A few years back, when I was nearing the milestone of age Forty, I decided that the service industry just wasn’t cute any more. Plus, people are hateful, soul-sucking vermin who think the entire world revolves around them. The decision led me back to that old chestnut of, drum roll … Temp Work!
I signed on with one of the larger agencies in Toronto and fell back in to the anxiety of, ‘Would I work this week?’ ‘Will Kitty and I eat soon?’. Ah, temp work. Mostly at banks, the complete and utter distain directed at you from the staff, no one talks to you except the other temps, you become just a bit of background, stuffing envelopes or sorting out monthly statements or used cheques. The grunt work that’s clearly beneath them. Couple of days, maybe a week and off you go. Bliss.
After a few months of bouncing around I got a permanent placement at a bank. Not a service bank, but a Loans and Mortgages building. I was placed in the mail room/records management. The HUB of the entire building. Fourth floor! The heart of all eight floors! This is where the mail was sorted and all the files of all the clients for the bank were stored.
The mail was delivered in the morning and all throughout the day, any number of people would email down to our office requesting certain flies. The email was retrieved by another temp, higher up than me as they got to sit down in the main room. This temp, with at least three doctorates and an unpronounceable name would print it off, highlight the bits I needed to know and then I would go pull the files and deliver them to whoever needed them using a large metal push cart. Once there, I would collect files that had been used and take them back and re-shelve them. Simple, no?
I started doing half a day only, starting at noon, which at about seven dollars an hour was laughable. It wasn’t a particularly difficult job, nor was it particularly exciting, but I was always moving about the bank, meeting people and not meeting people at the same time.
There always seemed to be a problem with the morning person, having a new one every other week. When I realised Morning Shift Number Three wasn’t cutting it, I stepped in. It seemed he would leave and disappear for long stretches, plus he had a bum leg which seemed to make it almost impossible for him to push a trolly full of heavy files. Bum leg, skinny, bony and apparently lazy as fuck. He never used to re-shelve the files, just leave them for me to do when I came in. That got boring really fast. The day his bum leg caused him to fall over, complete with full cart of files, I tattled.
I went to the supervisor and delicately broached the subject. I didn’t know her well, she was a lovely little not-quite Grandmotherly type with white hair and always put together nicely. She seemed to have a decent sense of humour and always smelled like flowers, cookies and cigarettes. She took the news well; we can’t have sensitive files spread all over the floor and intermingling, now can we? She started to search for a replacement and I tentatively asked if I could do the whole day, as I was struggling to make it on half a day. She agreed.
So, everything sailed along, I had a full day of work and the other staff were starting to see me and talk to me and everything seemed to be on an upswing. Until The Elevator Day!
Eight floors and all accessed by four elevators from a rather small lobby. The shifts were staggered, starting from eight until ten am, so there was always a lot of traffic. I had delivered a bunch of files to the ground floor and picked up a large amount to be taken back. When I came out of the first floor office in to the lobby there were a lot of people milling about, all getting stressed, shuffling about in their heavy winter coats. It seemed the elevators weren’t working. Many people started taking the stairs, although not the special princesses in their special princess shoes and their special princess attitudes. Men are like that.
Finally one or another elevator started to move and people pushed and shoved and crammed in the small space. I had a large cart full of sensitive files so I couldn’t just abandon it. After about twenty minutes a woman who had been waiting grabbed the front of the trolly and pulled it in the elevator. She could see I was stressing quite a bit and very near tears and really didn’t want to be there any longer, ( see comment above about my wrath of humans) and the relief I felt to finally be in was palpable. But as soon as I got in, everyone else starting cramming in and cart be damned, all these assholes in suits started to push the cart out of the elevator. Because they matter and my cart and I don’t.
I stood there looking at the spot I had just seconds ago been occupying and watched all of these boxy suits and blank faces fill up the elevator, no one looking at me or acknowledging what had just happened. Only the woman who had pulled me in in the first place gave a consolatory look. I was so surprised and not really surprised at all. I quickly went from stressing to relief and was now standing in front of a full elevator and surrounded by a bunch of assholes!
Just as the elevator doors slid closed I pushed my face close to the tightening gap and yelled, “Ya? Well, you can all go fuck yourselves”
When I finally got upstairs and settled back in to my routine, I was petrified about what the fallout was going to be. I had just gotten a full time job I didn’t completely despise and now I was to be fired. I’ve been fired for less, so telling a cage full of suits to cram it was worth it, in the long run.
I was just coming out of the elevator and I saw my supervisor just getting out of the other one next to me. I stopped her and said I need to tell her something. I wondered if I should tell her exactly what happened or soft-soap it a bit. I rely wanted her to hear it from me because was certain she would hear about it anyhow. I decide to just tell it like it was and be damned with the consequences.
She politely stood in front of me listening to my tale and when I was finished there was a moment of silence. I thought, well, this is it. Back to the job search.
Instead, she smirked, tried not to laugh and then bent over holding her waist and put her purse on the floor. She laughed for a full minute. It was a bit confusing at first. She managed to stand up and collect herself. She tried to tell me that that wasn’t something one should do, but then collapsed in laughter again.
We are still friends.