Please note: the excerpts are all LONG. Feel free to shorten, take a couple of paragraphs, whatever works for you.
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.
EXCERPT 2: (TEMPLAND)
I was back at Marquette Bank at eight sharp the next morning. Wanda from HR met me in the lobby.
“Melanie! So nice to have you in so bright and early this morning. I wanted to make sure I met you and escorted you to your secure work area.”
Escorted me? Secure work area? She made it sound like we were in some Cold War-era naval base, and not the cubicle canyons of a big American bank. I followed Wanda down a series of halls until we came to an obscure corner of the office that was still decorated in 70s-era purple and avocado. Instead of a cubicle, there was a steel sheet-metal half wall, with an ancient fortress of a metal desk behind it. Three PCs, each with its own octopus of cords and cables, rested on the massive desk.
“We originally thought we’d have you working at Leila’s old desk during the investigation, but upper management thought it would be too conspicuous,” Wanda explained. “So you’ll be working back here for the time being. I hope you don’t mind. No one will bother you back here!”
“I guess that’s good,” I said.
“I wish I had this kind of privacy in my job,” Wanda said. “But you know, being in HR is all about people, people, people!”
“Well, your IT assistant. . . person should be here any minute. I’ll just let you both work your magic!” Wanda from HR toddled off.
Although I’d gotten pretty good at navigating office software over the years, when it came to dealing with data cables and hard drives I was clueless. I stared at the three imposing-looking PCs with all their wires gone askew and suddenly felt all my computer literacy escape from my brain through my left ear. One of them didn’t have a monitor---it was just an intimidating pile of CPU, cable, and appliances. This cyber-monolith scared me so much I couldn’t even remember how to flip an on/off switch.
“Need some help?” said a vaguely familiar masculine voice over my shoulder.
I turned around to greet a handsome, goateed guy of about 30. Unlike the rest of the staff in the office who wore three-piece tailored suits and wingtips, he wore a wrinkled Nirvana-type flannel with the tail untucked, Old Navy khakis, and engineer boots. He carried a bulky PC monitor on his hip.
Where had I seen him before?
“I have your temporary password.” He smiled at me knowingly. Where had I heard that before?
Holy shit! Hoxwell IT Dave!
“Yeah, when Wanda came by yesterday about this little top-secret job she told me your name. I thought it might be you.”
“You’re in Chicago?”
“Yeah, I moved here about two years ago when I got a job over at the Board of Trade. Akron’s a shithole. I had to get out of there.”
“I know. Chicago’s a shithole sometimes, too,” I said, twisting a lock of my hair. How the hell was I going to do corporate espionage with a one-night-stand from college? A one-night-stand who was still very good looking and very, very likeable. Suddenly I understood how James Bond must feel when he has to shoot the bad Bond girl he screwed the night before for information.
“Are you OK?” Hoxwell IT Dave asked. If he remembered our one hot night of dorm-room love eight years before, he didn’t make any indication.
My mouth had gone cotton. “Ummmm. Ummmm, yes. Fine. Just kind of, um, thirsty.”
“I put a stash of Diet Coke in the IT office fridge this morning if you want some. If you drink Diet Coke this early, anyway. Usually only us computer geeks do that.”
I began to cough, which just made my cottonmouth worse. Diet Coke in the morning couldn’t be any worse for you than coffee, right? “Sure,” I managed.
Hoxwell IT Dave set the bulky monitor down on the metal desk fortress and disappeared down the hall. My knees were tingling for some unknown reason. Suddenly my shins feel asleep. I fell backwards into a molded plastic chair just as Hoxwell IT Dave returned with several sweating cans of Diet Coke under each arm.
“This should be enough to get us through the morning,” he said. “I drink a lot of this crap. I’ll probably get brain cancer before I’m 40 from all the Nutrasweet.” He paused to look at me. “You OK? You look sort of. . . pale.”
“Just tired, I guess.”
