Monday, August 27, 2007

Thoughts on cruddy temp jobs

[I briefly worked in the inventory department of a large, hi-tech company. I wrote this during that time, just before I got my current job, which is much better. I have had my share of less-than-optimal jobs; I've been a waitress in several restaurants, done mindless data entry, copy-edited the text of tiny-fonted newspaper advertisements, and worked retail at the mall during the Christmas season (UGH).
This one, however, was awful. The job involved taking inventory of all remotely valuable items throughout this company's large campus -- many buildings, a lot of arcane scientific equipment, and electronic devices of all kinds, all in various states of obsolescence. It involved scanning barcodes and double-checking them against lists of what equipment should be in that room, many of which were out of date, incomplete, or just plain wrong. To add to the fun, a lot of equipment was either in the wrong room, registered to the wrong person's name, in locked rooms, or buried in obscure filing cabinets, closets, or on high shelves.]

…Is this how most people spend their lives? In this mindless, soul-crushing drudgery?

Every day is a riff on the theme of Yesterday’s Blahs; the answer to “how ya doin’?” always being a variation of “SSDD” or “still alive (I guess)”.

The body aches – but not the good, healthy ache of real, full-body labor, the satisfying deep-muscle ouch of garden or construction work; nor is it the sweet, sharp, artificial ache caused by working out at the gym. This is the ache of just one or two parts, screaming while the rest sleeps: the legs and spine, or the calves and one shoulder, or just the back and wrists. This is the dull pain of repetitive motion, of pointless activity. Carpal tunnel from typing. Tightly-wound quads from stair-climbing. Throbbing calves from walking. A stiff spine from endlessly standing around. Creaky knees from constantly crouching and squatting and rising back up.

Physical pain is only one third of the challenge posed by low-paying temporary jobs which do not require any real experience or education. The second part concerns the mind-numbing assigned tasks themselves, which are inevitably repetitive, somewhat pointless, inefficient, or ruthlessly mechanical. The work inspires no feelings of accomplishment, nor any sense of being at all useful, let alone indispensable or important.

I take pride in my work, or rather, I have in the past. I suspect part of it is that I am fond of receiving praise from appreciative bosses or coworkers. I like feeling that I have done well and helped people, and I like their recognition of that fact.

This work allows me no pride. Everything is designed to suppress it, to remind me that I am utterly replaceable and that, in fact, my work could easily be performed by a monkey, if it could be taught to understand an Excel sheet, or press the Enter key every time it heard a scanner go ‘boop’.

The third factor in the hopelessness this job inspires is coworkers. They have no options, or no ambition, or both. Their politics, concerns, leisure activities, and modes of dress and speech have little in common with mine. Their conversation doesn’t much interest me, revolving as it does around “most vomit-centric inebriated moments” anecdotes and inane cell phone conversations which begin with “where you at?” as though we inhabited some gormless TV commercial.

They’re not bad people, mind you. I mean, yes, J tends to drive drunk; M always has his panties in a twist about something, so that he is short with us to the point of rudeness; V’s grammar, spoken and written, is horrendous, and she refuses to go to any club or party in a group numbering fewer than ten; R is so moody sometimes I think he’s bipolar; and F is, I think, only so jolly and nice to everyone because he is old enough to know better (than us, I mean) – which means he’s due to retire next month. On the other hand, they’re pretty much all hard-working, well-meaning people. It’s just that the lunchtime conversations tend to run in the same patterns, over and over and over and OVER.

I am willing to take a pay cut of $4/hr plus all benefits (!!) just in order to flee this job. I wish to now be elsewhere. My brains will leak out of my ears by the third week of this nonsense; it must end.

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