a tale of temp subterfuge and sabotage
Campaign on Contingent Work
33 Harrison Ave., 4th Fl.
Boston, MA 0211
Temp Workers Alliance
United Labor Agency
214 State Street, Rm. 201
Hackensack, NJ 07601
by nadia valanta
Giacomo, my brother, got this temp job and was really amused by the whole thing cuz he is totally not an office worker. He's a 23-year old musician and a piano tuner. The only reason he got the job, during a really desperate time for money, was by saying he went to Columbia University, and all these other huge lies. But for all that they gave him the most ridiculous, low-skill assignment, sitting in a cubicle with just a phone and a clipboard, in a sea of cubicles, basically unsupervised. He had to make calls to each person on an endless list just to ask them if they had received a certain mailing, with no kind of follow-up. He was just supposed to check off that he called them. Whether they said Yes or No didn't matter--which meant for some awkwardness in ending each phone call. "Did you get our mailing?" "Uh, yes, I did," the respondent would say, expecting some kind of follow-up question to make the call worthwhile. "Okay, good. Thanks, goodbye," my brother would say. The respondent would seem annoyed at being sought out for such a dumb question, their precious time wasted. Well of course, he started to mostly just check off names without calling. Making the calls was tediously tiring. He took advantage of the lightly-supervised office life by taking coffee breaks every few minutes, taking some pens and stuff home, and making personal calls. With only one office outfit, he wore it every single day and no one seemed to notice.
It was in this context that he let me in one day, a grin on his face, both of us actors playing "office." I wanted to use his office copier to print zines. He was sure that if I just looked the part, I would blend in as an office worker and no one would question me. I wore business clothes and my hair was smoothed down. We talked discreetly and tried not to laugh.
He casually led me to the copier and, though I was nervous at first about him leaving my side, I started to make hundreds of zines. Of course, the copier constantly got jammed, but I was able to unjam it each time; it became a rhythmic cycle. Copy, jam, unjam, copy. As Giacomo explained, I didn't need to worry about people catching on to what I was doing, cuz whenever someone would rush in with a piece of paper they urgently needed to copy and would see me in the middle of a huge job, they just *assumed* I was an employee (or a temp, to rationalize why I looked unfamiliar) in the middle of some huge job. Giacomo even gave me a line to say if questioned: that I was making copies for some upcoming conference. But the most I ever said was, "Yeah, I'm going to be here a while, sorry," and they would just go to another copier, of which there were plenty. No one waited for me, or stood near enough to see what I was copying. No one cared, basically, because I didn't look suspicious. I looked like a typical white, young temp. I remember using a pen as a prop to seem more office-like.
When I was done, Giacomo--carrying a giant container of leftover, catered pasta salad that was meant for the office--walked with me out the door.
No one is the boss of nadia valanta.