It took me forever to find this job. But I should've realized it was doomed when I came in on my first day, Thursday the 14th, a half hour early. I entered and said to the boss lady, "I'm here to do data entry...?" Her response was, "You're early." My response to her was something like, "Yes." I figured being early was a good thing, but I would later learn it probably wasn't, because nothing anyone could ever do at this job was good. Everything was bad.
The door was unmarked, and the company's name was not on the lobby directory. The place was named TCI. I never found out what that stood for. The boss lady was an older woman named Griselda. This is something I would be forced to learn from context, because she never introduced herself, nor did she show me around the office. Instead, she hastily put me at a computer and told me how to do my job. Basically, I would go to a shelf and grab a packet full of petition signatures. I would enter the names and addresses from the petition into the computer, write a number on the packet, and put the packet into a box. Then I would return to the shelf and do the whole thing over again. That was the entire job, and I loved how simple it was.
But there was a catch.
You needed to maintain an average of 150 names per hour. In terms of typing speed, this would be no problem, but the petitions had apparently been filled out by someone on a speeding cattle train with no clipboard, because nothing was ever written legibly. So if I wanted to enter anything other than gibberish into the system, I would have to slow down and analyze the handwriting until reasonable words started to take shape. I eventually trained myself to decipher these nonsensical chicken scratches at a much faster rate, but for those first few days, I was scared to death I was going to be fired for going too slowly, as one of my co-workers was at the end of that first day.
Sometime after 1pm on the first day, I decided to ask Griselda about lunch. As in, when was my lunchtime and how long did I have? She said I could go whenever-- BUT NOT YET, because half of the eight or so data entry people were already out to lunch, and she couldn't have so many people gone at once. I never understood this line of reasoning, because even if every single person took their lunch simultaneously, the exact same amount of work would get done by the end of the day. Was she basing the office's productivity solely on hourly quotas, even when part of the staff was at lunch? I just don't know. I should've asked at some point, though I can't imagine when would've been a good time to do so.
Griselda was an unpleasant woman, with a face you would only expect to see on the end of a desert beast. She would periodically make announcements showing us common mistakes that some of us were making, and begging us to please ask her questions as we go. "I would rather you ask me a hundred questions than make a mistake that later has to be corrected." But every time we asked her a question, she would get really annoyed and answer us with impatience and attitude. She was always stressed out and always talking down to us. And she would CONSTANTLY make all these loud passive-aggressive jabs. Like, one time she announced, "If anyone wants some coffee, I just started making some, because I really wanted a cup and no one had made any." Well, I don't drink coffee, and thus, don't know how to make it. I also had never been showed by anyone where the break room was, let alone been told it's the entire office's responsibility to keep the coffee flowing. So that's just a couple good reasons why I, for example, shouldn't have been expected to be making coffee. Another time, she told some new hires, "If you want some water... well, I have to order some, because someone drank the last one and didn't tell me we were out." Again, if you want people to be responsible for something, you have to tell them at some point. I guess it would be unreasonable to expect the regulated delivery of something as ridiculous as water.
On my second day, Friday the 15th, I brought an mp3 player to listen to while I worked. It's a crappy one that doesn't have a menu screen. It just plays everything in a straight loop. And I would find out on this day that it goes through a AAA battery in three hours. I decided to carry lots of batteries on me from that point on. The music I listened to was all movie scores with no lyrics, which would help keep me focused as I "data entered."
My second week started on Monday the 18th. It poured rain the entire week (a rarity in California), which didn't help. See, Griselda eventually told me that I was allotted one 30-minute lunch and two 10-minute breaks. And if I wanted to, I could combine them however I wished. But there was really nowhere in the building for me to eat my lunch. The kitchen was sort of a standing "area." So when lunchtime came, I would haul ass to Subway or something, and then haul ass back. The pouring rain made this take longer than I would've liked. So I ended up taking a 45-minute lunch every day, but I made up for it by taking no other breaks. Just working straight through from 9 to 5, minus lunch.
At some point during the second week, I noticed her telling one of my co-workers that when he comes to grab a packet off the shelf, he should grab several at once, then do them all at his desk, then bring the entire finished pile over to the box. As opposed to getting up after each completed packet. This did not sound enticing to me, because sitting at a computer and typing for seven or eight hours is hard enough. It helps to be able to stand up every once in a while and move for a few seconds. And we're literally talking about like five steps here. But she actually referred to them as "wasted steps." So the guy explained that he kinda liked the teensy moments in which he stood up. I chimed in, agreeing that it was a nice little break. But she responded by reminding us of our 150-name-an-hour quota. I could've easily pointed out that the fatigue of working straight through like she was suggesting, through back pain and deflated morale, might actually hinder our productivity far more than the periodic interruption of standing up and walking five steps. But of course, I didn't want to argue.
