For Philly Chief And Other College Grads From Back When…

The Providence Journal published this piece of my mind long ago. My tribute to my Ivy League education… 🙂

The Working World of a Kelly Boy

"Hi!" I say in my gruffest voice when I arrive at a new workplace. "I’m your Kelly Girl."

It gets a laugh but I think the beard gives me away.

Being a temp sums the soul of my working life.

A rebellious understanding of the world of work started in high school, with my first real job, at Woolworth’s. (My newsboy job that won me a trip to Italy doesn’t count; nobody was constantly breathing over my shoulder.)

Woolworth’s dour manager took me on as a stock boy for $1.25 an hour. Now wealthy, now a real American with a place in mainstream society, I opened a savings account and eagerly looked forward to a mortgage someday. Then three things happened which set the stage for my real life in the American workplace.

Every morning I had to sweep the sidewalk with a push broom. No problem. Except I liked to sweep with one hand on the broom. More fun, more rhythm, and the sidewalk got just as clean. The boss yelled at me, "Use two hands! How do you think it looks, what you’re doing?!"

Then one day everybody was in a tizzy because the Big Boss from Boston was visiting. The manager even introduced me. Well, BB never cracked a smile, he had the coldest blue eyes ever seen outside a detective novel, and his handshake was as warm and lively as a two-day-old dead fish. "That’s a very successful man," the stockroom supervisor told me. I think his eyes glistened.

The final lesson of that job nearly cost me an arm. At the end of each day I had to clean the grill and cooking area. One day at home I caught my finger in a door and tore off a fingernail. When I explained to the boss that cleaning a food preparation area was not the best way to keep nasty little bacteria out of the injury, he said sympathetically, "Maybe we’ll have to get someone else if you can’t do the job."

Being adolescent and stupid, I thought the job more important than my health, so I continued to clean the grill. I got a septicemic infection. The doctor said if I had waited another day I’d have lost the arm. When I told the boss about it, he had already decided to fire me. So I quit, and those three weeks began a delightfully tortured journey through the world of work.

I’ve had more jobs than the New Age movement has oddballs. You name it, I’ve probably done it. Locksmith, waiter, dining-room host, reporter, news photographer, stockroom clerk (again), administrative assistant, legal administrator, computer-system manager, factory line worker (day and a half), parking lot attendant, electronic technician, technical writer, interviewer, laborer, warehouse worker, retail clerk, lab assistant, taxi driver, short-order cook, advertising writer, advertising salesman, juvenile corrections guard, movie ticket clerk and usher, office clerk, typist, data entry clerk, house cleaner, janitor, painter, and landscape laborer. There’s probably more but I can’t remember.

The only thing I’m fit for is writing.

After years of trying to be a regular, mainstream American worker, I ended up going to work for a temp agency.

Loved it.

What’s great about short-term temping is that I go in as a hero because somebody is out sick, or there’s a ton of work that just has to be done right now, and then I leave before anyone has a chance to see my warts.

I worked as an office temp once before for several months, even gaining recognition as an outstanding worker, but even that was temporary. Somehow I landed a real job with a fast-moving company. I got to play a lot with computers, which I really liked doing, as well as doing a lot of administrator stuff.

I said, "Richie, me boy, you’ve finally found something to stick with. You might even become a stable, steady working man, a credit to America."

I had said something like that both times I got married. Family man and all that. Six weeks for the first one, year for the second.

Well, after two and a half years, just when the job was getting tedious, I got sick. Really sick. Stayed sick for two years, lost the job.

So now I’m Kelly Girling again. I try to make it fun, and not stay at one place too long. Work is all so serious, and I just can’t take it seriously. It seems mostly to involve moving pieces of paper from one place to another until they end up in a drawer where no one, ever, will look at them. Somehow, that doesn’t strike me as adding up to a meaningful third of my life. Not too joyful, either.

I think the only thing I would not get bored with is news work, but I’m an old guy now, and the few news jobs around want young hotshots fresh out of J school.

When I was a reporter I was too young to realize why I liked the work. Something different happened all the time and I was the first to know. I was at the teletype when the first flash rang in on Kennedy’s assassination. On a typical day I might work an auto accident, a flower club show, a defense contractor’s office opening, court cases, and police, fire, and Coast Guard reports. I was forever meeting new people and learning something new, instead of going over the same ground day after day.

