Friday, July 29, 2005

Please. Do Not Hit on Me at the Bus Stop.

I woke up this morning with bad hair. I should have just gone back to sleep.

I was struggling with my third attempt at a hairstyle (a messy top-of-the-head bun that made me look like a pineapple) when Quint grabbed my elbow and pulled me out the door -- we were running late.

You see, we're down to one car right now. The other one got totaled in the flood a few weeks ago. (Don't even get me started...a completely flat city with no drainage system -- good one, team Houston!) Since Quint works farther away, he drives me the mile and a half to the bus stop on his way to work and then I take the bus.

Well, I missed my bus and then ended up getting on the wrong bus, realizing this only after riding for half an hour (I was reading my book). I had to get off, take a bus in the opposite direction to backtrack nearly to where I'd started, and then wait for the bus I should have taken in the first place.

A young guy in a track suit had gotten off the second bus and was waiting at the third stop with me. "Hello, how are you?" he asked. "Good, thanks," I replied, as I usually do unless the greeting is accompanied by inapproriate staring. But understand this: after my quick response -- which I feel is only polite -- I keep it moving.

This fellow had other ideas. "Where are you from?" he asked. Still no objectionable behavior that could excuse me from the conversation (except the annoying use of "where are you from?" as some kind of euphemism for an inquiry into my ethnicity). "New York," I replied and opened my book.

He told me his name and then stuck his hand out for a handshake. I looked up from my book. There it was, hand in mid-air in front of me. Can you leave someone hanging like that? Of course you can -- but since leaving New York I've lost some of my hardness. Here I was, alone at a bus stop with this guy, and the awkwardness of leaving him hanging seemed to outweigh the cost of shaking his hand. So I shook it -- meekly, without offering my name -- and then returned to my book. (I scolded myself for having gone too far down this slippery slope -- but where was I supposed to have stopped?)

"What's your name?" he asked. I responded with, "Do you know what time the bus comes?" He didn't. I alternated my gaze impatiently between my book and my watch.

After a minute, he said,"It was nice meeting you." Success! He's going to leave me alone! "You too," I said, thinking I'd nailed the lid on the conversation. But no.

"I'd like to get to know you better -- can I have your number and call you sometime?" Ok, I think we women all know where this conversation is going, but let me break it down for the fellas.

1. When I say, "No, you can't have my phone boyfriend wouldn't be happy about that," I'm giving you the easy out. Go on your way, now, quietly, unscathed. It's not that there's something wrong with you, it's just that this woman is spoken for. No feelings hurt.

2. No, I do not want to take your number. Yeah, I know, it's hard to believe. I mean, I didn't want to give you my number, but I can understand why you'd think I'd want to take your number. (Seriously, guys -- someone explain to me the logic behind this one. Has this tactic ever resulted in a phone call from a girl? Do you just try to get the digits to save face with yourself? I wouldn't think so because I already gave you the easy out.)

3. No, I still don't want to take your number. I told you, I have a man. (And trust: Quint is a big dude and he will mess you up.)

4. No, I do not want to be your friend, Musiq Soulchild. It's not that I'm not open to making new friends. It's that I try not to make them at bus stops with strangers who have been hitting on me.

5. No, I still don't want to take your number.

Finally, after having to resort to completely ignoring this guy, which is what I should have done in the first place (look what I get for trying to show some civility), Track Suit decided to leave me alone. Yeah, he wasn't even waiting for my bus in the first place -- he crossed the street and stood at the stop to catch a bus in the opposite direction.

I buried myself in my book for a few minutes and then looked up, just to see if he was gone yet. I caught his eye. He started crossing the street back towards me. I can not deal with this crap first thing in the morning.

And just then...I was saved by the bus! Never was I so happy to board a city bus.

"Hello, how are you?" the driver greeted me with a friendly smile. "Good, thanks," I mumbled quietly as I scurried to my seat.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Mayor Matt

This morning Matt told me that when I'm not busy with his administrative tasks, he's going to need me to...go ahead and...continue doing mock loans for James.

This was terrible news. The whole point of being a temp is that you're not supposed to actually have any work to do -- but here Matt devises this diabolical scheme to keep me busy throughout the day. It wouldn't be so bad if James had an actual pile of real loan applications that I could look forward to finishing. But there are an infinite number of "fake" people waiting to apply for a Regis mortgage, so there is no tangible end to the tedium (although at least now I have some good suggestions for mortgagees.)

I soon realized, however, that I could work this double-boss situation to my advantage. Whenever James came over to check on me, I pretended to be busy with admin stuff for Matt. Meanwhile, Matt didn't say boo about me taking three hours to complete a 20-minute task because he assumed I was busy making fake loans. I think I only did about 40 minutes of actual work today.

One of the pieces of work I did do was an expense report for Matt. I'll let you in on my keen observation about this Matt character: he's kind of a prick. He always takes a very condescending tone with me, but meanwhile I don't think he's any great shakes himself. He's one of the top guys in the company, but blood relation must have gotten him there because as far as I can tell he doesn't do any work. He spends the entire day walking around the office chatting it up with the cubical drones like he's the Mayor of the Office.