“Have a Diet Coke. It’ll get your blood buzzing in no time with all those goddamn chemicals.”
Hoxwell IT Dave was still as easygoing as I remembered. “So what’s new, eh?” He patted me on the shoulder just like he had the last time I saw him.
“Well, I’m really poor.”
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 very long 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.
EXCERPT 2: PERMLAND
There’s nothing more permanent in this world than death. And I learned just how permanent death and dying is at a very early age.
There’s nothing more permanent in this world than death. And I learned just how permanent death and dying is at a very early age.
In spring 1984, my parents were at each others’ throats. Dad’s sales job at the copier company was going nowhere, and since Dad’s paltry commissions weren’t enough to cover the mortgage and basic expenses, Mom decided to go back to work as a meter maid, the job she’d held in the City of Akron before she got married. But we were living in Canton, Ohio at the time--- a town that has only eight parking meters---so the job prospects for a meter maid there were pretty limited. After coming up empty-handed after submitting her meter-maid application to Canton City Hall, Mom decided to take a job as a cashier at the local McCrory’s five and dime. It paid $3.75 an hour---a nickel over minimum wage.
Dad was not impressed. “I don’t see how some minimum-wage job is gonna make up for a slow year down at Xerox,” he growled. “In a good year I can pull in thirty grand.” Thirty grand a year wasn’t exactly high living for a family of three, even in 1984.
“But you aren’t pulling thirty grand. Not anymore,” my mother replied.
“Why do you always gotta criticize, Thel? It ain’t my fault it’s a slow year. It ain’t my fault I can never get a break.” He opened a fresh pack of Trues and started to chain-smoke, blowing blue menthol fumes across the kitchen.
“At least I’m doing something to help instead of wallowing around in self-pity,” Mom snapped, and turned to me. “Melanie, I’ve been after your father for years to get out of the copier business. Too unstable. Everyone who was ever going to buy copiers already bought them years ago. But does he listen to me? No.” Mom was washing dishes by hand instead of running the dishwasher to help save on the electric bill. We were always doing things like that at my house growing up, even when sales were good for Dad at Canton Xerox World and Copier Supply. Things like pressing together scraps of Safeguard, Ivory, and Irish Spring leftover from the sink soapdish to make one big soap the whole family would use in the shower. Washing and reusing Baggies three and four times apiece (or until they just fell apart) in our brown-bag lunches. Endless spaghetti dinners, followed by endless spaghetti leftovers. Tuna Helper, Hamburger Helper, Spam. Generic cereal. Powdered milk. No family vacations, no Atari set or white Nike gym shoes like the rest of the kids on our block---instead I got purple Traxx from Kmart and a used Pong set Mom found at a garage sale.
I never complained, though. I knew better. Mom was too good at making me feel guilty. Even though my grandparents weren’t Catholic, they’d sent Mom to twelve years of Catholic school back in Sparkling Falls because the rural Ohio public schools were so awful. And by the time she graduated high school, not only had my mother fully converted to Catholicism, she’d more than mastered the nuns’ subtle art of Catholic guilt manipulation for making children behave.
Take the year I was in the first grade, for instance. Sales were down at Canton Xerox World and Copier Supply that year too, so there wasn’t much money for new school clothes. On the first day of school, Mom dressed me in a red velvet jumpsuit my grandmother had made me from a Simplicity pattern, along with a pair of leather saddle shoes Mom bought at the local Saint Vincent de Paul store. The shoes were of good quality and hardly worn at all, but in 1981, leather saddle shoes weren’t exactly high fashion among the first-grade set. When I told my mother I’d rather have a pair of blue KangaROOS, like the ones they had for sale at Stride Rite down at the Canton Mall, Mom said I mentioned anything about not liking my saddle shoes again she’d feed me a bar of Irish Spring for dinner.
