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Apr 3
(NaPoWriMo Challenge: April 3, 2019)

“Not all those who wander are lost.” -- J. R. R. Tolkien

I was an office temp for many years when I was young. All the companies: Kelly girls, Manpower, Adecco. I took innumerable tests in typing, word processing, spreadsheets.

The worst job was at a sales office for home siding. I logged complaints all day on the phone about faulty siding.

I worked at a construction site in Los Angeles, a new middle-class ghetto they were building on the Howard Hughes air *****. I worked in a trailer and had to wait until lunch break to walk a block to the bathroom in the new library.

There was one warehouse I worked in that had mice so employed a full-time cat to work alongside us. The cat left dead mice everywhere. I was always cold there.

A lot of places I was replacing someone on vacation, someone the office assumed was indispensable but there was never anything for me to do there but read. I wrote a lot of letters to pen pals and friends. Email hadn’t been invented yet. Sometimes I’d walk memos around the office. Nobody ever invited me to meetings. Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes it comes true and you end up sitting in endless meetings.

In one swanky office I prepared orders in triplicate on a typewriter. I kept messing up and having to start over. Eventually I started to enjoy this. It was a medical lab and was convinced they were doing animal testing so I left after a week.

One of my early jobs was as a receptionist in a war machine company. My contact there asked me to do “computer work” (as it was called then) but I didn’t know how to use a mac or a mouse. My contact called my agency to complain about sending out “girls without basic skills.” My agency told me not to worry about it, the war company was just trying to scam us all by paying for a receptionist to do “computer work.” So they stuck me at the switchboard up front where I found bomb-threat instructions taped under the desk.

I worked at a design store and learned a program called Word Perfect. I started typing and printing the letters to my friends. The St. Louis owner was trying to sell the company to a rich Los Angeles couple. Once, a young *** designer I admired called and referred to me as “the girl up front with the glasses.” I immediately went out and got contact lenses. Before I left, I bought a desk and a chair they were selling. Years later, I sold the desk to an Amish couple in Lititz, PA, but I still have the chair.

I once worked for a cheap couple running a plastic mold factory. The man was paranoid, cheap and houvering and I said I wouldn’t stay past two weeks. They asked me to train a new temp and I said okay. The new temp also found the owner to be paranoid, cheap and houvering and so declared to me she wouldn’t stay past the week either. She confided in me she had gotten drunk and slept with someone and was worried she was pregnant. She was freaking out because she was going through a divorce and already had two kids. I told her about the day-after-pill which she had never heard of. I don’t know if it worked because I never used it myself and I never saw her again after that to follow up.

At another office I did nothing at the front desk for three weeks, bored and reading all the Thomas Covenant novels. I would take my lunch break under a big tree to continue reading the Thomas Covenant novels.

I worked for months at a credit card company reading books and letting in visitors through the locked glass door. Week after week, the receptionist would call in sick. One young blonde woman would give me filing work. She was telling me all about her wedding she was planning which sounded pretty fun and it made me want to plan a wedding too. After a few weeks she asked me what my father did. I said he was a computer programmer. She replied that my dad sounded like somebody her dad would beat up. I was too shocked by the rudeness to say dismissively, “I seriously doubt that.” (For one, my dad wasn’t always a computer programmer.) When it became clear the woman I was replacing had abandoned her job, they asked me if I wanted to stay on. I said no, that I was moving to New York City. I wasn’t  (but I did eventually).

Some places “kept me on” like the mortgage underwriters in St. Louis. That office had permanent wood partitions between the desks, waist-high and a pretty, slight woman training to join the FBI. She fainted one day by the copier. It was there that I told my first successful joke ever. Our boss was a part-time Baptist minister and we loved him because he was able to inspire us during times of low morale. One day we saw a bug buzzing above us in a light fixture.  Before I even thought about it I said, “I guess you could say he finally saw the light.” Everybody laughed a lot and I turned bright red. I wrote my essay to Sarah Lawrence College there after hours at the one desk with a typewriter. My boss and I got laid off the same day. He helped me carry my things out to my car.