Yet in the middle of campaigning with the office peasants he'll randomly wield his iron Mayor-fist. "Too much prairie dogging going on!" he'll shout like a high school study hall monitor -- and silence will fall on the office as everyone slithers down in their seats. ("Prairie dogging" is Matt's ultra-hip way of referring to the phenomenon of people popping up above the wall height of their cubes to socialize. Some folks actually crawl around the floor like Viet Cong just so they can chat with neighbors without getting caught.)

Anyway, so this expense report I did for the Mayor included about six receipts from a recent business trip of his. One was a dinner receipt for over $2,000. Another was a receipt from an airport candy store for 99 cents. Ok, if you're coming two grand out of pocket for a dinner, do you really need to be expensing the 99-cent candy? Is it even worth the space in your wallet to store that receipt? Is it worth the 30 seconds of the temp's time (or 30 minutes, realistically) for this receipt to be keyed into the expense report system?

As I was leaving at the end of the day, I overheard Matt in his office (on one of the rare occasions he was actually in there) yucking it up with the CEO. "We've got to treat the loan officers like frogs," Matt said. "If you throw a frog into a pot of hot water, he'll jump out. But did you know that if you put a frog in a pot of cold water and heat it up slowly, the dumb f*ck will swim around in there until he boils to death?"

What disturbs me the most is that he seems to truly believe his own hype.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


If you've seen "Office Space," you're not even going to believe the following story is true.

Just before lunch, Matt came over and told me that my computer login was all set and that I should now sit at the secretary's desk by his office (which is what I had originally been hired to do). I set up shop in my new cube and quickly finished Matt's first admin task, which was to "pretty up" (his terminology) a memo he had written -- by changing the font colors to official Regis blue and gold shades. (I also copyedited his sloppy writing while I was at it, but he didn't seem to notice). Then I just chilled.

A little while later, this guy meandered over and seemed to be kind of casing out my cube. He retreated to his own cube and then came back a few minutes later and lurked some more. Finally, he approached me.

"Hi...I'm Ken. Where did you get that stapler?" I tried to hide my amusement that Ken, a flamboyant and well-dressed 30-something guy, wore braces.

" was just here when I got here. I'm a temp."

"Ok, friend Clayton over there," (he gestured wildly in the general direction of a mass of cubes), "he's over in his cube crying because someone stole his Swingline stapler...and I happened to notice that you had one that looks just like I was wondering if I could take it back to him."

"Ok, well, I didn't take it in the first place, but go ahead..."

He took the stapler (which was admittedly cool looking -- the outside was blue and kind of rubbery and the design looked ergonomic), and gave me a regular black Bostitch stapler in exchange.

After lunch, Matt gave me my second task. He dropped two 4-inch stacks of paper on my desk and told me to staple each page from stack A with the page it matched in stack B. Stimulating.

After about 20 minutes of stapling, my hand started to hurt. Damn, I could really use that ergonomic Swingline stapler now. I walked over to Ken's cube and asked where I could get one of those special staplers, explaining that my hand was getting raw from a big stapling project I had been assigned. He took me over to Clayton, the owner of the Swingline.

"This is the girl," he introduced me to Clayton, "she has something she wants to ask you." (The girl? As in, the girl who stole the stapler? It was already there when I got to the damn cube!)

Clayton, a skittish 40-something white guy with Jon Stewart hair, eyed me suspiciously as I talked. "Um...hi, I'm a temp. Do you mind trading staplers with me just for the rest of the afternoon?" He regarded the black Bostitch in my hand with horror. "I promise I'll give you your Swingline back, it's just that my hand is getting raw because I have like 800 things to staple." I showed him my reddened palm.

Clayton gave me a dubious up and down once-over, then looked me dead in the eye and delivered this gem of a question: "What can my stapler do that your stapler can't?"

Ok...just forget it. What is it with crazy people and their staplers?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Carlton Banks: Yes, Eazy-E: No

Today was the second day of software testing at Regis Mortgage for me, Amber and Courtney. Basically we just enter mock mortgage applications into the system all day and document the errors we get. We have specific parameters for the numerical parts of the application, but James told us to just enter jibberish for the freehand info like name and address. But in order to introduce some spark of interest to our day, we put in celebrity names instead. For instance, today Allen Iverson applied for a mortgage for a house at 76 Alley-oop Alley (I know, I'm so clever). Chances of getting approved are improved if you have a co-signer, but inspiration for dynamic duos is a bit hard to come by (suggestions please!).

Following is a partial list of applications I've input over the past two days.

Mortgage Application Approved:
DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince
Marty McFly
Afeni Shakur
Magic & Cookie Johnson
Charles Barkley & Kenny "the Jet" Smith
Mike Jones & Swisha House
Wham. Wham. Wham.
R. Kelly & Chuck/Rufus/Cathy
Russell & Kimora Lee Simmons
Peanut Butter & Jelly
Diet Pepsi & Canada Dry
Raggedy Ann & Andy
Miss Cleo
The Blob

Mortgage Application Denied:
Color Me Badd
Ghostface Killah
Too $hort
Theo Huxtable
Grumpy Bear
Whitney Houston & Bobby Brown

*** UPDATE: Chicken & Waffles were just approved for a refinance on their condo. However, Aunt Jemima's credit score was not high enough to get a loan for that dream house in Pancake City. ***

Monday, July 25, 2005

Mortgage Space

I know I'm not the only one who sees life through "Office Space" spectacles. But I started a new temp job today, and I'm telling you, this joint is "Office Space."

