So, it's been over a week since my last missive. Sometimes the Puritan work ethic kicks in with a vengeance and there ain't a thing I can do about it. Particularly when it's coupled with job frustration and poverty. Oh, my friend...that is a heady brew.
But I watched a documentary on Chuck Jones this morning, and after seeing the little cartoon frog sing, "Hello, my honey, hello, my baby, hello, my ragtime gaaaaaal...", I felt inspired to leap out of my box & do a number myself. "Everybody do the Michigan raaaaag...."
So either the NYC job market has suddenly packed up & left like a UN Weapons Inspection Team, or my temp agency has lost all of its clients through ineptitude. I'm more inclined to believe the latter. Since I left my gummint post, the only thing they've been offering me are little brochure-distribution and midnight factory gigs. What the hell? There is a third possibility, one that I have yet to confirm: Somehow the whole unknowingly-committing-a-federal-offense-under-orders thing is making them paranoid about sending me on the good assignments. I dunno, I'll look into it if nothing surfaces this week.
Or rather, I won't. You know, I'm getting tired of office intrigue, so if Jelly Temps doesn't get me anything by Tuesday, I'm signing up with as many different agencies as I can. Fuck 'em.
I did have a couple of one-day assignments last week, though. First they sent me on a graveyard shift data-entry gig. The cool thing was that it was in Brooklyn, and for the first time my commute was under 30 minutes. The bad thing (well, the first bad thing) was that it was at the Brooklyn Army Terminal, a big hulk of a shipping terminal right on the piers. Something I've learned about Brooklyn: You don't want to hang out near any piers. There are countless abandoned warehouses & factories all along the Brooklyn waterline, & nothing good can happen there. Particularly not at 10PM, when I had to approach this thing.
Now, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, in its wisdom, has scheduled a bus that will take commuters from the habitable avenues of Brooklyn to the Army Terminal. This keeps you from having to walk through the barren warehouse landscape accompanied only by the shuffling sounds of winos. Intelligent people will consult the bus map to see if there is in fact a bus that will perform such a lifesaving function. Intelligent people won't just walk, figuring it can't be that bad, it's not midnight yet. You can see where this is going.
Thankfully, even the winos don't figure anyone's stupid enough to walk around in the Abandoned Warehouse District, so the more profit-oriented ones weren't around to relieve me of my wallet as I approached the gigantic Brooklyn Army Terminal complex. Industrial complexes, to me, are by nature oppressive. You get a cold chill from the first sight of them, a sense of certainty and horror at the number of souls they have eaten over the years.
And they don't even try to look friendly. Just as many souls have been eaten by edifices like the Chrysler Building, but the architecture seems blissfully unaware of its power, like an unobservant teenage hottie. Industrial buildings wear their kills like the picture of Dorian Grey, dark lines of rust (or is it blood?) etched into their cold steel walls, smog belching forth from smokestacks that no one knows the purpose of. They could be making Soylent Green in there, how the fuck would I know?
So I stroll past the sleeping security guard and make my way toward the only building with lights on. Did I mention it was 10PM? The lapping of the waves against the piers had rather less than a calming effect as I strode towards the door. More like a "how long would it take for my body to be found under there?" effect. I hopped through the doors a bit too hastily, blundering into a smoker on a break. She seemed unsurprised, which made me feel better somehow.
If you've never seen Joe Versus The Volcano, I suggest you rent it. It's not great all the way through, but the building Joe works in must've been modeled after the office I found myself in on Wednesday night. Dirty white walls and the harshest fluorescent glare since bars invented the Ugly Lights to run their patrons out at closing time. I made my way through several steel doors, leading me to a large open room filled with grimy desks and conveyor belts. A big guy named Rocky introduces himself and directs me to my very own filthy desk. As I sit down, I avert my terrified eyes from the huge, sweaty, naked man-thighs that protrude at my eye-level from his undersized shorts. If this guy isn't a former linebacker, I'll eat my hat.
A fact that comes in handy from time to time in my dealings with old jocks is that I'm very loosely related to a marginally famous football coach of yesteryear. I only mention this because that's the first question Rocky asks me. Upon telling him that though I never met the guy, I am a distant relation, Rocky is now my best friend. Oh, goody.
So Rocky gives me the personal tour of my duties for the evening, which doesn't take long. I put the piece of mail on the scale, type in the ZIP code and address, and out comes a stamp from the printer. I do this until the bucket to my right is full of stamped mail, at which point I scoot the bucket onto the adjacent conveyor belt, which will then take it to the fifth circle of Hell. Or Tibet. Or Moe's Bar, or wherever the fuck this labyrinth of whirring motors goes. I picture the belly of the planet, where the incoming batches of mail are thrown onto the great Core-fire by little elf-midgets, keeping the magma good & toasty.
The only good part about this kind of work is that it utilizes exactly .01% of my brain's resources, leaving the rest free to ponder musical matters or listen to albums in great detail. This I do, & I must say that if you do not yet own Aimee Mann's Bachelor No. 2, you must order it post-haste. I'm still not totally sold on her new one, Lost In Space (I came around, check out the review - ed.), but sometimes these things creep up on me slowly.
I got to meet absolutely no one of interest at this job, except perhaps Mauricio. He sat directly in front of me, and has either never seen a computer before in his life or has been viciously attacked by one. The man struck the keys as if the wrong one would set off the self-destruct command, or would go Tron on his ass and reduce him to a digital Jeff Bridges. He physically leapt back every time an error message popped onto the screen, slamming my desk a few centimeters back with each occurrence. This strengthens my conviction that ye olde Jelly Temps is hiring anyone with a fucking pulse, even if that pulse is erratic and jumpy.