I worked at a large food company in White Plains, NY. I often came home with boxes of giveaway Capri Sun in damaged boxes. I helped a blind woman fill out her checks. She was really grouchy and I wasn’t allowed to pet her service dog. She had dusty junk all over her desk but she couldn’t see it to make it tidy. I realized then that she would never be able to use a stack of desk junk as a to-do list...because she couldn’t see it. You can’t to-do what you can’t see and how we all probably take this fact for granted with our piles of desk junk. Years later I had the same thought about to-do lists burned in phones or computer files.

They also “kept me on” at the Yonkers construction company. I was there for years. The British woman next to me was not my boss but she ordered me around a lot. She told me I looked like an old 1940s actress I had never heard of who always wore her hair in her face. I was annoyed by this compliment because when I looked the actress up on the Internet I could see it wasn’t true. At the time, everyone was just getting on the Internet and I was already addicted to eBay. I would leave meetings in the middle for three minute at a time to ****** items with my competitive late-second bids. It was my first job with email too, and I emailed many letters to all my friends all day long. One elderly man there thought it was funny to give me cigars (which I smoked socially at the time) and told me unsavory ****** facts to shock me. I thought he was harmless and funny and his attempts to unsettle me misguided because I had already grown up with two older brothers who were smelly and hellbent on unsettling me. Later the man started dating and seemed happier and I met his very nice older girlfriend at one of the laborious, day-long Christmas parties our Italian owners threw every year. Months later his girlfriend was murdered in her garage by her estranged husband. Most of the office left to go to her funeral and I felt very bad for him.

And they kept me on at the Indian arts school in Santa Fe. I loved every day I spent there, walking the halls looking at student art. I had never seen so many beautiful faces in one place. One teacher there confided in me about her troubles and I tried to be Oprah. She ended up having to take out a restraining order against a man she met online. At the trial, the man tried to attack the female judge and she awarded the teacher the longest restraining order ever awarded in Santa Fe: 100 years. He broke the restraining order one day on campus and we were all scared about where he was and if he had a gun. All around the school were rolling hills and yellow blooming chamisa and we found tarantulas in the parking lot. I was there almost a full school year until I moved away.

I was once a temp in a nursing temp office that had large oak desks and big leather chairs. The office was empty except for one other woman. The boss was on vacation and she spent all our time complaining about what an *** he was and how mistreated the nurses were. I remember feeling uncomfortable in the leather chair. The boss, who I never met, called me one day to tell me he had fired her and that I should know she was threatening to come back with a gun. When I called the agency they laughed it off. I told them I wouldn’t go back.

My favorite temp job was at a firefighting academy in rural Massachusetts. I edited training manuals along with two other temps. It was very interesting work. The academy was in the middle of the woods, down beautiful winding roads with old rock walls. Driving to work I would listen to TLC and Luther Vandross. And whenever I hear Vandross sing I still think of the Massachusetts woods. When I left, they let me have a t-shirt and I wore it for years. One of the trainers had a son who was a firefighter who asked me out on a date. I said I was moving to New York City (this time it was true) and not interested in a relationship. He insisted the date would be just as friends. He took me to Boston’s North End and we ate gnocchi while he told me how he didn’t believe it was right to hit women. This comment alarmed me. He then took me to a highrise, skyview bar downtown where he proceeded to **** my fingers. I thought about Gregg Allman and Cher’s first date where Gregg Allman ****** Cher’s fingers and how now Cher and I had something in common: the disappointment of having one’s fingers ******. My scary date didn’t want to take me home and I was living with my brother at the time, so I told him my brother was crazy and if I didn’t get back by ten o’clock my brother would freak out like a motherf&#$er. That part wasn’t true...but it worked. I made it home.

I used to be deathly afraid of talking to strangers on the phone. I used to be bored out of my mind watching the clock. I used to wish I were friends with many of the interesting people walking past my desk.

When I look back on all this and where I’ve been, it seems so random, meandering through offices in so many different cities. But it wasn’t entropy or arbitrary. I was always working on the same thing.

I was a writer.
Prompt:Write a meandering poem that takes its time to get to its point.
Mary McCray
Written by
Mary McCray
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