My assignment is an admin gig at a mortgage company -- let's call it Regis Mortgage. Never mind that my temp agency told me to go to the wrong floor in the wrong building at the wrong time and then had no idea who I was when I called them for help...I eventually managed to get to the right location. Since there was no receptionist on that floor and the doors were locked, I sat out by the elevators and dialed the extension of Matt, the person to whom I was supposed to report (whose last name sounds a lot like a certain racial slur). I left Matt a couple of voice mails and then decided to just kick it.

After about 40 minutes of reading my Law School Without Fear book, a jittery woman who had passed me two or three times to go outside for cigarette breaks asked who I was waiting for. She took me inside to find Matt, but he wasn't in his office. As we were standing in his area, this guy James popped out of his cubicle and said that he'd been waiting for his temp.

So off I go with James. He sits me in a conference room and erases the white board (which I swear had been crammed with "Planning to Plan" flowcharts). He asks what mortgage experience I have (none). He asks what programming experience I have (none). Eager to quell his visible frustration I assure him that I'm a quick study -- and so he launches into a white-board-aided explanation of the new mortgage software they're developing. My job will be to test it for bugs.

A good 20 minutes after my eyes had rolled back into my head, the infamous Matt passes by the conference room and asks who I am. Turns out I am not supposed to be working with James on the software -- this girl Amber (who Matt had in tow) was the software temp. So Amber and I switch places and I follow Matt to my new cubicle, where the IT guy who's tinkering with my computer informs us that it will be several days before they'll have my login set up. Matt tells me to have a seat and says he'll think of something non-computery for me to do. So I get back to my book. Ambient noises include the repetitive phone greeting of a too-chirpy customer service rep and a persistently beeping printer or fax machine.

An hour or so later, James hops back over to my cube and announces that I should follow him. As we pass Matt's office and James gives him the "thanks for letting me poach your temp" wave, Matt asks me if I mind working with James for a few days. "Uh, I guess not," I shrug. "You don't care what you're doing -- as long as you're getting paid, right?" "Uh, yeah, I guess so."

So I spent the rest of the day testing the mortgage software with Amber and another temp, Courtney. It was pretty boring, but James didn't check on us much, so I got to do a lot of emailing and blog-reading (activities that still arouse a certain titillation after my computerless two months in the dark ages of the law firm).

Matt stopped by at the end of the day to inform the three of us that Friday was "jeans day" and that for a $3 fee we could...go ahead and...feel free to...wear blue jeans to work. Hmm.

Friday, July 22, 2005

I Quit Today

I quit The Legal Snooze. I don't think any further explanation is needed.

In keeping with the theme of my relationship with Boss, I quit via a long email that started with, "I will no longer be working on the magazine," and then went on for eight or ten paragraphs detailing his many shortcomings as a magazine publisher and his many ethically questionable actions.

Also in keeping with the theme of our relationship, he replied, "Great, thanks for your input!"

I would venture to say he didn't read past the first sentence.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


Back by popular demand.


The The Legal Snooze immigration issue hit the streets today. I am livid.

Last month we ran an interview with conservative radio talk show host Pat Gray. When Boss first forwarded me the write-up to edit, I told him I didn't think we should even print it. Gray's views were racist, inflammatory and nonsensical. Of course Boss insisted that we run the piece. So I offered to write a response article so that at least there would be some balance. Boss said ok, so I wrote it up -- and then at the last moment he emailed me to say he'd pulled the piece but we could print it in the next month's issue.

So for this month's issue I re-wrote my response article so that it would make sense being printed a month late. As the art director and I went back and forth with corrections to layout drafts, my article was there, at the front of the book, looking good.

Two days before press time, I got what should have been the final version of the issue. Without any notice, my byline was suddenly missing from my article. In its place was, "A concerned ciizen [sic]" -- Boss was trying to pass off my article as a letter from an anonymous reader! This was wrong on so many levels. First of all, I wrote the article and I wanted my name on it. Secondly, it would be deceptive to our "readers" (if there are any) to pass off an editorial piece written by a staff member as anything else. Thirdly, it didn't even make sense that someone who had a strong enough opinion to write a whole article would want to be anonymous. And finally, my agreement with Boss was that I would get "full credit" for all my work since he was not paying me.

I called Boss and demanded an explanation. He told me that he had kissed Pat Gray's ass in order to get the original interview and it would be an insult to Gray to run a staff article that opposed him. I argued that Boss should have thought of that before trying so hard to get an interview with a figure that was sure to say something inflammatory that would require a response. And my piece did have a disclaimer saying that it did not necessarily represent the opinions of The Legal Snooze. Furthermore, Pat Gray is the kind of pundit that would probably relish the controversy. (I withheld my most compelling argument, which was that no one reads the magazine anyway, so Gray would likely never even see my article.)

