Saturday, September 03, 2005

Livin' For The Weekend

I am very tired as I sit here typing this entry. I had forgotten how hard it is to wake up early in the morning and, instead of lounging around in the bed until the urge to use the bathroom becomes immediate, have to get up and start my day. As a result, I was technically "late" my first two days on my new job. I showed up three to five minutes after the 8:30A starting time. Of course, it has not been a big deal yet because this place is so disorganized, we did absolutely, positively NO work our first two days, then lost the second half of yesterday to a crashed computer system. All I can say is, I now understand why there was practically no interview process when I went to the agency that hired me for this job Monday. They just want warm bodies. You, the reader, could send a 4-year-old up there to bang around on the computer, and he or she would be asked if an actual paycheck would be fine or whether direct deposit would be preferred. (And the agency failed to tell me that they were charging a $1 processing fee for direct deposit--I read it on the brochure way after the fact--or else I may not have chosen that option.)

As I said, I was a few minutes late arriving for my first day Wednesday, but I caught the group of temp workers as they headed up one flight of stairs from the 19th floor, where we were told by our temp agency to come, to the 20th floor. Once there, we were led into a snazzy-looking conference room, where we sat in stone silence for about a half-hour. Someone named Janet informed us that the training materials were still being worked on and that we would start training shortly. But we would not be trained for the data entry position that we all thought we were there for.

My attempt at a brief description of what this place does: It's called CEDA, and I don't remember what it stands for, nor do I give a fuck. It's located on the 19th and 20th floors of the Federal Reserve Bank building, 208 S. LaSalle, a block and a half from CBOE, my place of employment for ten years. It's a place that gives out assistance to low-income and disabled people in Chicago. They have two programs. One is called a cooling program for people who don't want to go through a Chicago summer without power. The counter to that, the heating program, just started this past Thursday, September 1, and will last through the end of December. In both cases, people who want assistance provide proof of income, proof of Social Security numbers for everyone in the household, proof of disability if they're disabled, and a current energy bill, and those that fit whatever the requirements are receive credit directly to their People's Energy and/or Commonwealth Edison accounts. I only put the monthly income into the little boxes on the computer, I have no idea what the cutoff is as far as how much income is too much.

At least that's what my job is supposed to be. This place is tremendously understaffed, which was punctuated by the several long periods my temp group had sitting in the conference room or the lunchroom waiting for someone to come speak to us about the importance of the program, which is all they could do because, since the computers were not ready, we couldn't do any actual work. But when Janet finally finished preparing our training packets, she explained that we were being trained to do intake, which means we were being shown how to take the applications of those wanting assistance, which is not what we were hired to do. She explained that some people may be asked to do intake instead of data entry, and of the twenty or so temp workers in the conference room on Wednesday, she was even taking two of us with her to the emergency intake area, which is where people who have not paid their energy bills for so long that they have been cut off go to bitch and moan about such lovely things as why they can't get assistance because their proof of income is not acceptable. (One woman was chosen to go to emergency because she spoke some Spanish; I don't know who else was chosen, but I was doing data entry yesterday with everyone else, so thankfully it wasn't me.) Janet also explained that we had to pay attention to the intake process because we needed to know what to look for to verify the applications before we put them into the computer to be processed. That's what made up the bulk of the training packet--different examples of paychecks, Social Security proof, official income all seemed like a lot for temp data entry workers to have to learn, and it was. We learned from other temp workers that worked there before that this was the first year that they were asking data entry clerks to verify before they entered the applications; verifiers in the past were separate workers, and the data entry clerks would receive the apps only after they had been verified. So they combined those two jobs this year to save a buck, presumably. Hey, they can't get too upset with me screwing a file up while I try to verify it; they only gave me a two-hour training session on what to look for, and not only that, but many scenarios came up yesterday when I actually received some apps to put into the computer that were not covered in the training, and it was hard to find anyone in charge to ask what to do because they were all busy running around performing other tasks. And even then, some advice from those "in charge" was different than what other people "in charge" advised.

Then there's the flak over hours. Janet, who's not really in charge of anything but was our trainer so she tried to tell us what she thought was going to be the deal, said that 8:30A to 5P sounded correct, which is what we were told by the temp agency, Smart Resources. Everyone else that spoke to us, even the vice-president, a Botox-looking blonde, said not so fast, it all depends on what kind of production was happening and what was desired. Vice-president means only one person in the whole organization is over you, right? So you should know small things, like, I don't know, what hours and days we're working. But when I asked her as late as 10A yesterday morning if we were working Monday, Labor Day, she told me that she didn't know and that there should be an answer to that question hopefully by midday. About an hour later, a woman who spoke to us Wednesday and was recognized as someone employed full-time by CEDA but who isn't really in charge of anything announced to us while we attempted to do our best to enter these boxes and boxes of apps that, according to the vice-president, we were being told to work longer hours today (Friday), until 10P(!), and that we were to come to work the next day, Saturday, from 10A to 4P, and that all of this was "mandatory." I laughed. CEDA does not employ me. Smart Resources does, and they told me 8:30A to 5P Mondays through Fridays when I was hired. I knew that I was leaving at 5P and that I wasn't showing up Saturdays, no matter what CEDA thought, and I knew that if they had a problem with it, they would have to speak to Smart Resources about it. A fellow temp worker actually called Smart Resources and confirmed over the phone that 8:30A to 5P was as long as we had to stay there. CEDA passed around two sheets of notebook paper, one for how long people were going to be able to stay Friday on such short notice, and one for how many hours people would commit to the "mandatory" Saturday workday. I put down 8:30A to 5P for myself on the Friday paper. I didn't put my name on the Saturday paper at all.

