Excerpts from TEMPLAND:
This morning I got up and dialed the temp agency. The recruiters all say you can call them as early as 7 am and someone will be there to take the “same-day requests”—the jobs that come in at the last minute. The temp agency brochures all describe—in glossy, four-color detail—the urgent job requests the temp agencies supposedly get at all hours, the jobs that the smiling, well-dressed temp recruiters all promise will be available for me within hours after registering with their agencies as a Temporary Office Associate.
Temp agency recruiters get paid on commission. (Used car salesmen do, too.)
The pile of dog-eared brochures from Kelly Services, Loftus & O’Meara, PeoplePower, Legal Helpers, and a dozen more agencies sit on my dresser, each of them promising all sorts of glamorous, important temp jobs:
“A middle manager calls Kelly Services at 5:02 pm on Thursday requesting a receptionist for 7:30 Friday morning, because the regular receptionist went into premature labor at 4:59 p.m. and they just can’t go without. This is where the Kelly Girl comes in!”
“A trial lawyer whose secretary quit the day before calls Loftus & O’Meara Legal Staffing at 6:54 a.m., begging for someone to come in and transcribe his trial notes into a brief so he can get it to the judge in time. You’re the one who saves the day!”
No matter how much those glossy brochures swear that there are thousands of job opportunities just like these each and every day in Chicago, as one jobless day runs into the next, I think it’s beginning to look a lot like false advertising.
I’ve been calling in to the temporary agency—well, all my agencies since I’m registered with at least 15 of them right now—-every morning at 7:00 a.m., and then at 7:30 a.m., 8:00 am and every five minutes thereafter, every morning, all week, all month, hoping that there will be something for me to do—some phone to answer or some scribbles to type—so I can get paid and buy food and pay rent this week, (and we are not even talking about paying the student loans this month, and the credit cards are just plain ridiculous), but there is nothing.
Nothing. Not a single, solitary, lowdown, unsecure, no-benefits, no sick-days, no-self-esteem temp assignment to be had anywhere in the Windy City.
When I call all the recruiters I get the same excuses over and over again:
“No, sorry, nothing has come in this week, Melanie. Call back later this morning.”
“Sorry, we haven’t had any new job orders in weeks. The agency is even letting people go from our office since we’re getting no commissions.”
“Call tomorrow. I am absolutely positive that we will have something tomorrow.”
“We’ve been in the Chicago temping business thirty years and it has just never been this bad, I mean really honey, it’s nothing against you but—“
“Call next week. We just got a big order for proofreaders at Kirkland & Ellis for a class-action lawsuit project next week, and Melanie, we know that you really know your proofreading, so we will be sure to call you.”
“No, sorry, Kirkland & Ellis cancelled that big order. They decided to use their in-house staff. The judgments, they just aren’t what they used to be you know, so they’re cutting back on all their hiring. Call back the week after next.”
They used to call Chicago the City That Works. So much for that.
I am sitting in my downtown office chained to my computer at 3 am waiting for someone in Amsterdam to tell me whether or not an email memo I wrote about a new companywide HR benefits policy seventeen hours ago is “corporately sufficient” for companywide distribution.
What the hell does that even mean?
When I emailed this very question to Pietra Van der Veertz, (otherwise known as my Dutch Corporate Slave Master) she simply replied, “Dear Melanie—-Please be patient with us. We are simply trying to insure that all Dutch/Marquette Bank & Trust corporate communications fit our proscribed, proactive, organizational-behavior corporate-branding paradigm. Please DO NOT leave the office until you receive word from us, so that this message may be distributed globally at the earliest possible time.”
That was at 8 pm. It’s now 3:04 am. I’m still here, and there’s no “corporate-branding paradigm” in sight. Wall, please let me introduce you to my head.
Pietra Van der Veertz has had me by the virtual balls ever since I started my permanent job here six months ago, just after AGN ANSI—that enormous Dutch financial conglomerate—bought out Marquette Bank, where until six months ago I was working the strangest temp assignment of my verylong temp-work career, that of corporate-espionage-murder-investigator-slash-typist. (That may sound like a pretty weird job title for an office temp, but it was the most exciting work I ever did for fifteen bucks an hour and zero benefits.)
Strange or no, there were plenty of good things that came out of that temp assignment, among them this high-level, high-paying corporate management job. Because I suppose being chained me to my computer at 3 a.m. is still better than unemployment, even though going without sleep three nights in a row sucks major ass. I also landed my über-hot boyfriend David via that same temp job, and David doesn’t suck my ass, unless I specifically ask him to when we’re in bed together.
Don’t get me wrong—the pay and the perks I get with this job are definitely nice. If it weren’t for all the late nights, my extensive Ann Taylor wardrobe alone would be worth the aggravation. But after months of too many twenty-hour workdays, I’m beginning to get a little nostalgic for the good old days of temp work—eight-hour shifts, little to no personal responsibility, and abject poverty. I might have been poor back then, but at least I could sleep.
It’s been especially bad for the past month, when AGN ANSI senior management decided to do a complete overhaul on Ducth/Marquette Bank & Trust’s “internal branding”. (Which is just a fancy way of saying they’re replacing all the stationery.) I’ve spent at least four nights a week past midnight in the office—plus weekends—waiting for meaningless corporate drivel that I’ve written to get official approval from someone in Amsterdam.
That someone is usually Pietra Van der Veertz, who, if my business trip to meet my new European bosses last October is any example, spends most of her company flex time smoking the latest hashish blends at the Rottweiler Coffeehouse in the Amsterdam red-light district (she calls it “essential corporate creativity extension”), and using her altered mental state as an excuse for taking seventeen hours to reply to my one-line email messages on her own top-of-the-line EuroBlackberry, which she carries everywhere and even is known to pound on tables and gesticulate with wildly in videoconference meetings—-but still refuses to actually use.
Of course, at Dutch/Marquette Bank & Trust (AGN ANSI’s American division), random drug testing is mandatory. So unlike Pietra, I can’t get away with being stoned on the job. All I can do is drink black coffee, tug at my hangnails, and wait.