In the summer of ’98, I was desperately in need of work. Having left a shitty newspaper gig where I thought I’d be a graphic designer, then a brief telemarketing stint, I was fucked and broke. My sister suggested a temp agency, since “you’re so good with computers, they’ll find you all kinds of work!”.
After the interview and paperwork, I was all set. It sounded kind of exciting : get in, get the job done, get out. No hassle. No strings attached. I could be the Don Juan DeMarco of menial computer tasks in the late 90’s. “Ohhh hello… I see you’ve got an ill-formated Word file. Lemme just take a look here..”. So sexy, right?
I get a call one morning that I’m to report to Platinum Sound 1that’s the name I remember, but a Googling says I’m probably wrong, a company that makes high-end videogame & computer accessories, they list off an address and say I need to report to the department head : Leslie. Okay. Got it. I’m on the case!
At the time, my car was out of commission, so I bussed it out there. I ended up walking across an empty desert field to a building alone on an empty desert street. It said “Platinum Sound” in fancy letters and it looked very inviting. I walked in to the front lobby and I was in awe. There were maybe 5-6 offices just off the lobby. Glass doors. I could see in – huge Mac workstations. This was 1998 and they had 21″ screens on every desk and the big-ass Powermac towers. I thought “hell yes! THIS is my jam!”.
A man walked out of one of the offices and said “can I help you?” – “yeah.. I’m starting some work today and I’m supposed to meet with Leslie”. He looked puzzled. “Oh! Uh… yeah, go right on through that door… Leslie’s back there”. I said thanks, went through the door and I’m in a warehouse. “Hmm.. she must be checking the merchandise or something”. An angry, bald, giant beast of a man walked up to me as I was making my way towards the back of the warehouse…
bald guy : “can I help you?”
me : “uhh..yeah, looking for Leslie? Is she around here?”
bald guy : “I’m Leslie”
me : “ohh.. oh. sorry. my mom’s name is lesl..”
bald guy : “you’re the new guy? come with me”
He walked me to an aisle of boxes in the warehouse. When I say “an aisle of boxes” – picture a Home Depot with nothing but boxes from floor to ceiling (much like the header image for this post). He said “we make these racing wheels for computer games and of the 400 wheels in this aisle, 2 of them are missing buttons on the rear of the wheel. We just need you to grab a box, open it, check for rear buttons, and either alert us or re-pack the box, mark it with this red marker, and place it back on the shelf”.
400 wheels. 2 wheels per box. 200 fucking boxes. Now I see why this was a shit job given to some “who gives a fuck” dude. Me, in this case.
After about an hour of work, sweating, cursing to myself, several cuts on my hands from the box cutter, the cardboard of the box, the fucking tape dispenser, I was about to collapse and I’d only checked maybe… 8 boxes. Leslie walked up and said “hey, good news…” (he said everything dead-pan, so I was like “is this good news”?) “…they actually stopped the shipment of the wheels with missing buttons at the factory. So, we’re good..” (“heyy.. that is good news”) “…anyway, follow me and I’ll show you the next task” (“…fuck”).
Now, I was in an assembly line. We’d open boxes of these (fucking!) steering wheels, throw in some demo discs for games that worked well with the wheel, tape ’em back up, put ’em in a box, line ’em up for the delivery truck. Each box of 2 wheels took our team maybe 2 minutes. This was my life now. I was angry at myself for.. I don’t know, not going to college? Wait, that wasn’t an option. Quitting the newspaper gig? They hated me and there was no room for advancement. I definitely made a mis-step. The other guys on the line were all ex-cons, save for these two hillbilly brothers, who had maaaybe 1/2 a mouth’s worth of teeth between them.
When I came to work the following day, to a whole new load of boxes, ready to do the same thing, I asked one of the hillbilly boys “how do you do this all day?”. They looked at me like I was literally asking them how they moved their hands. “Uhh.. look, man, you take the box cutter..” — “no, no, I mean.. how do you wake up knowing this is what you’ll be doing all day?”. Befuddlement. One brother, clearly the smarter one, said “it’s pretty cool.. like, we can just work, ain’t no one botherin’ us. I know what I gotta do. I do it. Easy”.
I went to lunch with those guys that day, and while eating our Taco Bell, one said to the other “man, I’m almost there. Almost where I need to be. Couple more years of this kinda work, and I can get me a nice double-wide back home, marry Lisa if she’s still around and.. phew-boy, that’ll be a nice life”. His brother poked up “shit yeah, man.”.
Thankfully, when we returned to the warehouse, Leslie said “it’s the end of the week, so it’s payday for these guys. You too. If you wanna come back, come out on Monday”.
I did not come back on Monday. I called the temp agency and said “I .. don’t think that job is.. really in my wheelhouse. y’know?”, they said “really? computer work with Platinum Sound?”. I said “nope. they had me in the warehouse. packing boxes”. The agency lady said “ohhh… ohh… that’s my bad. I used the wrong reference code. Oh.. I’m sorry. You should’ve called. I was wondering why they wanted a second temp out there so soon for the same job!”, and she laughed.
Yeah. Real funny, lady.
Footnotes [ + ]
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