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EIGHT DAYS A WEEK.

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KEYWORDS: EMPLOYED, JOB SATISFACTION. SEARCHING THE WEB FOR SIGNS OF LIFE
[posted 05.02.2001]

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Alison Evans jumped the dotcom ship in August and has been temping for the eight mind-numbing months since. In the eight days documented below, she worked as the assistant to “the extremely high-maintenance fashionista publisher of a pretentious New York celebrity magazine.”

WEDNESDAY. DAY ONE.

It is my fifth day at this job. All I really have to do here is update my boss’ schedule, take obsessive phone messages, keep clutter and files off my desk, stress about things I care nothing about and, if necessary, look busy when someone comes in. I just keep a hand near the alt-tab buttons and make sure no wayward IM screens come popping up when someone is around. What’s scary is, this is probably the most demanding temp job I’ve had yet.

In an unexpected departure from my last seven tiny-cubicle temp jobs, I have my own little office. Considering that computer-screen privacy is the most important feature of any temp setup (followed closely by quality of Internet access), this job rocketed to the top of the list on the first day. The downside to the office is that all of my boss’ files are in here, and she tends to hover. Also, she’s scary. She likes to look at me with this unsettling mixture of confusion and intense contempt, as though I just sprouted a giant zit in the middle of my forehead. Because this makes me really nervous, I try to keep a couple of papers handy to shuffle around in these moments. Sometimes I pretend to be deeply interested in her schedule or message log and just click the mouse around a little. However, if there are too many papers on my desk to be shuffled around, I will get in trouble for not having them filed. It’s a fine line, a very fine line.

So I get in at nine, collect faxes, print out any necessary emails and file accordingly. Then I make my Internet rounds — Salon, FuckedCompany (hoping and praying, as always, to see my old company posted), half-hearted searches at HotJobs and MediaBistro — pausing to refresh my Hotmail about every 30 seconds or so. I have a major compulsive problem with refresh — it’s a bad habit that started when I worked in book publishing, doing nothing but email. There is just no stopping the refresh when I’m stuck in some strange office, starved for personal contact. By the end of each day, I’m so sick of looking at the Hotmail page that I want to cry. It’s like I’m not even in control of my hand anymore.

Have an entertaining, if morbid, IM conversation about suitable suicide methods with another unemployed friend. I am planning to staple resumés all over my body, then feed myself into a paper shredder.

Have a headhunter interview — number 25 or so — in midtown during lunch. By the time I finally get in to see her, I have ten minutes left on my lunch break. So I give her the abbreviated version of my pitiful tale. She makes all the necessary sympathetic noises, puts some illegible scribblings on my resumé and announces that they have something “just perfect.” It’s a “jack-of-all-trades” position at a direct-marketing agency. I know all too well that “jack-of-all-trades” means “office bitch,” but I say it sounds just wonderful. Right up my alley, really! I’m totally into direct marketing. Then I have to use my last seven bucks on a cab back to work, missing lunch and not even having enough change to get a Coke to tide me over for the rest of the day.

Feel very responsible and superior when I turn down going out in order to stay home and do my taxes. I get about halfway through and then remember I don’t have a printer, so I won’t be able to get it all done anyway. So I talk on the phone, watch Dawson’s Creek and That’s My Bush! and go to sleep.

THURSDAY. DAY TWO.

Somewhere between going to bed last night and arriving at work in the morning, I decide that I’m going back to school. Masters in Media Studies. No idea where this came from, but by the time I’m at my desk, I’m pumped. I have a plan. I jump on the CUNY, NYU, and New School websites, and see that I missed the deadline for fall classes by three days. I spend the rest of the day near tears, wondering if I will ever get my life together. Another “plan” down the drain. I am going to be a temp for the rest of my life.

I do sign up for the GREs and get some applications so that I can apply for the winter. That’s January, nine months away. Nine months.

A task on which I spend a not-insignificant amount of time in this job is filling out insurance forms for my boss’ various doctor’s visits. A claim I sent out last week comes back for lack of codes or something, so I look it up in the files. It’s for a pap smear. I hand her the form — she squints and says exasperatedly, “But what is it FOR? I need to know what it is FOR.” Oh, dear God. Oh no. I take a deep breath and tell her. She does not seem fazed at all, but I feel violated. This cannot be in the job description — there is no way you should ever, EVER have to say pap smear to your boss.

Time for lunch already. It’s beautiful out (the first really nice day of the year), and I can eat outside, which makes me so happy. To pass the afternoon, I perfect my letter-opener technique on a massive stack of mail. I’m getting pretty good — wondering if I can add that skill to my resumé.

After work, go out for an unofficial meeting of the unemployed club. Thankfully, we don’t talk about depressing job-search stuff, but just stay in denial and drink.

FRIDAY. DAY THREE.

Morning activity: Rolodex cards. Rolodex cards are hard. They don’t teach you this stuff in school. First of all, I can’t find the “little sheets that you just stick into the printer” that the REAL assistant apparently uses. So I find a blank Rolodex card on the floor and print out a label with the address (which takes quite a bit of doing in itself) and stick it on.

This doesn’t go over too well. She sighs and holds it by the corner in her French-manicured press-on talons and disappears into her office — probably to flush it down the toilet and disinfect her hands.

No callback from the headhunter. Nothing interesting on HotJobs, or Monster, or FlipDog, or MediaBistro, or the New York New Media Association — not that that’s a surprise at all.

