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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Day 35: Work experiences

My Writing Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 35: Work experiences 

Where it comes to working experiences, I can entertain you with a string of anecdotes. In the early years as an immigrant in South Africa, it was nearly impossible to get a full-time job, but there was plenty of temporary work.

My very first temp assignment was for an industrial bakery. The bookkeeper wanted some time off and I was sent by a temp agency to stand in for her. One of my responsibilities was to calculate the worker’s wages with the Kalamazoo system.

The office, my co-workers and the work itself were all nice enough, but what really stood out were the perks of this job. 
Every morning at 9:00 the office was served freshly brewed coffee, along with a tray of thickly sliced, warm bread. The tray also held a bowl of real butter, as well as peach, apricot and strawberry jam.

At 11:00 more coffee, this time accompanied by a variety of scones, muffins, and cinnamon rolls.
Between 12:00 and 1:00 employees were served sandwiches with a choice of ham, salami, pate, cheese, or one of five salads.
At 3:00 coffee again, this time with a selection of pastries.
At 4:30, the official end of the day, every employee got a free bread.
I was more than a little sorry when after three weeks the bookkeeper returned to the office and my assignment was over.

A few month later, I was sent to a company where – before I was even allowed to enter the premises – I was called into the security office and was asked to take the oath of secrecy. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was soon to find out. 

This particular company built military equipment and my job was to type instruction manuals for the soldiers on how to make minor repairs. 
According to the oath, I was not allowed to discuss my work with anyone outside my department and certainly with nobody outside the company. I was to keep this oath for the duration of my stay and 7 years after I left the company. 
The biggest shock was when I came face to face with a tank. I had seen tanks in the movies and on TV of course, but that didn’t prepare me for seeing one in real life. Not only did I feel dwarfed by this enormous machine but I just about peed my pants when I saw its 9-meter (32 feet) gun pointed straight at me. I was teased mercilessly when I returned to the office as white as a sheet.

Life as a temp isn’t all fun and games though. Here in Toronto, I was sent to one of the big law firms for a three- week assignment. Very uncharacteristic of me, I left after just one hour. 

I knew the assignment wasn’t going to work when I arrived at the office and was shown to the desk of the girl I would be standing in for. 
Clearly, she loved spiders as there were spiders everywhere. She had several 8,5 x 11 colorful pictures of spiders pinned to the walls of her cubicle, two black and orange tarantulas were dangling from the ceiling, where a huge plastic (but very lifelike) black tarantula sat next to her computer.

Looking at the setup, I could feel a chill creeping up my spine, while the hairs on my neck and arms were standing up. 

I was supposed to work here! Me, whose terrified of spiders was supposed to work on a keyboard not 3 inches away from long black spider legs!

I tried to be brave and cautiously, from afar, placed a couple of Kleenex tissues over the black monster next to the keyboard, but it was no use, I knew what was under those tissues and even though I knew the spider wasn’t real, it still gave me the creeps. 

I informed the agency and left. As it turned out, three temps before me had done the very same thing.

In yet another law firm the environment was perfect, but the lawyer was a monster. He had a string of do’s and don’ts that included:
His printing had to be picked up every 20 minutes.
His teabag had to soak in hot water for precisely 45 seconds. Not 44 seconds, not 46 seconds, but 45 seconds.
His mail was to be presented to him in alphabetical order.
Cheques had to be stamped at an angle of exactly 45 degrees.
No work was ever to be visible on my desk.
This, of all things, presented the biggest problem. How does one do paperwork without any papers showing?
If these demands weren’t enough, the lawyer was terrible abusive in language. He screamed and shouted insults at the slightest provocation. If chairs weren’t replaced at exactly the right angle around the boardroom table, he would scream at his people for half an hour or more, getting angrier by the minute. If there were only 5 bottles of water instead of 6, this would set him off too.
When I suggested keeping bottled water in the fridge and only placing the bottles in the boardroom shortly before the meeting, I was on the receiving end of his wrath. To me, this made perfect sense as nobody wants to drink lukewarm water, but apparently, the lawyer didn’t tolerate suggestions.
When he came storming from behind his desk, ready to strike me, I got out a there. Verbal abuse was one thing, but I wasn’t risking physical abuse.
In hindsight, I should have let him. If he had struck me I would have had proof of the abuse. As it was, when I filed a complaint against the lawyer and the first thing the lawyer I contacted asked was “Do you have proof?” 

According to the lawyer, he’d seen this all before and a complaint without proof didn’t stand a chance in court.

Later I learned that he did contact the abusive lawyer who promptly denied everything.

I often played with the idea of putting together an anthology of work experience stories. Do you think this would be a good idea?

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