resume'. It is simply presented to the reader as a source of entertainment, showing how one relatively-motivated individual can find himself scattered among many branches of the tree of Industry; and effect little or no change from therein.
To really stress that this is not a resume', I am including my patented Suck-O-Meter®, measured on a 1 to 10 Disgruntled Jason Head Scale. 1 means the job was only slightly unpleasant, as all jobs tend to be, and 10 means that it is more than likely I resigned. (I only resigned three times out of over 120 job assignments, so this is saying something.)
IBM Corporation decided some time in the late 80's that it was somehow going to magically become a major marketing force again. To achieve this end, they created a "pseudo-company" or "virtual corporation" of the top sales managers from the 9 major selling regions. The idea would be that these top managers would fly in at a moment's notice and be able to assemble quick, nimble-fingered arrangements for special clients, bypassing the elephant herd of IBM. The implementation was that these managers found it much easier to get things done over the phone, and only needed to meet at all every 10 days or so. However, they were all assigned an office in an empty wing of a huge building that they then proceeded to almost never use. Of course, they were assigned a secretary to assist them in the rare times that they did show up. Guess who the secretary was.
By the 5th week of having seen my superiors a total of about 6 times, I was singing to myself in my wing, and photocopying my face. Eventually, another secretary who was watching her own job get "downsized" made a few discreet arrangements and I was out on my butt.
I was assigned to the Pepsico Legal Department over the Christmas Season, because all of the lawyers were going to be on vacation, and they needed someone to give the appearance that someone was actually on duty. That is, that if some massive legal flareup happened over the Holidays, then Pepsico bigwigs could call The Legal Department, get a person there, who would then say "I'll have a gentleman call you right back.", and then call one of a list of lawyers. Very simple job.
What made this job a billion times better than the aforementioned IBM fiasco was that I was the only person, period, who was there, meaning I felt nice and unwatched the whole time, and the soda machine. Ah, the soda machine.
The soda machine was only stocked with Pepsico products, and of course it was completely free. By the end of the first day I had consumed over twenty sodas. By the end of the second day, I'd consumed fourteen more. By the third day, well, I was a little set for sodas. BURP
A grand example of what sucks in the temp world, I was put in control of the main switchboard of the County Mental Health Department for four days. In those halcyon days of my youth, of course, I had figured that being a temp meant that you couldn't possibly have any detrimental effect on the lives of others, since no-one would ever put you in a position of power without training. This job pretty much wiped that assumption away.
The job, like so many others, had started out as a mere filing job, but the operator (who, it turned out, was the main lynchpin of many operations within the department) got sick and they put me in control of the constantly-ringing switchboard.
It should be mentioned that very few people were actually employed by the county, but instead psychologists and professors would do near pro-bono work for the country, and be given small offices, which they would use as lockers, or extra storage space, and maybe spend an hour or two in a day at most on their way to and from more profitable or interesting prospects. Imagine my surprise when I found that my operator station was directly facing the office of my old child psychologist from the divorce days!
The upshot of this unique employment situation was that nearly all of the doctors and psychologists had their phones on Permanent Call Forwarding to me. This meant that 1. I got all their phone calls, and 2. If I forwarded calls from people asking for them, a different line would light up, because the system would forward the call back to me. I, of course, would then pick up the line and say "County Mental Health" to the person I'd just transferred. I was called many interesting things.
There was a leaflet that was tacked to my cubicle with a list of numbers for all sorts of crisis management and mental-health related maladies, and at the bottom, in big letters, was written IF YOU HAVE ANY ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS OR ARE UNSURE WHICH DEPARTMENT TO CALL, CALL THIS NUMBER: and of course my direct number. This explained the many unique calls I recieved.
One lady called me and explained that one of her co-workers had had a sudden nervous breakdown at her job, and revealed she had been sexually abused as a child. "What should I do?" asked the caller. 17-year-old temps don't like this sort of question. Another gentleman called me and told me he had just gotten out of prison and where the hell could he get in touch with his parole officer? I took his number and then went and bought some soda to calm down. Another dozen calls like this and the DJs shouting on my radio that it was Friday and the Weekend suddenly seemed very, very cool.
It was after this job I decided that I would quit if things got too stupid. I proceeded break my own rule several times over as the years went by.
Little did I know that the Museum of Science could be rented out on Sunday nights for company picnics. Some nameless company did just that, and my temp agency had to scramble for a dozen workers out of their pool of office temps who were willing to work on a weekend for low pay. My sense of humor as regards assignments was pretty high, so I found myself there in a white shirt and black tie, ready to serve drinks.
Luckily, I didn't have to know how to mix drinks, because my complete lack of experience in drinking alcohol would have resulted in interesting mixes indeed. I merely had to dish out soda and one of three types of wines.
Highlights from this job were being instructed how to pour soda properly by one of my patrons (he told me to tip the cup so that it didn't fizz up, and dang it, he was right!) and starting a small economy up with neighboring tables (free soda and wine from our table for free swedish meatballs from your table, etc.)
