There’s a poster up in my supervisor’s cubicle that reads “what am I doing here?” For a second I thought maybe it was some kind of office humor, but then read the smaller print – it’s about church, and god - the bigger “here” in “what am I doing here?”
I started this temp job yesterday. Before I was allowed to walk past the reception desk I had to read ten pages regarding nondisclosure of information, appropriate working behavior, and signed three different papers saying I wouldn’t give away company secrets.
The office looks brand new, it’s on the 17th floor of a high-rise downtown, and it takes two elevators to get there from the ground floor. The furniture is mod 60’s style, and reminds me a little of Mad Men after they move into their new offices. There is a huge flat screen TV installed at reception, and three more on the walls of a circular break room area that looks like Diane Keaton’s house in Sleeper. All of the TVs are muted, not even with subtitles to read, just silent home and garden shows and CNN stories, all day long. The kitchen area has an enormous silver double door refrigerator, and there’s free coffee – some in big containers, some in those little pod things that make you one cup at a time in different flavors.
It is a remarkably quiet office. The only sounds I hear from my cubicle are of people typing, filling their cups with water and coffee in the corner behind me, and talking on the phone. It’s like being on a spaceship, a really quiet spaceship, like the one in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There was nothing in my cubicle when I arrived except for a brand new ergonomically designed chair and a computer. I asked the receptionist for a stapler, and some staples to go with it. She unlocked a clean, brightly lit, organized supply closet, handed me a stapler, reached into a box of staples, and removed one thin row. When I asked for thumbtacks the next day she opened the same supply closet, pointed to an open container of thumbtacks and said “be very, very careful,” in a voice generally reserved for three year-olds.
This is an end-of-the-line job for me. I’ve interviewed for so many jobs I’ve stopped counting. At one point this spring I was up for six different positions at once; none of them were offered to me. This is the third temp agency I’ve signed up with, and the first that has found me work, so I accepted the assignment when it was offered to me.
At home, the letters Y E S are strung across the kitchen wall. They are old movie house marquee letters. Each one is dark red, 12 inches high, weather-beaten, with a groove on the side that hangs onto the marquee. With so much rejection, it’s nice to see YES sometimes.
My husband asked me how my first day on the assignment went. “Okay,” I replied, “I almost cried a couple times.” I can’t help it - I know I’m not the only one going through this right now, and I know it could be worse, but sometimes it’s hard to get excited about it could be worse. It feels ridiculous that I can’t pay my half of the mortgage, or that I haven’t paid one cent of our credit card for months. This stage of my life was supposed to be over decades ago, and as humiliating as it is to be doing temp work, it makes me feel better to have an income – a tiny income, but at least something to defray the cost of my existence. “The office is really, really quiet,” I continued, “it’s circular like a spaceship so it’s hard to find my cube, but I guess that’s better than rows and rows of cubicles. The person I’m replacing has the same last name as me so everyone thinks we’re related. I met her. There was a cake thing for her in the afternoon - she got promoted. She said she’s worked there for 8 years, and to consider this a way to get a full time position because they’re looking to replace her, and that it’s a good place to work, so… that’s nice.”
Today was my second day, it was better than the first. I can find my cubicle, and I have an ID badge so I don’t have to sign in at the security desk every time I walk in and out of the building. When I came home the red marquee letters were strewn across the kitchen floor, one of the screws holding up the wire they were resting on had come loose from the wall. They lay scattered around a pile of cat puke that I had discovered that morning and covered with a paper towel because I didn’t have time to clean it up before leaving the house. Later, one of the cats took a crap on the bathmat. My husband cleaned up the crap, and I cleaned the puke and put the letters back on the kitchen wall, hanging them on thumbtacks instead of wire. They’re off center and misaligned, but it’s nice to see YES sometimes, even if it’s a little off-kilter.