We went back and forth arguing for some time. Then the day before going to press we came to a compromise -- we agreed to print a pseudonym of my choice on the piece, that way I would feel like I got credit, but Pat Gray wouldn't know it was me. (This was not at all a satisfactory solution, but the alternative was for Boss to pull the article altogether -- and I hated the idea of the Gray interview hanging out there without any response.) I viewed a final PDF of the issue before it went to press and made sure my pseudo-byline was set.

And now I get the printed version and my entire article is gone. It's replaced by a full-page advertisement for the Boss Law Firm. No intelligent opinion, no healthy debate. Just solicitation in 40-point font for victims of "18-wheeler accidents."

Oh yeah, and remember that inane article about the new courthouse (the one that I didn't want to print because it was written in 2002)? Boss added it to the cover. The headline reads, "The New Courthouse: a Legal Snooze Exclusive!" (It appears just under the "PRICELESS.")

This man is so spiteful that he put something stupid on the cover of his own magazine just to piss me off. Or maybe he's just that dumb.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I Plagiarize Allegiance to the Flag

Well, the proverbial can of worms has been can-o-maticked. And so I provide for you more reasons to be thankful that Bill Boss is not who you report to at the magazine for which you are the freelance editor.

For this issue we've been working on, Boss forwarded me a short article about the new courthouse that is being built in Houston. It talks about construction cost forecasts for 2002-2003. Is it my imagination, or are we in 2005? I did a google search and found that he had gotten this article from a court document dating back to early 2002. I emailed him and said that the article sounded outdated and recommended killing it. He responded, "This is the most current information we have. We will be moving forward with it."

Even more pathetic than his stubborn insistence on running the article was his feeble attempt to bring it up to date: the 2002 court document had ended by saying "Construction is expected to be completed by April 2005." Boss changed his version to read, "Construction was expected to be completed by April 2005. At time of press there was no word from the City on a new completion date." Is he kidding? There was an article in the Chronicle several weeks ago talking about how the courthouse was now scheduled for completion in 2006. I found the Chron article online and forwarded it to Boss, advocating again for killing his outdated article. He insisted we keep it.

Perhaps at this point you're wondering about who exactly this Boss character is -- I know I was. I did some research and found out that he was just admitted to the bar last year. Interesting, considering that his slick, flash-heavy website boasts of his case experience in over 50 areas, including "brain injury," "angina mistakes," and "amusement park injurys [sic]." (Yes, he's a personal injury lawyer and yes, he spelled "injuries" wrong.) According to the magazine's art director, Boss has yet to actually win a case (she gives me the dirt on Boss because she hates him too -- he advertises that he speaks Spanish but doesn't, so whenever he has a Spanish-speaking client she gets pulled in to translate).

The most revealing Boss incident went down a few months ago during the first issue I worked on. Boss forwarded me a "letter from the publisher" that he wanted me to copyedit. As I read it, I thought to myself that it was well written and that perhaps I had underestimated this guy. The letter eloquently wove together statements about the mission of the magazine with rhetoric on the freedoms of America.

Then I came across this odd word pairing whose meaning I wasn't sure of. I did a google search on it to see if I could read it in the context of some other articles. Only one page came up on google: a letter from the editor from a 1999 issue of a law journal in Ohio. Yes, Boss had attempted to PLAGIARIZE someone else's entire letter.

I didn't even know what to do with myself. This was the kind of offense for which I chastised friends in the third grade, when someone would try to copy a passage from the encyclopedia. For an adult who is educated and supposedly practicing law to be plagiarizing boggled my mind. This fool should have been booted from law school.

I considered walking away from the magazine at this point, but I really wanted to stick it out (for resumé considerations). I couldn't, however, let this plagiarizing thing slide. I emailed Boss and recommended not printing his letter as it was "far too similar" to another published letter -- and I included a link to the original Ohio letter.

He wrote back, "Good work!"


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Legal Snooze

Since I'm unemployed (again) I think I'll take some time to vent about the magazine I feelance for. We'll call it The Legal Snooze.

I am the "Editor." I am not at all qualified to be the sole editor of a quality magazine, let alone a legal one (I don't think getting in to law school really affords me any real legal expertise). But for this piece of crap, I am apparently more than good enough. Here's how I got the gig: I saw that the magazine's articles were terribly written and riddled with copy errors. So I wrote an email to the publisher (there was no editor on the masthead) including a list of things I would have changed in one of the articles from that issue. He called me the next day and said I could be the editor, but he couldn't afford to pay me. Fair enough.

I've since realized that there's a reason there was no editor before I came along. The publisher -- we'll call him Bill Boss -- doesn't give a damn about journalism. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with publishing something that is merely a vehicle for advertising (for instance, I enjoy reading the weekly supermarket circular, and I don't mind that the food articles and recipes are poorly written and/or thinly veiled advertisements). But if your magazine is positioned as a source for news about legal issues, you can't just be printing any old crap.

Oh, but apparently you can.