Later in the week, she would come to approach me and remind me of the "several packets at once" policy, explaining it to me like I was mentally deficient. "You just put one pile here, and another pile here, and when you're done with this one, you put it in this pile. See?" I think maybe she could tell that I could tell she was talking down to me.
The way this place works is, there's a day shift and a night shift. Because of something happening beyond my pay grade, there was no night shift on Wednesday the 20th, and no day shift on Thursday the 21st. This meant that I got Thursday off, which helped me immensely in my endeavor to recharge my own batteries mid-week. But as I was running errands on Thursday afternoon, I received some frantic calls from my temp agency, asking if I could please come in for the Thursday night shift, even for a few hours, because they were going to be understaffed and fall behind. I wasn't able to do it, but the next morning, Friday the 22nd, I came in like 15 or 30 minutes early. Griselda was on the phone. Thinking that they might still be behind, I just started working. Eventually, she got off the phone and got mad that I was working. She was all, "No, don't do that; I wanted you to do this. Okay, finish that, but then do this. And next time, don't start before you're supposed to. You start at 9am." So much for going above above and beyond.
My 5th grade teacher taught me the value of going above and beyond. But on January 22, 2010, I found out that it's actually a bad thing.
So the weekend finally arrived. I had now worked there for over a week, and figured the danger of getting fired, which had plagued the back of my mind since my first day, had now passed. I was getting better and more efficient at every task, and was set to follow through with this job until its completion in May. And I could finally stop worrying about how I was going to pay my rent. I ordered a nicer mp3 player off Amazon, that didn't require batteries and had an actual control screen!
Then came Monday the 25th. I left the house at the same time I always do, but the 101 was backed up the entire way. Like 20 miles. And since I live over 30 miles away from the office, this added up. I never found out what was causing the gridlock. I thought I heard something about a three car pileup on the radio. Then, as the traffic cleared up, I noticed a really big carcass on the road. Anyway, I got to work a full half hour late. As I was signing in, Griselda looked at me and said, "Traffic?" I said yes, that the 101 was backed up all the way to Hollywood. She then told me what batches to work on, so I got to it.
After one batch, I went to the bathroom. I was in the bathroom for a few minutes. Doing bathroom things. When I returned, I was starting on my second batch when I noticed Griselda motioning for me to come into her office. I did, and she said, "I want you to sign out and go home."
Let's stop right here. Can anyone imagine what was going through Griselda's mind at this point? Why she was doing this? I just want to convey some of the confusion I was feeling at that moment.
"Why?" I asked. She told me it was because I had been a half hour late and then immediately took a break, and that I can't be taking a break so early in the day. I explained that I had to go to the bathroom, and she said, "It's not the first time it's happened." And if you're having trouble following the line of logic in this conversation, it's because there isn't one. I tried to articulate the fact that I had zero control over traffic and bathroom emergencies. She then said that the other day, she had looked over at me and I had been sitting back in my chair, which I guess she construed as me being unproductive. I explained that me sitting back was because my back hurt from being hunched over the monitor for several hours straight, and was not an indication that I was taking the work lightly. She said, "I'll think about it, but for now, sign out and go home." She really just wanted me out of there. This was devastating to me, because I depended on this job to pay my rent, it had taken me forever to get hired anywhere, and now I was being fired for something that really wasn't my fault. I had never even been late before, and the entire time I worked there, I never once took all my allotted breaks. Unless you're a miserable cunt who counts bathroom emergencies as break time.
That night, my new mp3 player came.
Back when I was in 1st grade, I had a VHS tape of cartoons, but we didn't own a VCR yet, so I had never watched it. We had bought it at a supermarket or something. From the cover, I could see it had some Woody Woodpecker and Mighty Mouse on it. One day, we were told to bring in videotapes to watch in class, so I brought that tape. We were all sitting on the floor watching different people's tapes. As they were putting in my tape, some girl shoved up behind me and I turned around and told her to stop. As this was happening, the teacher was apparently sending kids out of the room for talking, and she promptly added me to that group. So as the class watched my tape, that I had never seen, I was sent to another classroom, to copy the rules of the classroom onto a sheet of paper. The injustice of my being fired from this job, for some reason, reminded me of that moment in 1st grade. I guess because both times, I felt that I did not deserve the punishment I was being given by an authority figure too distracted to bother thinking about where I was coming from. The irony is that as a child, I was prohibited from watching my videos and forced to perform mindless data entry, and as an adult, it was the other way around.
The value of talk-backs
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