I’ve kept on learning but nobody wants to pay me for that, so I’ll keep on temping.

Ah, well, maybe I’ll be poor when I die, but at least I’ll be young from all the learning. My epitaph might read, "Here Lies A Kelly Boy, Born To Temp."

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18 Responses

  1. Lets see. Paper boy. Whitewater raft guide. Pizza Hut cook/dishwasher. Nature guide at a sports summer camp. Selling CutCo knives. Ski instructor. Graveyard security dispatcher (only job I ever got fired from (missed work when my sister died)). Pizza Hut delivery. A&P stock and cashier. Dishwasher at Friendly’s. Line cook at a diner. Car salesman (Isuzu). Signals interception linguist, US Army. Mail clerk, National Park Service. Interpretive Park Ranger, National Park Service.

    How’s that for eclectic? I started college as a computer engineering major. I was good at the math, but hated it. I switched to history. Might as well major in something I enjoy and worry about a career later. It worked. I’m actually working in public history and loving it. Had I continued in the ‘trade school’ engineering program, I would, most likely, be doing things I hate for the same money with less job security.

    The great thing about my job is that I really am a Kelly Girl. Today, I finished up and got out for bid a whole bunch of directional signs. Next week, I get to lead a breakout group looking at our education programs. I’m also working with a volunteer on a labor music program. And I get paid.

    My dad always said that the key to happiness in life is to find something you enjoy doing, then find someone stupid enough to pay you for doing it. It works. I love history. I love travel (fires). I love talking to people. I love computer graphic design. I love doing different things every day. I want to strangle some of the people I work with. In balance, it works.

    You are an excellent writer, Ric. You achieve in half the words twice the effect I could. Thanks.

    Like

  2. Hmmm…. You love fires and want to strangle people.
    Interesting. (I shoulda been a Republican propagandist.) 🙂

    I left out paperboy. I won a trip to Italy off of that.

    Thanks for that last bit in your comment, Grasshopper.

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  3. No, you mentioned it. You just referred to it as ‘newsboy’ which is the common term up to the 1930s. Did you sell on a street corner to the people in their horse drawn carriages?

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  4. Nah. I ran a delivery service to the rich people’s streets. They had a choice. My newspaper or a rock. I promised to deliver one or the other. Tough times, tough times.

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  5. Wonderful little insight into the Lion’s past.

    It started me thinking about my work experiences and when I tried to list them, I got carried away.

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  6. Did this just become a meme?

    Like

  7. Great post. I don’t think I’d do too well as a temp worker. I like a structure – a chair of my own to sit in, a computer of my own to work on, an office of my own (not a cubicle) – within which I can execute my duties pretty freely. Most days, I get to set my agenda for the day and pace myself at the rate I want to work. There are days, of course, when last-minute projects get dumped on my desk, or other silliness goes on in the workplace that I have to address, which are long and exhausting. Fortunately, they are not the norm.

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  8. () –

    Meme? Meme?! We don’t do no steenking memes here.

    Like

  9. pc –

    Wait till you see the movie! I have a bit part in it, playing a retired terrorist newsboy.

    chappie –

    Aaaarrggghhhhh!

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  10. Didn’t you get the meme memo at your last high tempo temp job?

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  11. () –

    We don’t do no steenking memos either!

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  12. We don’t do no steenking memos either!

    Ah, another difference. I’m pretty much the Memo Queen at my office. There are two reasons for this:

    1. To try to promote communications
    2. To cover my ass if something gets screwed up. I’m a big believer in paper trails.

    Like

  13. Maybe you got it but your meme memo memory has disappeared down a rabbit hole.

    Chappie: I suck at memos. However, my emails are quite traceable and have, on occasion, kept my ass in one piece.

    Like

  14. chappie –

    If you’re covering your ass with paper, doesn’t it make weird crinkly sounds when you sit down?

    () –

    We don’t do no steenking rabbit holes either.

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  15. If you’re covering your ass with paper, doesn’t it make weird crinkly sounds when you sit down?

    The crinkling hides the creaking of the old joints. 🙂

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  16. What holes do you need?

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  17. Well, my brain has memory holes, but we don’t need no steenking brains either. (Which reminds me, there’ s zombie movie on tonight.)

    Like

  18. The crinkling hides the creaking of the old joints.

    Maybe you should see your dealer and get some fresh ones?

    Like

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