Boss insists on filling the bulk of the magazine with articles -- but there is a dearth of quality editorial because I am the only "writer" on staff (and I am no more qualified to be a writer than I am to be the editor). So Boss finds filler material. For instance, for the immigration-themed issue that we are wrapping up now, he forwarded me an "article" he wanted to run and asked me to edit it. As my printer coughed out about the thirtieth page I realized that what he had forwarded me was text from the INS website that he had copied and pasted into a Word doc. It was extremely repetitive, not at all interesting, and peppered with CLICK HERE's. I called Boss and asked if perhaps there were some actual articles from somewthere that we could re-print instead. He insisted I work with what he had given me -- he had, after all, spent all that time copying and pasting.

(Maybe I shouldn't have expected too much from a free magazine that prints on its cover not "Free" or "Take One" but "PRICELESS." I've tried several times to explain to Boss that "priceless" does not mean "free." Don't even get me started.)

Boss clearly doesn't care about the content of his magazine because he never even reads articles that are submitted before fowarding them to me for editing. For this immigration issue, he forwarded me a Word doc from an attorney named Port with only "See attached" in the text of his email. I opened the doc and it was a six-page personal biography of this guy Port, chronicling his early days as a six-year-old door-to-door coal salesman and other relevant topics. I wrote back to Boss, "What's this for?" He replied, "The immigration issue." Always the diplomat, I responded, "Did you mean to forward a different doc? This is not an immigration article -- it's a six-page personal bio of Port." He retorted, "Yes, I DID mean to send it to you, I want to include a personal profile of this attorney. I want you to edit it to highlight the immigration parts. Make sense?" Again, giving him the benefit of the doubt, I read the bio for the second time. Nope, no mention of anything vaguely related to immigration. I wrote back telling Boss as much. No response for several minutes (I assume he was actually looking at the doc at this point). Then, "Edit it to 1,000 words."

I wish there was some funny punchline to this story, but unfortunately this is just the sad state of affairs.

Ok, here's the punchline: Boss is a member of the ranks to which I will soon belong -- he's a lawyer. Groan.

Monday, July 18, 2005


Angelina burst into the office this morning and announced that her 10-year-old son had come home from summer school Friday complaining that his teacher had tried to strangle him.

Sadly, given what I know of the Houston school system, this actually didn't surprise me much. The great part of this story is that she called up Channel 13 and got them to agree to an interview. She left work early this afternoon to meet them outside her son's school (where he's been placed in another teacher's class).

Sure enough, I flipped on the 6:00 news when I got home and there the story was, complete with reporter commentary about "pending investigations" voiced over looped footage of Angelina's son making a googly-eyed strangling motion on himself.

Unfortunately I won't get to congratulate Angelina tomorrow on her local news fame -- seems our "lowball" scheme backfired a bit. Me and the other two temps had agreed to input about 60 surveys apiece per day. From the looks of the three mailtrays overflowing with stacked yellow surveys, we figured we'd secured our employment for two to three weeks, easy. But apparently our supervisor was under fire to get this project done and she was none too pleased with our dismal performance last week while she was out.

So this morning (as the three of us were sitting idly at our computers waiting for someone to log us in -- why would we have actively searched out the IT guy?), a handful of regular staffers stormed our room and snatched most of our surveys, eyeing us disdainfully. (The IT guy showed up shortly afterwards, having been alerted by the staffers, I'm sure. I guess I would have hated on the lazy temps too if I were in their shoes.) The staffers worked on the project all day and the surveys were finished by the afternoon.

And so ends my do-si-do with the Houston Rodeo. Oh well. I had my big purse with me today, so I stopped by the free Dasani/soda fridge on my way out and stocked up.

Follow-up to Alicia Keys

Thank you to everyone who emailed, blogged, and bitched about Aliciagate. I hope that we three temps were able to skew the survey results enough to bring Alicia back to the rodeo for an encore.

Just to clarify, I was at her concert myself and the arena was filled with enthusiastic (mostly black) concert-goers. So it's not like there is no audience for Alicia Keys or any black artist -- it's just that we were not the people who were surveyed (rodeo volunteers and season ticket holders were). The fact that many of the negative survey responses for Alicia were racially motivated made me feel justified in throwing the results.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Alicia Keys Is Too Black, Apparently

Today was my second day of data entry at the Houston Rodeo. After the rodeo (a three-week long affair held in March), surveys were filled out by the rodeo season ticket holders and volunteers. This is what me, Latasha and Angelina are "data entering."

First, survey respondents are asked to use a 10-point scale to rate their experiences on a number of items. For each rating, they can also write a freehand comment about why they chose that rating. In order to facilitate analysis, we don't actually type these freehand comments; we code them based on a list of about 300 common comments.

Unfortunately, whoever put this comment list together was woefully disorganized and misguided. There are about five different codes for "parking sucked" but no codes at all for other very common complaints (like "the cops don't know how to direct traffic"). At first I was spending a good deal of time trying to code comments (some of these folks wrote whole paragraphs and attached separate pieces of paper). But then I realized that I didn't care. So most of my comments boil down to code 5, "Needs improvement." (I do enjoy paging through to find some of the more colorful comments though. For instance, code 130 = "Where are the people with sticks to help livestock flow?")

On the reverse side of the survey is a list of the two dozen or so musical acts that performed during the rodeo. Respondents were asked to rate each artist on a 1-to-10 scale as well as complete a complicated check-box matrix indicating whether they attended the performance themselves, whether they knew someone who had attended, whether they gave tickets to someone else, and whether they wanted that artist to return next year. And of course there is room for freehand comments.