Mom did enough complaining for all of us. She complained about Dad’s job not paying enough, she complained about our house being too small, she complained that her pink foam curlers didn’t set her hair properly. She complained about not having a car of her own and having to take the dirty, slow city bus everywhere. She complained about our furnace rattling too much, and when she hired a repairman to fix the rattling, then she complained that the repairman was too expensive. She complained about the price of chicken at Kroger’s being too high, she complained about Walgreen’s not stocking her favorite shade of lipstick anymore, and she complained when Prell shampoo changed its formula from green, thick, and in a tube to blue, runny, and in a bottle.
But Mom complained more during her first week working at the local McCrory’s than I’d ever heard her complain before.
She came home after her first day complaining about her feet hurting. “I’ve never stood on my feet for so long in my life," she said. “At least when I was a meter maid they gave me a little scooter to ride around on.”
Dad snorted from behind his evening paper. “Hrumph. So now you know how hard it is to do a day’s work,” Dad said, triumphant. “Now maybe you won’t be so quick to criticize me all the time.”
“I hardly think so,” Mom said. “You spend your whole workday behind a desk talking on the telephone. I stood on my feet behind a cash register all day. I even spent an hour stocking shelves with the new shipment of Tide they got in this week. Now that’s physical labor. You’ve never done a day of physical labor in your life, Andrew. My feet hurt like the dickens and my back feels like somebody shot me through with a bow and arrow, but at least I’m doing something to help this family along financially. You haven’t brought any commissions home in over a month. Nothing! Not one red cent.”
“Thel, I told you when I gave you permission to go back to work not to lord that over my head like that---“
“Permission, Andrew? You gave me permission to work? Now see here---”
“That’s right, Thel. An’ I can take that permission away from you just as fast as I give it. Love, honor and obey---that’s what your marriage vow to me was, Thelma. Or don’t you remember that?”
“Andrew, goddamn you to hell---“
The next thing I knew, Mom threw a box of raspberry Jello at Dad, who retaliated with a cheese grater. Rather than get in the middle of that, I retreated to my room to play with my Barbies and went to bed without any dinner. My parents were arguing and throwing cooking utensils at each other in our tiny galley kitchen until well past midnight.
Things went on that way for several more weeks. Mom spent more and more time at McCrory’s, and less and less time at home. Every night she came home and told us stories about what she did that day at the five and dime. “They got a new shipment of Spam in this week, real good price. I’ll bring some home with me tomorrow and we’ll eat it for Sunday dinner,” she’d say one day. But then, the next day she’d say, “Sold out that whole damn shipment of Spam in one day. Can you believe that? Looks like Tuna Helper again on Sunday.”
As the weeks and months wore on, Mom really started to like working at McCrory’s. All the women she knew around Canton would drop by on their weekly errands to chat with her, so she was in on all the town gossip.
“Melanie, did you know that stupid Dr. Foxworthy down at your school is gay?” she said one night after working a double-shift at the store.
“Mom, what’s ‘gay’ mean?”
Mom just laughed. “Never mind. Andrew, I’ll be working another double tomorrow so I’ll need you to keep an eye on Melanie and the house tomorrow night.” Dad snorted, threw down his newspaper and went out to the garage to tinker with the car.
Even as Mom was putting in lots of hours down at the McCrory’s, Dad was spending less and less time at Canton Xerox and Copier Supply. Many days he was asleep on the couch when I came home from school.
“Why are you home, Dad?” I asked on the third day I found him zonked on our threadbare avocado couch at three o’clock.
“Can’t make any money at work, sweetheart. Nobody’s buying copiers these days. Might as well come home and take a nap.” Dad stretched back out on the couch, rolled over, and started to snore. That’s when I noticed the empty bottle of Maker’s Mark on the floor underneath the coffee table.
I shrugged my shoulders and went upstairs to do my homework. I didn’t have my after-school Catholic Catechism Development program that week, so the only homework I had was some spelling words to use in sentences and some history questions. I was done in less than an hour---a good thing, since by then Mom was putting in so many hours at McCrory’s that I often ended up making dinner. After I finished my homework I went to the kitchen to rummage around in the cabinets for something I knew how to cook.
