All week I've been temping at my temp office. I sit at the front desk, welcoming applicants, helping them through the paperwork, knowing the whole time that come next Monday I'm in the same boat they are: jobless and hoping for even just a scrap of the hourly grind to help make ends meet. It's not the first time I've found myself in this somewhat ironic, somewhat pathetic position. Back in the late '90s I worked this very same gig for nearly half a year, all the time earning no bennies, no sick pay, or paid vacation, and sure as shitting, no stock options or matching friggin' 401(k).

I like to think that this gives me a bit more empathy. I try to put folks at ease. Let them know that, unlike a lot of agencies, this one is always going to treat them like a person of worth. When people get uptight about the simple tests we give them (proofing, spelling, grammar, typing), I assure them that their scores don't matter to their chances of getting placed nearly as much as they might imagine; that a bright attitude wins out over perfect spelling any day. I some times even tell them that I'm a fellow temp, especially when I offer them advice on the best time and way to check in (never call during lunch: the placement people are either out or irritated to be interupted; call every day if you want, but don't be discouraged if you don't get something right away; keep your chin up and be polite.)

Of course, the fact that I'm a meta-temp can cut the other way, too. Yesterday, a guy registered with the firm called to check in, and I ran the normal drill, keying his name into the system. When I saw that his overall rating was low (this can result from screwing up at a placement, or putting out a creepy vibe to the placement people, or most commonly, belligerence), I left him on hold for about a minute, then picked up and told him that I checked with "the folks in placement", but that there was nothing going on at the moment. I'd be sure to note in the system that he'd checked in. He said, "Yeah, okay. Uh... Well, be sure to tell them that I'm starving. That that's the point I've gotten to: I'm literally starving. You let them know that, okay?" I said okay, and good-bye, and hung up. But I wanted to call him back and say, "Hey, buddy. Who the fuck do you think you are calling here and acting like it's our fault?! If you're actually starving, seek some social services, or ask your family for help, or rob a fucking bank or something, but don't bitch at me. I got a wife and a kid and I haven't had permanent work since some assholes decided to drive a couple of planes into some buildings a few Septembers ago."

Back when I first did this gig, I used to get so pissed off at my fellow temps that called their hours in late. Unlike national temp companies that may take weeks to turn around your pay check, this place, privately and locally owned, will cut you a check on Friday for the hours you worked that week. All they ask is that you call in your hours before noon. And yet there's always a handful of jerks with entitlement complexes that can't be bothered. Accounting calls them "flies" for reasons long ago forgotten. When it was my job to call the flies towards the end of the day, I'd coyly ask them if they wanted to get paid. Sure, they'd say. Then I'd ask them why they couldn't hook that desire up with the motivation to call in by noon. They'd always get bent and then huffily claim that they were simply too busy to call. I've always hated hard-assed corporate rules and regs, but I would completely understand if this company refused to pay flies until Monday. But nope, they get their checks on Friday just like all of the rest of us. Buddhist though I am, I'm still struggling to understand this type of blythe compassion.

Fact is, come Monday, I'll be waiting to hear from the same placement crew that I'm answering phones for today. Talk about ironic: these guys like my work so much, they bring me into their own offices, and they still can't necessarily find me work. Times are that tough, glib predictions of recovery not withstanding.

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