Country acts were the meat of the show. There were a handful of pop/rock groups (like Maroon 5). And then there was Alicia Keys (the only concert that Boyfriend and I attended -- she was fantastic, by the way...woman can sing).

A disappointing pattern emerged early on. The country acts got varying scores in the high range. Opinions were split on the rock groups. But people were unanimously hating on Alicia Keys. Even people who marked that neither they nor someone they knew had been to the concert were rating her as a one (she also got a few zeroes and a handful of negative numbers). Freehand responses included, "Too many black performers," "This is a rodeo, for God's sake, no more black artists," "Spanish artists are ok, but not blacks," and, most apropos, "NO MORE RAP MUSIC!"

It's no wonder the conversation among us three temps soon turned to race relations in Texas. And then the three of us colluded again and started stuffing the ballot box for Alicia. From now on, she gets a 10 on every survey keyed by me.

The final part of the survey asks you to name a wishlist of performers you would and would not like to see at next year's rodeo (regardless of whether they've ever performed at a rodeo). Of course Alicia Keys was at the top of many "no" lists. Instead of her name I've been coding in various other artists like Elvis and Sinatra.

One anti-Alicia respondent was also strongly against "M&M."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Yee Haw

The temp job I started today was at the Houston Rodeo. No, I wasn't stomping around in the mud lassoing animals, I was in the corporate office, doing data entry. Forget Acewell & Julius, this is what temping is all about.

First of all, the office is palatial. The amount of money spent on the office furnishings was actually a hot issue in the editorial pages of the Chronicle a few months back: the rodeo is a charitable organization, supposedly raising money for scholarships -- but they spent exorbitant amounts of money decorating the corporate office, like $35,000 on a conference room table.

Besides the cushy furnishings, the office also boasts a grossly excessive amount of unnecessary space. For instance, in order to get from where I sit to the break room, I have to pass through about four enormous lounge-type rooms with couches, plush carpeting and paintings of horses that I imagine you otherwise only find in country clubs. At the end of my long walk I'm rewarded with free sodas and Dasani waters in the fridge, courtesy of sponsor Coca-Cola. F that hot chlorine mess in the Acewell water cooler!

The job itself is alright. There's actually work to do, unlike at the law firm, and data entry usually makes me want to kill myself. But having access to a computer makes up for that. Plus there are two other temps working with me -- Latasha and Angelina -- and we chatted all day and listened to music. The three of us are entering data from the thousands of surveys that were filled out after this year's rodeo.

We colluded early on. A ticker on each of our computers tracks how many surveys we've entered, but we all agreed on a lowball number to work towards for the day. This way we could goof off all day with the appearance that it was just honestly taking a long time to do the work. Our supervisor hardly checked on us and she said she won't even be in tomorrow or Thursday. These fools have no idea.

Now if I were hiring temps to do a project like this, I would implement some kind of incentive program. Like a $50 bonus to the temp who logs the most surveys. Or permission to leave early with full pay as soon as you hit X number of surveys. But I guess when you spend $2,600 per desk chair, you're not really sweating the $10.50 an hour for the asses that sit in them.

Life After the Firm

Kim Plaintive leaps into the '90s! I started a brand new temp job today, and I actually get to use a computer. More on the new gig later...

As a follow-up to last week's drama, I've decided not to print my Judygate article. I would only be doing it to spite the firm, but the article wouldn't actually harm them. The only damage would be getting Judy in trouble with the PR crazies, and I wouldn't want to do that. I'll look for a more subtle form of payback. Attorney recruiting is handled by a different department than the one that fired me -- maybe I'll come back next year as the summer associate from hell.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

I Got Fired Today

Well, this is some shit.

Joan was out of the office today, so I was working her relief schedule (this meant bouncing from floor to floor all day to give receptionists their breaks). I had my fake "Judygate" notes with me, so I left a voicemail for Madeleine in PR to tell her which floors I'd be on. She caught up to me on the 19th floor when I was covering Mary Martha's lunch hour.

"Do you have the notes?" she asked in her fake-nice soprano. I handed her the three pages of Judy information I had forged last night along with a typed draft of the article. "I had already drafted this the day of my interview with Judy," I told her, "so if you guys want to read it you'll see that it portrays her in a positive light, and it doesn't mention the firm at all." Madeleine regarded me smugly: "Well, I don't see the article being published at this time."

"Ok," I replied, "I'll check in with you later to see if you guys have reconsidered." Her patience thinned: "We can't let the article run at this time."

Perplexed that these PR folks continued to use the phrase at this time, I replied, "Ok, I'll call you next week to follow up."

"No, we'll call you!" she retorted, her tone suddenly not even fake-nice and her cheeks pink with either anger or embarrassment.

Half an hour later, Shandace from HR got off the elevator and approached my desk: "Today will be your last day." She spoke quietly and plainly. "It's not a reflection on you, we just don't have a need for you anymore." I stared back at her, shocked. I struggled to find a response and a tone in which to say it that conveyed the right balance of incredulity and nonchalance. All I came up with was a meek "Ok."