My thing was this: CEDA seemed to be so hungry for bodies that they would walk all over and ignore someone's special requests if that someone tried to be cooperative and give them extra hours. And I don't have Mondays and Wednesdays to give them because my college classes are at 5:30P on those days. So I'm not going to cooperate at all. It's the principle of the thing. They don't need to know that I had extra hours to give them yesterday and today. They appear to be the type to take advantage of the knowledge that I have no life and I have extra hours to give them. And if I allow them to take advantage of me on such short notice once or twice, then I run the risk of them assuming that I can do that for them at any time. I don't want to tell them about my school hours because then they can assume that I'll be available to them for all other hours, and that's my time to chill. I am not giving these people 60 or 70 hours a week. They don't seem to be the type to appreciate it. And because they don't employ me, I don't have to. There's countless single mothers in there as temp workers that have to run home and take care of their kids. They don't have those hours to give. But it's okay because they were irresponsible and fooled around and got knocked up, so let them go, they have to take care of the little ones. But because I'm responsible and I'm not having kids until I get married, I should suffer and take the extra hours? FUCK THAT. Pretend I'm a slut that got knocked up and I have to go home when I was told I could go home, at 5P like I agreed to when I took the damn job. Pretend that I don't have extra hours to give because my choice of a baby daddy is an asshole who was hot when I met him at the club, but he doesn't give a fuck about the kids, so I gotta run and get them at the time that I said I would because he won't. Do not punish me because I chose not to have those responsibilities until I was ready. And anyone who takes offense to that can go to hell along with their baby daddy.

The Botox blonde vice-president was not there to annouce these new hours, but the woman announcing them said that these orders came from the vice-president, which made them mandatory. She did say that Monday was a national holiday and that the place would be closed, but I just know that if the place were open it would be "mandatory" that we would be there for that as well. Whatever this woman was in charge of, she was also the person to go to in the morning and evening to sign in and out. But it was a long day for her yesterday, so long that when those of us who intended to leave at 5P lined up to sign out, she eventually yelled, "Everyone just go! I'll sign all of you out! Just go!" What would worry me about that is, if I'm staying after 5P, how can I be sure that she didn't sign me out as leaving at 5P, robbing me of my extra hours of salary? Is everyone that didn't sign out at whatever time they left going to be assumed as leaving at 5P? And if that's the case, what would have stopped me from leaving at 10A if I'm being signed out at 5P? That's the kind of place this is--poorly run, disheveled, desperately in need of people who care about such things as organization and order. As for the mandatory Saturday, literally seconds before we 5P'ers left, the skinny white woman in charge of the data entry area announced that the computer problems that resulted in no processed applications by me the last three hours I was there were going to be worked on all weekend by the programmers in downstate Springfield, and as a result, working Saturday was not only not mandatory but not an option anymore. Enjoy the three-day weekend after all. By the way, I can't label the girl in charge of the sign-in books as the tall, tattooed black girl because there are many tall, tattooed black girls working for CEDA, some of them in "supervisor" roles. Take that for what it's worth.

Some other points of interest about my new workplace:

  • Someone in charge of giving all of us temp workers our own user I.D.s and passwords for when we log on to the computers took all of our names down for that purpose Thursday afternoon, but we still didn't have our own I.D.s yesterday, so we were all signing in using the I.D.s and passwords of people that were employed by CEDA but happened to be absent yesterday. I was Adam Grenier along with about four others. They better get our own I.D.s ready soon; how else will they keep up with the 100 apps that each of us is expected to process per day according to Janet?

  • This goofy fat black guy who's dressed every day in shorts even though the dress code is supposed to be business casual came into the conference room late Thursday asking all of the men to volunteer to show up at 7A Friday to help move boxes. He heard Janet talk about me, Andre, being one of the men in the room, and noticing that I was big, he waddles over to me and puts his hand on my shoulder and bellows, "Well Andrew here can show up I'm sure." I looked him right in the eye and said, "I can. But I won't." That made the room chuckle. That was an easy decision for me to make. I could make a lot of money as a mover, more than the shitty $10/hr I'm getting now. But I'm not a mover. That same goofy guy was in charge of taking everyone's pic for their I.D.s a few hours earlier. Some hot girl had her pic taken right before me, and he was so busy staring her ass down as she left that he didn't even notice me line up for my pic. When he finally did look at me and my expressionless face, he lined up the shot and muttered, "There's always one." I have no idea if that was referring to the hot girl or my ugly mug, but if he was talking about me, he had absolutely no room to talk. He walked into the lunchroom where everyone had been funneled after the pics were taken and informed a white fellow temp guy that his name was illegible, and when the guy rewrote his name, the goofball checked it out and, satisfied, raised a fist and told the white guy, "Peace out" and left. I stuck up a fist and sarcastically yelled out, "Word to your mother," eliciting another laugh from the room. Yes, I'm getting a kick out of being the class clown. No, I don't like the goofball black dude.