I settled on packaged macaroni and cheese with a side of microwaved frozen peas and some Pillsbury rolls from a cardboard tube. Mom usually got home from her day at McCrory’s—where she’d recently been promoted to assistant floor manager—by seven. I planned to have dinner on the table at seven-thirty.
Seven-thirty came and went. The macaroni got cold and gummy on the table, because with Mom not home and Dad zonked on the couch so drunk I couldn’t budge him, I felt funny about eating alone. I stared at my congealing mac and cheese for nearly forty-five minutes before I finally relented and stuck my plate in the microwave to reheat it.
But before I could even shut the microwave door, the phone rang. I picked it up on the second ring.
“Evers residence,” I said, as I had been taught to do when my parents couldn’t come to the phone.
A worried old-lady voice was on the other end. I could hear a lot of other people chattering in the background. And I thought I heard sirens, too. “I need to speak to Andrew Evers, please,” said the voice.
“I’m sorry, he can’t come to the phone right now. May I take a message?”
“Sweetheart, this is kind of an emergency. Is your dad there?”
“I’ll try to get him,” I said, and set the receiver on the counter.
I went to Dad on the couch and started to shake him. He didn’t budge. I shook him again---nothing. That’s when I thought of something I’d seen on TV once and decided to try it on Dad. I went back into the kitchen and filled a plastic pitcher full of cold water. I went back to the living room and poured the entire thing on Dad’s face.
“Wha----Melanie! What the fucking hell? Are you trying to kill me?”
“Dad, you have an important phone call.”
Dad started to roll over towards the wall. “Take a message.”
“I can’t. They said it’s an emergency. I think it’s about Mom. She’s not home yet.”
Dad glanced at his watch. His face turned gray, and he became completely sober in an instant. He got up and went to the kitchen without speaking.
I crept around the corner to listen, hiding just behind the louvered pantry door.
“Uh huh,” Dad said, his voice flat and emotionless. “Yeah. No. No, she was fine when she left the house this morning. No. No. I have no idea. Which hospital? Okay, okay. We’ll be right there.”
Dad hung the receiver of the yellow rotary-dial phone into its cradle on the kitchen wall. “Melanie, get your coat.”
“But what about dinner? Aren’t you going to eat? And I’m not finished eating yet---“
“Get your coat. Your mom’s in the hospital. Something’s happened.”
“I don’t know. They aren’t sure. Just get your goddamn coat and let’s go.”
Dad had used three swear words with me in the past two minutes, and one of them was goddamn, so this was definitely serious. For a moment I didn’t know what to do---I stood in the tiny foyer between our kitchen and our breakfast nook, my purple Traxx glued to the dirty linoleum. Dad was already halfway into his coat and heading out to the garage.
“Melanie, come on! Jesus H. Christ.”
I left the mac and cheese to rot on the table, the door to the empty Radar Range still hanging open, and followed Dad out to our beat-up green Corolla without a coat or hat.
It was early December, and with the heater in our family car barely working, I was still shivering when Dad pulled into the parking garage of Canton Sisters of Mercy Regional Catholic Hospital twenty minutes later. Dad made a beeline for the “EMERGENCY” entrance, walking so fast I had to run behind him, freezing in my thin jersey-knit top and almost slipping on a patch of ice.
Dad was standing in the middle of the emergency room lobby when I caught up with him. I watched as a doctor in blue scrubs and a hospital chaplain priest walked up to him. The priest put his hand on Dad’s shoulder and motioned towards a dark consulting room. The three of them walked over to the room, which had a glass front wall and Venetian blinds, and shut the door. The blinds flipped closed and I couldn’t see what was going on, but a moment later, I heard Dad scream.