I considered just walking out after Shandace left, but then I realized that I still needed to get my timesheet signed. My pride wasn't worth three days' pay.

At 4:00 the relief schedule ends. You're supposed to check in with Susan in HR so that she can send you to help a secretary for an hour -- but Joan says Susan usually just lets her go home early. So at 4:00 I went down to HR, gave my timesheet to Susan, and asked if she needed me to help on anything (figuring she would just let me go home). Misunderstanding my question, she ran her finger across her July/August calendar, looked at me with a smile of superiority and fake pity and said, "No dear, it looks like we won't be needing you to come back at this time."

I sighed. "I meant: do you need me...for the next help a secretary?" Her expression didn't change; perhaps she had understood my question in the first place and was taking pleasure in my humiliation. This must have been the highlight of the month in her small life.

I still expected her to let me go home at this point, but she actually picked up the phone and called a secretary who she said needed help closing out files. When the call went to voicemail she hung up and started scanning her phone list, asking herself who else might need help for an hour. She must have heard the "are you kidding me?" that I screamed in my head (or maybe I said it under my breath) because in a final moment of mercy she decided to let me go.

I bolted from the HR office (clank!) and punched impatiently at the elevator button. Once downstairs I slipped into my Nikes and headed outside to the bus stop. Do these fools really think I would give them my "notes" from the interview without keeping a copy for myself? What was that supposed to accomplish? And if they were worried about getting bad publicity from me, did they really think firing me would help the situation? Would they have fired me yesterday if I had given them my "notes" then?

And what is to stop me from printing the article at this point?

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Judy showed up at my desk this morning and said hello in that slow, "I have bad news" way.

Apparently she had mentioned to another associate (Todd Amstead, incidentally, of cookie package infamy) that one of the receptionists does freelance work for a local magazine and had interviewed her for an article. Todd reminded her of the firm's policies about talking to the media -- she was supposed to have cleared the interview with PR before doing it. This had actually occurred to me before our lunch, but I didn't mention it because I figured it would be a non-issue -- it's not like there's a good chance anyone at the firm would actually happen upon my little magazine and notice the article. But when Judy talked to the PR office they told her to call off the article altogether. I told her I wanted to talk to PR myself.

Judy left and I looked up the extension of the PR woman she had named. I was definitely nervous, but in moments like these I project an uncharacteristic calm in my voice and face (too bad this PR woman wouldn't be able to appreciate my deadpan facial expression over the phone). I perfected this steel demeanor during the tirades of my old boss up north. The first year I worked for him, my eyes would water whenever he yelled and I'd start babbling apologies or excuses. But by the second year I had learned to just stare hollowly at him, answering any questions he posed in a cool, even voice. I could tell that my manner freaked him out and always left him a bit confused as to whether he was sorry about the yelling or more angry than he'd been before. By the third year he had stopped yelling at me altogether.

After two rings, the PR woman -- Madeleine -- answered the phone. I introduced myself and she immediately knew who I was. She had one of those overly melodic receptionist voices and she cheerfully told me that they were sorry but the article could not run "at this time." I explained to her that this was not some investigative, exposé piece or anything -- I intended it to be a personal story of one immigrant's success. I didn't even have to mention the firm's name if that would help. She repeated that they could not let the article run at this time. I asked what I could do to make the article happen. "I don't see the article running at this time."

I hung up but didn't give up. I continued working on my article, figuring that I could type up a draft tonight and give it to PR tomorrow. Once they see how innocuous the article is, I thought, hopefully they'll change their minds.

Late in the afternoon, one of the secretaries on my floor stopped by and said she was there to cover my desk. I eyed her with confusion and told her Joan had already given me my break. "Oh, Shandace didn't call you? She told me to cover your desk because they need you in Human Resources right away." My stomach immediately took flight. In my many years of schooling I had never gotten called to the principal's office, but I imagine that this was what it feels like.

I headed to the 23rd floor and opened the HR door (clank). "Hi dear...they're waiting for you in Virginia's office." I hated that Susan was in on whatever was about to go down.

Virginia, who is Shandace's boss and the highest person in HR (damn, they're really pulling out the big guns), was standing at her desk. Two other women were already seated in guest chairs. Virginia motioned for me to sit in the third chair and then motioned for one of the other women to shut the door. I was introduced to the two women -- one was the sing-songy Madeleine and the other was her boss, the director of PR.

Madeleine was younger and less pretty than I had imagined. She wore lipstick and jewelry and a stylish maroon suit, but her face was ruddy and she was too pudgy for her clothes. I realized that she might have interpreted my "steel" front as hostility; she slumped slightly in her seat and gazed deferentially towards her boss. If this was the principal's office, she was the mildly-teased kid who had tattled to the principal -- and then showed up to his office with her mommy.

Virginia handled the talking. She said that while they realized my intentions were innocent, Judy should have cleared the interview with PR first. I apologized and assured them that I had not intended to skirt procedure. I then reiterated that the article would be a heartwarming personal profile and that I didn't have to mention the firm's name at all. Virginia said that this was an unfortunate situation but that they could not let the article run at this time. I said I would check back with them closer to press time to see if anything had changed. The three of them exchanged glances for a moment and then Madeleine's boss addressed me for the first time: "You'll need to turn over all your notes from the interview."