  • The men's room...what can I say. It's a motherfucking 10K run to get to it. You have to go out the door, make a left, go down a hallway that's only about 30 feet long, no biggie, then make another left and go down a hall that seems to be a city block long, and I'm not exaggerating. You also need a key from the front desk to get in, and all day yesterday, that key was missing. The women's bathroom is right outside the door. I made the walk twice yesterday without a key. What did I think was going to happen when I got there? I don't know, maybe I thought I could magically make a key appear with my mind? Maybe I hoped the door would be unlocked? Maybe since I couldn't go to the women's bathroom, I just went to the men's room with no plan whatsoever and hoped for the best? Anyway, it worked out both times. Someone with his own private key who worked for one of the other businesses on the floor happened to be standing there the first time, and he opened it for me. The second time, someone was already in there and I caught the door as he left and snuck in. The toilets are not made of gold. The building is very accessible, to be sure, but it's the 20th floor. It's not like bums are going to pass the word to go to this place on the 20th floor that has great bathrooms. Why the fuck does there have to be a lock?

At least I got some good news financially this week. My financial aid could be processed by the end of the month, meaning I could get reimbursed for my classes. That's assuming that they accept my declaration for my income this year, which did not include the severance I got from CBOE. I actually intended to show them that severance check stub and hope for the best, but that stub got caught between my notebooks when I took them out of my bag before Thursday, and I didn't discover that it was missing before I went to the school, so I just decided to lie and tell them that I had declared all of this year's income instead of having to come back up to the financial aid office at a later date. I don't know if they have a way of finding out that I was lying, but I do know that the woman processing me almost gave me a heart attack by bringing up the $2,000 I have in my savings account, which she knew because it came up on her screen when she tried to send my application through. Guess I'll find out what they know soon enough. Cassandra met me Thursday morning and gave me $200 of the $1,500 she owes me. I called her Wednesday and arranged to meet her outside my new workplace at lunch, but she managed to miss me even though I weigh about 6,192 pounds, and I wound up burning my entire half-hour lunch standing outside. But on my lunch break Thursday I called a dude who owes me $500 from a football bet and still works at CBOE, and when he met me he had $300 in cash waiting for me. My man. I didn't even ask him for money on such short notice, all I asked him was to come down and meet me outside CBOE so we could talk. And he hit me with a roll of bills as soon as he saw me. And the coup-de-grace: The fare box was broken on the bus home yesterday! I saved $1.75! (It's the little things in life.)

This weekend makes two straight cancellations by women who wanted to meet me for the first time. Last weekend, a Latina from Boston came to Chicago to go to court for child support, and she wanted to have someone who knew the city to hang out with. But we never exchanged phone numbers, and she didn't e-mail me once she got here. Then this weekend, a redhead from Seattle who briefly lived in Aurora was going to visit a friend on the south side, and she wanted to meet me, so I was going to stay at my uncle's last night and hang out with her today. But the last time I spoke to her was Thursday, and at the time she expressed doubt that she was going to make the drive due to the astronomically high gas prices. Next weekend is supposed to be the big meeting between me and "Laurie." But I haven't heard from her in a couple of days. That has me very nervous, but even if I do hear from her and confirm that she is still coming, I no longer have the free time that I thought I was going to have. I actually have a job. So my planning of things like hotel accommodations and activities will have to be very crisp, no wasted motion. Can't I get online at work and plan these things, you ask? This balding, weasly white guy was asked by Janet during intake training whether he agreed with previous assessments of the validity of a paycheck, and he said he did. When she asked why, he actually said the following words: "I'm taking a gamble that the people before me guessed right." Janet is a nice girl, but she didn't take kindly to that. This same guy sat there surfing the net (I clearly saw the Yahoo home page on his screen from where I was sitting) once the system crashed yesterday, prompting the tattooed black girl in charge of the sign-in books to come running up and announce to everyone that surfing the net is not allowed and that the IT guys downstairs can tell when someone's on the net and that you'll get a warning about it once if you're caught, but the second time would probably be your last day. So that's why I won't be getting on the internet at any time during my tenure at this job. But now that I think about it, if they still don't have our own user I.D.s for us by Tuesday, how would they know who's surfing the net? If they can tell by user I.D., well, I was Adam Grenier yesterday, but so were a bunch of other people. If they can tell by computer IP number, if you can't tell exactly who's on what computer, unless I'm caught red-handed by someone, how can you say that it was me on that specific computer surfing the net? It could have been anyone. It's just one more example of how completely screwed up this place is. The next four months are going to be absolute torture. Call it a hunch.

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