You can catch up on Part II of Matt Micheli’s “Temping in America” here and the first part here
If someone came up to you and asked you if you wanted to unload all these windows for thirty-six dollars, would you do it?” asked the guy who I had been talking the most with. That question was obviously rhetorical.
“Well, I thought nine-dollars per hour sounded ok. But if you put it that way… hell no.” We all laughed off our current situation pondering how we came to be here in the first place. I’m sure we all had our reasons.
We were severely fatigued but were able to muster just enough energy to finish unloading the few remaining windows. Hands on knees, deep breath in and out, we were done.
The driver had a hell-of-a time trying to get out of the complex—backing up, pulling forward, cutting the wheel, backing, up pulling forward, repeat, repeat, repeat. After about ten minutes of this, he was finally able to successfully climb the hill and exit the property.
We walked over to the trailer and sat down on a stack of lumber. We were all dead exhausted but sniggering at the fact that we just busted our asses—I mean REALLY busted our asses—for a measly thirty-six dollars. With my boots, socks, Red Bull which I drank on the way here, and Gatorade that sat in my car untouched, not to mention the gas cost for driving way the hell out here, I accepted that today was a loss for me. I didn’t even break even. Every muscle in my body was sore and overworked, and I. Didn’t. Even. Break. Even.
While we were waiting for our very own angrier version of Yosemite Sam to come back with our slips, one of the guys got a call. It was the temp service calling him to let him know he got that overnight baking gig he had wanted and he was to start in about two hours. “I’ll be there,” he said before hanging up.
I was impressed at this guy’s work ethic, who not only worked last night at a warehouse before coming here to have his ass kicked, but was now going to work another overnight gig.
“When do you sleep?”
There was talk of other temp agencies and some of the guy’s experiences. They were all pros of the temp world, having been there, done that. Some of the guys openly admitted to felonies, one of which was one of the black guys who couldn’t be a day over nineteen. Others didn’t have transportation or valid IDs. They all had it hard, harder than me. I had a nice car, nice place, beautiful wife, no criminal record. The only thing missing from my life was a good job—something that these guys may never have the luxury of getting.
The diesel truck came into view from over the hill and white dust fogged the air around it as it came speeding up to us. Each of us was called up individually to collect our signed pay-slips. Somewhere throughout today, I was asked by the hard-working, non-sleeping guy if I could give him a ride. The place was on the way so I offered. We got in my car and the guy was impressed by the interior.
“Man, this is nice,” he said of my new Sonata. “This is what I want.”
“Thanks.” I decided not to explain to him that this was a big downgrade from my previous car.
On the way, we talked. He asked what I was doing here and I explained that I was awaiting a position from the bank. He asked if the bank hired felons and I told him I wasn’t sure but they do a criminal background check. He told me about how he had got mixed up with the wrong crowd back in high-school and because of a stupid childish mistake, he would be forever deemed a criminal. Regret covered his face. We talked on—it was a long drive back—about my pregnant wife, kids, his kids. He told me how he was going to do everything he could to make sure they didn’t end up down the same path he had.
“I want better for them.”
He told me about how his girlfriend doesn’t like the fact that he lives with a female roommate.
“She’s crazy sometimes,” he said of his girlfriend.
“Aren’t they all?” I asked, jokingly. We both laughed a little. I asked if he had ever done anything to bring on this jealousy. He let out that he had fucked his roommate so maybe that was what was doing it. I assented with his thought. Come to find out, his roommate was actually the one who was picking him up from the drop-off location and he had lied to his girlfriend about that, telling her he had got a ride from one of the workers. Seemed a small thing to lie about…
“She’d be pissed,” he said. “She’ll fucking stab that bitch.” He shook his head and looked off before turning back. “Man, I’m serious. She’s crazy.”
I dropped him off at the McDonalds where his roommate was standing up against her car. She had a bag of food waiting for him.
“Thanks for the ride, man. I preciate it. And good luck with that baby. Things will work out. They always do.”
“Thanks, man. No problem. Good luck with that bakery gig.”
We did the cool man-shake thing. He got out, and like that, he was gone after being in my life for only four-or-five hours. Back to his own personal world—part Hell and smaller part Heaven. He was a good guy who had made mistakes. But hell, we all have. He worked his ass off—sometimes twenty hours in a day—to pay bills, to live, to cover child support, but he wasn’t complaining. He was happy to be able to provide anything toward his kids’ lives and grateful to have work at all. As I pulled away, beaten and bruised, I felt an unquestionable optimism for what lied ahead. Things will work out. They always do.
The next day, I made my way to the temp agency to pick up my thirty-six dollar paycheck. I figured I at least got some new boots to show for so it wasn’t a total loss. And the boots would be used. On the wall of the office, the sign read 8 days since the last work-related injury and just like that, we were only twenty-two days from that enigmatic hot dog lunch. Progress. I got my check. They told me to sign out for it and asked if I wanted them to put me down for work tomorrow.
“Ok. You’re on the list.”
Eight days. Let’s see if we can make it nine…