Anyone who’s done a modicum of living knows that one’s career trajectory is never how it was imagined when a child. I, for example, am not a veterinary pioneer or a superhero. I do not remove a thorn from a paw or save the day or live forever. I am a temp ? a sufficiently skilled worker-bee, a pink-collar nomad roaming from gig to gig toiling in the hazy twilight between unemployment and part-time, that giddy lunch hour between job and career. Or more simply, as I’ve taken to saying at cocktail parties, I am “between things.”
“You are what you do,” somebody’s mother whispered to me after I willfully mowed her child’s sand castle.
“Nothing nature wouldn’t do,” I said in my defense, to which the kid’s mom replied, “Yes, Sophie, but you’re not natural.”
My vocational identity has overtaken every aspect of my life. I do not rent (and likely will never own), I sublet. I am defined by another’s absence. Likewise, my relationships can hardly be called such, they’re more like value-added encounters. I am nobody’s girl. Like dating a man whose wife is away on business ? you know the arrangement is brief, but it’s not hard to daydream replacing her when her robe fits so well.
I put the “temp” in “temptress.”
I’m not a temp due to commitment phobias – I’m just a job slut. I bore easily and frequently need new stimulus, my fingers need new function keys upon which to play.
The agency that I registered with had a standardized skills assessment test, which in this age of point and click office solutions, was so simple I might as well be competing for placement with Koko the gorilla.
“Are you intimate with the Internet?” asked the hirsute young tester, who looked as if he were some order of humanoid escaped from Middle Earth and apparently averse to looking women in the eye.
His word choice bothered me. As punishment I was going to make him feel even more awkward than me.
“Sure, I’m intimate with the net – how many hands does your mouse need?”
He raised his palm as if surrendering.
“What kind of work are you hoping to do through our agency?”
“None, I’d rather watch daytime TV and eat Bonbons, but if I have to work I’d like a cool gig like, I don’t know, ‘Grim Reaper.'”
The boy blushed and penciled my answer onto my evaluation record.
“I’d be vicious, tapping my bony finger on the shoulders of ex-boyfriends, or better, their new girlfriends,” I said winking. “You got an ex-girlfriend?”
“Yes,” he replied sheepishly.
“So what happened to her?”
“She overdosed on prescription pain medication.”
I sat back in my seat and smoothed my skirt.
“Christ, I’m sorry kid,” I said as I inhaled sharply through my feigned smile, giving the fillings in my teeth a chill.
I put the “temp” in “contemptible.”
The kid booked me as an Internet Discussion Board Seeder for a movie marketing company. That is to say, I post observations meant to incite chat room discussions of movies I’ll never see. They call it “covertising.” They call us poster-children. I called in late my first day.
The corporate culture seemed engineered to mimic a hip TV sitcom, replete with bitchy eye-candy Marsha, my minx-like supervisor, poured into leather pants and sporting a hairdo the price of most car-payments. She used phrases like “grander scheme” and “big picture” as if the dawdling of a few Internet shills pertained to the ultimate shape of the universe.
She took an immediate dislike to me because our wardrobes hailed from the same phylum and species ? and because I could be her mid-series replacement (if I lost 10 pounds).
Marsha banished me to a desk that was a veritable lightning rod of the office’s post-dot-com feng shui. If I swiveled my chair around, all the negative energy being funneled through the building would go right up my skirt.
The “poster-child” I replaced had failed to return to work three days ago. There were suggestions that he had gone AWOL and started his own company. The day I arrived, however, his obituary turned up online, was printed, copied and discretely distributed throughout the office like a high school crib sheet.
“In a room where women come and goo, talking of Maya Angelou,” exhaled a balding, goateed wisp named Bruce. He felt that every office should have a witty gay personality, and finding none, straight Bruce took up the slack with fey musings he thought sufficed.
“Is it weird sitting there?”
“What, because of the feng shui?”
“No, because of the dead guy,” Bruce said.
I hadn’t thought about it – I was too busy crowing about the Yeah-Yeah Sisterhood as “death_vader_69” on a movie chat site.
Bruce had piqued my curiosity – a feat for both of us. I combed my desk for clues and unearthed a security badge. The photo looked as if it were a sample from a newly purchased picture frame. No one remembered his name, but surmised from the photo that his first could be Reed or Walker and that his last too could be Reed or Walker.
According to his pay stubs, he was paid more than me.
Laney, a billowy lummox who told everyone she met that she was a member of Wicca within the first five minutes, passed by my desk as if reading a hymn in some dreadfully choreographed parochial school pageant, her eyes cast upon the obit.
“Well, who was he? Didn’t anyone know him?” I asked. Bruce and Laney shook their heads. “He had to be more than three inches of news copy.”
“Let’s hope he was more than three inches, honey,” Bruce chided.
Laney, the social conscience of the group, finally bellowed, “I get his coffee cup,” and snatched it from my desk.
Then the rusty thought that one of us should Say Something creaked into the conversation. Mercifully, no one had anything to say.
“Let the man speak for himself,” Laney charged, then rifled the artifacts on Reed or Walker’s desk until she exhumed a Post-It penned in his hand and slapped it into mine. “You should read it. You’re at his desk.”
Laney managed to say this with such conviction that I could only sigh in protest.
It read simply: “God I hate these people!”
Laney and Bruce stood blinking for a moment.
“What a bitch!” Bruce spat.
Laney had finally mustered up some crocodile tears and blubbered, “And he was so cute.” Her head bowed, she stampeded into my shoulder, probably awaiting some order of sisterly embrace. It wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I tried to wax positive, the sage temp, a soothsayer, Christ at eight bucks an hour.
The only sophistry I could marshal, however, was, “Hey, at least you’re gainfully employed,” which I managed with as little of the irony implicit in my SoCal accent as possible.
Laney leaned her chapped lips to my ear and whispered plainly, “No, you see, we’re all temps.”
In the grander scheme, the bigger picture.