When quittin' time drew near at 10 till 6AM, Mauricio did tip me off that there was a 24-hour liquor store nearby. Rather than asking how that was legal, I decided to smile and give a knowing wink. Shine on, you drunken computer-phobic diamond. Oh, and I did take the goddamn bus back.
So on Friday morning, Jelly and the Temps call me in a panic. Aaagghh, there's a law seminar that was supposed to have temp help, but aaaggghh, our temp didn't show up, so aaaaggghhh, can you show up in an hour? Aaaagggghh, sure I can, I mumble in sleepy stupor. Two hours later, I arrive at a spiffy Manhattan hotel in my rumpled shirt & tie. The hotel clerk directs me to the conference room, where Phyllis Diller, or her sister, is sitting at the check-in desk. A salesmanly voice is intoning bits of legal wisdom behind the conference room doors. Me & Phyllis introduce ourselves, after which we both proceed to do absolutely nothing.
It turns out that we're both temps, and there is no supervisor at this assignment. There's supposed to be one temp to check people in and one temp to turn the tape recorder off & on. What tape recorder, you ask? The tape recorder next to the podium, which will capture the lecture for later sale at $399.00 a pop. That's quite a racket, my friends. Anyway, it seems that Phyllis was only trained for the check-in part of the assignment, but somehow managed to get the hotel staff to help her turn the tape recorder on at the last minute. Jessica, the trained cassette-operations temp, didn't show up for some reason, & Phyllis had to think on her toes. So the tape recorder is on, and will stay on for the next hour or so, till the seminarees break for lunch. At which point I will spring into action, turning the tape recorder off and saving the day. Spider-Man, my ass.
The lunch break comes & goes, I press the requisite buttons, and soon I get INCREDIBLY BORED. It's one thing to listen to CD's when you're doing a repetitive task, or when you're lounging at home, but sitting motionless in an uncomfortable chair behind a crappily-draped folding table is just not the proper setting for getting your rock on. So I doodle, a skill I perform so pitifully that it soon depresses me, and I have to quit.
About the time I reach doodle-saturation, Tim Curry appears at the check-in desk. If Tim Curry was a lawyer, worked out a lot, and had a Bronx accent. Apparently this guy's the next guest speaker, and he's wondering when the long-winded schmo that's now onstage will get his ass off. And that's pretty much verbatim. I tell him that the crowd got back from lunch late, so it'll be another 15 minutes or so. So Tim decides to entertain Phyllis with lawyer stories. It seems he's defending a mob client in a racketeering case right now, & he's raking in the dough. Where do these people come from?
At last the schmo gets done, and Tim gets onstage. The seminar is on Cross-Examination, and I'm curious as to what kernels of wisdom this guy's gonna offer, so I hang in the doorway and listen. Lessons from a mafia lawyer:
1. When cross-examining a witness, don't ask questions. Make statements which the witness must either confirm or deny. That way, you control what the jury hears.
2. Use visual props. Store your most damning evidence in a red notebook, which you will only pull out at the end of each cross-examination. If you do this throughout the trial, the jury will come to understand that that which comes out of the red notebook is toxic to the plaintiff's case.
3. If you know that one witness for the prosecution hates another one, try to get them to insult each other's credibility.
4. If you are defending a child molester, divert the jury's attention from the defendant as much as possible. Get them to like you, so that they'll identify the defendant with you.
There were many more, but you get the idea. I wander back out to the check-in desk as Tim's wrapping up, and I see the closing speaker talking with Phyllis. I had read the little brochure while sitting at the desk earlier, and I know that this guy is one of the lawyers who defended Puff Daddy in that J-Lo gun-in-the-club case a while back. I make with the pleasantries, and tell him his curtain time is nigh. He adjusts his three-piece suit, and enters as Tim steps offstage.
A lot of the same lessons get presented by Mr. Threepiece, except that the main thrust of his teachings seem to hinge on something I saw on Seinfeld a few weeks ago. If you score a big point, make your exit. Don't keep going, because by the time you finish, everyone will have forgotten your score. I guess it works, because his suit's nicer than mine.
It starts to depress me a little that the prime lessons of all of these lectures center on sneakiness. How to obfuscate, how to create the right courtroom screenplay that benefits your client. Many times in their war stories, the speakers mention that their clients were guilty as sin, but they had to come up with a way to fool the jury otherwise. I realize that to some extent, this is the job of a lawyer, but it still gives me the creeps. This room full of young lawyers is getting drilled on the art of deception, and they in turn will perpetuate the practice.
Eventually Mr. Threepiece ends his diatribe, & the seminar lets out. Not forgetting my duties, I go in to turn the tape recorder off and pack it up. My eye lands on a notepad one of the lawyers in the audience left behind. Oh, my God. Doodles! Lawyer doodles!! I look around at the desks, and I find pages upon pages of doodles, just lying there. There are three or four games of Hangman, several caricatures of the speakers (one very good one of Tim Curry Guy), and my favorite: an elaborately detailed, multi-masted sailing vessel!
Somehow I feel better. These people weren't listening to a damn thing. They were collecting their CLE credits & waiting for the school bell to ring so they could go home. The legal world isn't full of conniving sharks. It's got slackers, too. Though if my ass is ever hauled into the dock for racketeering, I'm calling Tim Curry Guy.
So what else? Oh, I finally ordered a CD burner for my home studio. Fuck Zip drives. Fuck them to hell. And soon...soon I will wrap this beetch up. No, not Wifely, my CD. And I bought a stage outfit. You'll dig it.
Now we're off to take some pictures for my website. I have to figure out how to look interesting somehow. Folks gotta look at somethin', and I can't do the cartoon frog dance very well, more's the pity.
"Everybody do the Michigan/
Stop, hop, pop the Michigan/
Everybody do the Michigan raaaag!
That loved raaaaaaaaaaaaaaag..."