When we had to close up the tables at the end of the picnic, I was instructed to a new awareness of the desperation of alcoholism, as various members of the crowd attempted to give me payola for "one more drink". Needless to say, I was all prepared to take the offered bribe until the manager walked by.
I was sent to Chartwell to temporarily replace a temp who was taking a month off to visit Spain. The temp's job was to be the secretary to a manager of the accounting department. Clear enough.
When I got there, the manager was there for one day, then proceeded to also take a month off for his own vacation and a couple business-related trips and meetings across the country. This meant that the guts of my job, the requirement to do whatever the boss needed, was gone. Additionally, he had phone mail and preferred it this way, so I had no calls to take. I would go to Chartwell, sit down, and write stories or draw pictures, and then go home at 5pm. It was... relaxing.
In case you're wondering why this assignment was rated at two Disgruntled Jason Heads, it was the commute. I had to take the Subway to the end of the Red Line (5 stops), then hop a bus and ride it to the end of the line (14+ stops). Then, I had to walk one and half miles through a park. This was all required because of my lack of a car, a situation that has since been rectified.
Try and explain this one to the folks at home. It lasted a total of three days before I essentially walked off the job.
At the outset, it seemed kind of cool. The time-frame was a little odd (My shift was 5pm to midnight, no lunch hour), and the description seemed a little out of the ordinary, but once on the job, I started to realize what I'd gotten myself into.
Every time a spill or accident occured somewhere in this three-towered hospital involving "medical waste", that is, blood, vomit, or other bodily sadness, a special team had to clean it up. I was the point man for this team. I would be at the ready on a phone switchboard, and a nurse or doctor would call my number, tell me the location and type of accident, and then hang up. Then, I would call one of three managers, one for each tower, who would call the right janitor to fix the mess. Simple and easy, right? Right
The wrench in the gears was when I figured out that one of the three managers really liked to take naps. That's right, totally ignore my pages. I had a night where I called him 5 times on a pager, and no response. Now, if you're a nurse on duty and some indescribable mess that may be hazardous to other patients' health is in the middle of one of the hallways, you call the Medical Waste Dispatcher and have them fix it. Well, if an hour has gone by, and nothing is done about it, your next natural progression is as follows:
1. Call and bitch out the Medical Waste Dispatch Operator.
Well, after about three days of getting screamed at by doctors, nurses, and some orderly who threatened my life, I decided that $6 an hour just wasn't making the grade.
As heart-wrenchingly fascinating as this job sounds, my purpose in life for two weeks was to stick labels warning pregnant woment that consumption of alcohol during their pregnancy could lead to birth defects... on bottles. These labels, normally added during an automatic process in a distillery, had to be adhered to special never-before-seen experimental flavors of wine cooler , that were to be put into chambers holding them at steady temperatures for a year. The temperatures ranged from -5 to 50 degrees C. At one point we had to take the dozens of boxes we had labelled to the freezers, which were located at a hangar at Westchester County Airport, where, among other things, we got to see the fleet of Seagrams Private Jets.
At one point in the job, a large barrel (55 gallon drum) was mistakenly shipped to the warehouse. Signing for it, I noticed that this drum, which easily stood as high as my chest, was filled with GINGER.
Certainly, if not the worst assignment I ever recieved, a proud member of the lowest five. Taken in a moment of desperation, sounding almost like an interesting stretch of employment, I agreed to work in what was described as the "diamond warehouse" of a jewelry company. The commute by bus would take one hour, and the dress requirement was that I could not wear any metal in my clothing, necessitating riding a bus, at 6 in the morning, wearing sweat pants and long t-shirt.
Once arriving at the job, tired and hungry, the situation would descend. The working environment was what I would charitably call "civil-rights free"; besides passing through two metal detectors and an x-ray machine for any accessory I happened to be carrying, I was shacked up with no less than thirty-five closed-circuit cameras.
The reasoning behind all this was that I would be in a small basement with 20 of my least-closest friends (in fact, I was the only, the only employee, temp or non, who spoke English in the basement as my primary language) and over three million dollars worth of jewelry. The figure is correct: $3 Million. Hence, they company was reasonably paranoid that I would somehow manage to cart out of there glittering like one of the Seven Dwarves after a day at the mine.
My job, for the 4 days I had it before I quit, was to press a special device against jewelry that had been returned by outside stores. This device measured the conduction rates of whatever was pressed against it. Apparently diamond had an extremely high rate of conduction and cubic zirconia did not. The small tool would beep if it touched a diamond, or otherwise say nothing. The fascination I had with this tool lasted a total of 45 minutes. By the fourth day, I essentially told my temp agency "counselor" that she was either going to find me a new job, or I was going to do something less than intelligent.
As it was, she went above and beyond the call of duty, because my next assignment was as a Technical Support Representative for Sony Psygnosis, a video game company in Cambridge. This was the foundation for my later job at Focus Studios, and all good things flowed from there.