Go out with a bunch of high school friends, one of whom has a connection to the editor of the magazine where I’m working. He hands me what might be the juiciest piece of gossip I have ever heard. My boss, who has four grown children, recently left her husband for the editor (also a woman)! This rocks my world — I suddenly have a whole new outlook on life. Even if this scandal is by now common knowledge (which I’m sure it is), I can still pretend that I have information with which to blackmail them.

SATURDAY. DAY FOUR.

Go up to Harlem to volunteer at Harlemlive, an online newspaper produced by high school kids. I’ve only been there once before, so I’m still unsure of what they want me to do — it’s pretty disorganized, but the director and all the kids are really cool. I end up helping one kid with a rewrite of his story about a doll museum. I talk with the director and one of the kids’ moms, who are both teachers, about the NYC Teaching Fellows Program. I applied for it, but I don’t know if I really want to do it. They both emit this evil little chuckle when I mention it and basically tell me that the program throws you into the mouth of hell. Yeah, I’m scared.

Meghan comes over to watch HBO’s Bruce Springsteen special — I fall asleep like ten minutes after it ends.

SUNDAY. DAY FIVE.

Disgusting, gray, misty day. I go out to get the Times and am further freaked out by an article written by a first-year teacher at a school in the Bronx. Its title: A Year in the Trenches of the Mouth of Hell, or something like that. I then suddenly develop an inexplicable urge to clean something — which is totally strange, but I decide to just go with it. I take down the blinds in my bedroom, which I think I tried to clean once when I moved in two years ago, and lay them out in the living room. I sit on the floor and try to clean them with Fanastik and paper towels while watching the Rue McClanahan Lifetime Intimate Portrait. What a tragic life. And I’m not talking about Rue.

Finally see Memento — as I suspected, I’m totally lost at the end. But it was good…I think. I just need to think about it a little. Come home and watch The Sopranos. Instead of my usual Sunday hallucinatory nightmare about Paulie Walnuts and Uncle Junior, I have a dream in which the mom from Malcolm in the Middle dies. I’m crying uncontrollably at her funeral, and somehow she comes back from the dead to console me.

MONDAY. DAY SIX.

So my boss actually tries to be sociable, asking me what kind of job I’m looking for. I mention that I’m interested in copy editing, then hand her a contract that’s formatted totally wrong and has like five spelling mistakes.

Get what might be the most bizarre phone call in my temping career, from a Jeffrey something, a director and member of “the blah blah blah banking clan, who came to the West Coast during the gold rush.” He wants to cast Balthazar Getty as a “philosophical biplane pilot” in his latest film. He saw an article on BG in the magazine and wants his contact info. I have no idea how to help him, but he just keeps talking. He has, he tells me, just spoken to an editorial assistant at the magazine who was “unbelievably rude and effeminate, like a hairdresser without a brush and comb.” Jeffrey then congratulates me on my polite phone manner and pledges to sing my praises to everyone at the magazine. I say they probably won’t know who I am, and he says, “but YOU know who you are, and that is what matters.” Right.

Get to eat outside again, which pretty much makes my day. Hey, I take anything I can get. I try to read my book but am distracted by the two women across from me who are arguing about whether Cape Cod is in Massachusetts or Rhode Island. They end up asking the guy sitting next to them. He says Rhode Island.

Finish cleaning the blinds while watching a video that I stole from my last temp job. I fall asleep in the middle of it.

TUESDAY. DAY SEVEN.

Deathly, deathly boredom. No one’s on IM. I take a lot of Emode personality tests and an online spelling test. I write down all the words I get wrong and record their dictionary definitions, just to be studious.

This job is stressing me out, which really pisses me off. I’ve just realized that during the course of the day I develop a tension headache, purely from being in the vicinity of my boss. I start to panic as soon as I hear her footsteps coming near me. I’ve also noticed that she pretty much uses the Stare of Hatred and Voice of Constant Exasperation on everyone – the whole office is totally tense, and the other assistants seem to be on the verge of tears at all times. I am ashamed to admit that an overwhelming sense of relief washes over me whenever she decides that I’ve done a satisfactory job on something. This is just wrong.

So I’m reading all these online temping horror stories, and come across a link to Temp NYC. How have I never seen this site before???? On one hand, I get a huge kick out of the horribly hilarious stories by other crazed temps. But there is so much depression and bitterness — topics like “I am stuck in hell” and “Is there any way out of this?” Plus, tales by joyous ex-temps who say things like, “Buck up, little campers! I temped for three years, and now I have a job I love!!!!” I reach full panic mode after about half an hour. I storm up Broadway after work to Barnes & Noble, where I frantically buy a GRE prep book and (oh God) “What Color is Your Parachute?”:http://www.jobhuntersbible.com/intro/wciyp.shtml. I am a self-help book-buying joke. But I vow to read Parachute cover to cover and to take it seriously, no matter how cheesy it is.

I need help — this cannot go on any longer.

WEDNESDAY. DAY EIGHT.

Read more Temp NYC, and come across the best article EVER (to my warped mind) on Ironminds. As seems to be the case with all too many things these days, it makes me want to laugh hysterically and sob at the same time.

I have no idea how I missed this: My boss does not have a computer. All this time I thought I was printing out her emails because she felt like being high-maintenance…I just assumed there was a laptop buried somewhere under all the crap on her desk. This just furthers my theory that she is completely insane.

Have a fairly uneventful day. Get reprimanded for not unfolding the mail after I open it (“Otherwise, I have to…DEAL with it,” says my boss, struggling with a paper clip and flapping her arms ineffectually.) I nod gravely and give my usual “Right, right…OK. Sorry about that — right. Next time…OK” and call it a day.

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alison evans would like to stop temping. send her any and all job leads. be there when she refreshes her hotmail. please.