Are they kidding me? (p.s. Boyfriend is actually a real journalist and he is equally incredulous about this.)

I told them I didn't have my notes on me (a lie), but that I would bring them to work tomorrow. They instructed me to call Madeleine in the morning and she would pick the notes up.

So tonight I have to write up some fake notes. I did jot a few things down during Judy's interview, but I didn't write enough to prevent the PR folks from suspecting I had used a tape-recorder. And there's no way they're getting my tape.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Bathroom Breaks

Today was my big interview with Judy. I anxiously called her to confirm first thing in the morning (well, I dialed into her voicemail and left a pre-rehearsed message -- of course I didn't just call her). I had told her that I would stop by her floor around 12:00 but that I might be a few minutes late because the relief schedule sometimes runs a bit behind. Joan is actually usually on time to relieve me for lunch, but I wanted to have a few minutes to use the ladies' room before I met Judy. Of course, today was the one day that Joan actually was late. And at 12:04, while I was still waiting for Joan, Judy appeared at my desk. I made awkward chit-chat with her, not wanting to talk about anything substantial until we got out of the office and I could turn on my tape-recorder.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity (but was actually three minutes, according to the clock on my phone that I had been nervously glancing at) Joan arrived. Making Judy wait further while I went to the ladies' room was out of the question at this point, so I just sucked it up and we went downstairs to La Madeleine.

All morning I had debated in my mind whether I should offer to buy her lunch -- she was doing me a favor by agreeing to the interview, after all. But it was also against the natural order of things for a receptionist to be buying lunch for an attorney -- I actually feared that she would try to buy my lunch.

Luckily we ended up reaching the cashier at different times so we just paid for our own meals. Judy suggested sitting at a table in the back, where it was relatively quiet. I never actually eat inside La Madeleine because of all the flies (big buzzing ones and little fruit-fly ones) that linger around the not-wiped-often-enough tables. Under other circumstances I would have suggested sitting elsewhere, but I didn't -- as in most instances where I'm asking someone for a favor, I was overly concerned that Judy would suddenly decide I was being too difficult and call off the whole interview.

Of course she never would have done such a thing -- she was nothing but friendly and enthusiastic throughout lunch and the interview went great. Judy was passionate about all of the issues we touched upon: immigration policies, racism, education for young immigrants...I got some great quotes from her.

On our way back to the office, Judy graciously offered to answer any additional questions I might have by phone or email. I thanked her for about the third or tenth time.

I arrived back on my floor a few minutes late -- again, no time for the ladies' room. I hardly cared though. I started scribbling away on a legal pad, weaving together background information about Judy and her family with paraphrases of quotes in my head that I'd later extract from the tape-recorder. I worked on the write-up throughout the afternoon, even ducking into an empty conference room during my break to continue writing. It wasn't until I was outside waiting for the bus at 5:00 that I realized I still hadn't used the bathroom.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Desperately Seeking Diane (Part 2)

Today was my last day on the 19th floor. Turns out Mary Martha didn’t have SARS after all -- she’s just been on vacation.

Just as well that I won’t be back on 19 because I had to abandon my illicit computer hook-up. One of the older-looking associates stopped by on his way to the elevator this morning and asked me to email a quick message for him since he didn’t have his Blackberry. I told him I couldn’t because I didn’t have a computer login. He looked at me incredulously. I pointed to my black computer screen. "But I thought I saw you using the computer earlier…" he protested. I figured I might get Tina in trouble if I revealed that she occasionally logs me in, so I just shrugged and shook my head. Hopefully he walked away thinking that he was mistaken, not that I was an idiot.

So I had to spend the rest of the day amusing myself the old-fashioned way, with my head in a book (no napping today -- I’d had my coffee chocolate in the morning).

I was deep in the angst of a teenage prep schooler when Diane suddenly emerged from the elevator, poofy blonde hair bouncing with every step. She wore a black pinstripe skirt suit (with stockings too light for even her pale complexion) and she carried a take-out bag from Panini. Her face bore no sign of the stress it had revealed during our last encounter.

Emboldened by her more welcoming appearance (and by yesterday’s success with Judy), I blurted out my now-standard pick-up line: “You’re Diane, right?” (I hoped my breath didn’t smell like peanut butter from the PBJ sandwich I had just eaten for lunch -- why was I feeling like some awkward adolescent boy trying to talk to the pretty girl?)

She confirmed she was Diane and paused by my desk, but just then the phone rang. The phone literally never rings, but it rings now. I answered it and took care of the call, giving Diane the “sorry this is taking so long” widening of the eyes. When I got off the phone I introduced myself and quickly told her I was going to law school in the fall -- her law school. Her face brightened.

A happy relief washed over me just as it had the previous two times the attorney/receptionist barrier had crumbled (yesterday with Judy and last week with Crazy Hair Barry). Diane talked to me enthusiastically about the school, which she seemed to have loved; she offered tips about housing and extra-curriculars and was nothing short of friendly.

As she left, she told me to call her if I thought of any more questions. I thanked her and said that I would…but I know well enough to quit while I’m ahead.