Dad tore down the Venetian blinds in the conference room, and then his fist went through the room’s glass front wall, sending hundreds of shards right out into the emergency-room lobby. Friends and relatives of the sick and maimed jumped and ran for their lives at the sight. Dad tore out of the shattered room, the right arm of his Arrow no-iron shirt a torn and bloody mess and ran out into the parking lot, screaming the entire way.
I didn’t know what to think. Either something really bad had happened to Mom, or in a split second my father had just become certifiably insane. I looked around for someone who might tell me which one was true, but the lobby had cleared out pretty quick when Dad sent the glass wall flying across the room.
I walked across the lobby, broken glass crunching under the soles of my purple Traxx. I followed a narrow hallway until I found the blue-scrubbed doctor and the hospital chaplain priest, who were tucked inside a narrow doorway talking to each other in low voices.
“Excuse me,” I said. “You were just talking to my dad.”
The doctor and the priest exchanged looks, but said nothing.
“Excuse me,” I said again. “Can you please tell me what is going on with my mom? My dad’s gone pretty bug-nuts so I really don’t want to ask him.”
The priest sighed and put his hand gently on my shoulder, just as I had seen him do with my father. “Come with me, child,” he said, and led me into another conference room not unlike the one my father had just torn to pieces. The priest took a green lollipop out of his pocket and handed it to me, as if I were a five-year-old being rewarded for not crying after getting a booster shot. I looked at the lollipop with distaste and then set it down on the table.
“Young lady, what is your name?” asked the priest.
“Melanie. Melanie Evers.”
“Hmmm. And your middle name?”
The priest frowned. “Your parents didn’t name you after a saint?”
“Uhhh, I don’t know.”
“I see. Do you know your saints, child?”
I tried to remember a few of the saints I’d learned about in Catholic Catechism Development. “Ummm, I know about Saint Mary Magdalene,” I stammered. “And Saint Francis. He’s the one with all the birds, right?”
“That’s right, child. But do you know anything about your patron saint?”
The priest paused to think, chewing a hangnail on his little finger. “Well, if your name is Melanie, I guess the closest patron saint to that would be Saint Helena.”
“Is that good?” I ask.
“Well, it’s probably appropriate for you to be associated with Saint Helena, since she is the patron saint of converts and difficult marriages.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s my understanding your mother wasn’t born into the faith---she converted at a relatively late age. And your parents’ marriage was indeed very difficult. So, it seems you are the product of both a convert and a bad marriage. It hardly seems your father is a good Catholic, either.”
The priest was definitely right on that score. “He doesn’t go to church or anything,” I said. “But how did you know about all that other junk?”
The priest’s face softened a bit. “You see, child, this is the difficult part. Your mother has passed on. I performed her last rites, and was able to speak to her a little when she made her last confession, before she ahhhh, expired.”
“You mean she’s dead?”
The priest sighed. “Yes, child, I’m afraid so. But don’t worry. If the Lord is kind, her stay in Purgatory won’t be very long. I prayed very hard for this during her last rites.”
“What do you mean?” I’d learned about Purgatory in CCD and didn’t like the idea of my mom burning and suffering and having her skin eaten by ghouls there, even for just a little while.
“Your mother died with some mortal sins on her soul, which will take quite some time in Purgatory to atone for,” the priest replied.
The priest shifted a little in his seat. “Well, dear, your mother died of something called an aneurysm. Do you know what that is?”
“It’s a kind of brain injury,” the priest said. “It happens when the arteries in our brain get blocked by an air bubble, and rupture.”
“How do you know that? You’re a priest, not a doctor.”
The priest sighed. “The doctor explained it to me, child. When I perform last rites for someone I prefer to know what is ahhhh, killing them, medically speaking. That way I can better guess what sins might need absolution.”
“Oh.” That’s when I decided I wanted that lollipop after all. I popped it into my mouth and sucked its cheap lime flavor to keep from crying. “But what kind of sins would Mom have on her soul to make her die of that brain thing?”
The priest shifted in his seat again. “This is the part of my job that I like the least, child. You see, your mother died because she did not know her place.”