Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Simple Instructions

Before I landed at my current day job, which I’ve had for almost 16 years now, I spent several years working as a temp. A few of the jobs were “light industrial” as they say in the temp business, but most of them were “office/clerical.” I have mostly positive things to say about my experience as a temp – heck, without it, I wouldn’t have the job I have now – but there were some special moments.

The one I had cause to remember today was a two-week temp job I had at the Wayne State University College of Nursing. When I arrived to begin my day, I was given over to a woman who was also a temp, but who had already been there for a week, so it was her job to get me up to speed. She showed me a huge pile of folders, each filled with various pieces of paper. In addition, there were various types of information written on the front of each folder. “We have to put all these in order,” she explained.

Noting that there were various things written on each one, I asked what our sorting criteria was. “Are we alphabetizing these?” I asked.

She vigorously shook her head. “No, we’re datephabetizing them.” She said this with no hint of irony in her voice.

So I learned a new word that day, though I have been highly selective in my own use of the term. In all fairness, I did understand what she meant, so perhaps the term is a fair one.

OK, one more temp story. Right before I moved to Chicago to take my current job, I worked at the same place for over a year. Our entire department, including our supervisor, were temp workers. As it happened, I was the only male in an office with six women, and we were a really tight group, probably the most close-knit office I’ve ever been a part of. We socialized outside of work on a regular basis, and the office environment was very relaxed and supportive.

One day, after I’d been there for several months, the topic of our temp agency came up. When we began discussing how they related to us as individuals, a couple of the women snickered inexplicably. I pressed them for an explanation, and one of them decided to tell me.

“I just remembered this,” she began, “The day before you started here, the rep from the temp agency came to the office to tell us about you, and she made a point of telling us that you were gay!” At this point, the room broke into general hysterics. The rest of the gang found it quite preposterous that anyone would draw this conclusion about me. Boy… I guess I just don’t have any secrets!

OK, I laughed too. But when the laughter subsided, I realized that I wasn’t too happy about this. It wasn’t a matter of having someone think I was gay; heck, the lady from the temp agency wasn’t the first person to think so. That isn’t the part that bugged me – it was the whole matter of her making this a part of her professional report on me to my new coworkers. That qualifies as incredibly unprofessional conduct on her part. There’s probably some law she was breaking by introducing me in that manner, regardless of whether there was any truth to it, but I decided not to push the matter.

The interesting part to me was trying to deduce how she’d come to this conclusion. It was my first job through this particular agency, so I’d just met with her the week before. We’d sat down together for about 10 minutes for my interview. “So let’s see,” I thought, “I need to find some shallow stereotype about gay men that must have struck a chord with her. Hmmm… Well, it’s true that I didn’t try to pick her up during the interview, but that would seem inadvisable from a standpoint of both professional ethics and basic intelligence, so I guess I can rule that out…”

The only thing I could come up with was that she had commented on how professionally done my resumé was. I’d pointed out to her, with considerable pride, that I’d done it myself on my Mac at home in Microsoft Word. She’d asked me to tell her more about it so I’d spent some time going into detail about how I’d set up the Word file. At the time, I was pretty hard-core about Macs and would go on about them at the slightest provocation (or none at all). Perhaps she considered my effusiveness about the aesthetic qualities of my resumé to be somehow in accordance with gay stereotypes she was buying into.

Like I said, I decided not to press the matter. Over the years, I’ve had coworkers at different jobs think all sorts of things about my personal life that weren’t true – I’ve been rumored to be dating this or that woman when I wasn’t; I’ve been rumored to be gay more than once; I’ve been rumored to be cheating on one girlfriend with another girlfriend on the sly – and as far as I know, none of these rumors has ever cost me anything, either professionally or personally. Because if someone is close enough to me, they know the truth. As far as people who aren’t that close to me, I look at it this way: People love to talk. They love a juicy story and some of them are going to imagine one out of thin air on the slightest hint of evidence. But deep down, most people know that such stories are worth nothing more than the breath it took to report them.

Some time later, there came a day when we knew our agency rep was coming to the office to talk to us. A couple of my coworkers double-dog-dared me to behave like a total over-the-top stereotypical queen that day. While the actor side of me was tempted to see if I could bring it off, I decided not to pursue it. I mean, there’s a lot I’ll do for a joke, but it just didn’t seem like the time or the place. If the show Avenue Q had existed at the time, my coworkers would have qualified for the role of the Bad Idea Bears.

How about you, o fellow temp workers – any memorable moments to report?

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