Even while I was working for Sears in Georgia, I had started taking on little temporary jobs here and there to make up for the reduced number of hours we were scheduled. The mall was filled with these sorts of opportunities and I daresay I learned something interesting at each one.
The first gig I remember taking was at a Claire’s Boutique. For those not familiar with them, Claire’s sells costume jewelry and little fashion accessories, mostly to teen and pre-teen girls. I happened to speak to the manager there one time on my lunch break and learned that they were about to take inventory, but needed someone who could run the cash register while the regular staff did counts. So I offered to help. What did I learn here? I learned that babies sleep through having their ears pierced while teenage boys screech, cry, and bleed all over the place. I’ve no idea of the whys or wherefores of that situation–it’s just an observation.
One of my favorite gigs was at a Freshens Yogurt stand in the food court. I worked there through the summertime when the college students were out of town, mostly. I got to learn all about how the machines worked, how to put together the toppings bar, and how to make the various recipes. I loved making milkshakes–which were actually frozen yogurt shakes but whatever. We also made pretzels in one of those ovens that has the little conveyor belt in it. Frozen pretzel goes in, hot pretzel comes out. So cool! The best part about this gig was the ability to trade food with the other food court denizens. Our manager was very free with sampling allowances, and so we could often trade yogurt for sandwiches or even plate lunches depending on who was working at the other stands. We could eat as much yogurt as we wanted, too, because as the manager told us, you’d eat a ton of it the first week, a little the second, and not even want to look at it the third.
The one job I probably learned the most from, though, was delivering newspapers. First, I found out that a lot of newspaper delivery people are considered independent contractors. This means the company asks you for a security deposit–I think mine was around $250 at the time–and assigns you a route. You are then responsible for that route. If you need a day off or get sick, you are the one responsible for getting someone to fill in for you and for compensating that person. If you’re interested in delivering papers, it’s a good idea to have someone go in with you and split the duties. I got to ride along with a trainer for the first couple of nights. He showed me how to read the hieroglyphics in the route book that showed every turn and every driveway and designated which houses got papers. Pay was per newspaper delivered. If a paper was late, or not delivered, the company docked two or three times what you would have gotten paid for that paper.
The business side of it was fascinating, but the real fun was being out there in the wee hours of the morning all alone. I delivered in a section of Cobb County, GA which was mostly rural with a few subdivisions on one edge. I used to listen to Art Bell’s Coast to Coast radio program while I was out there in the dark which made it all the more fun. I became friendly with the cops and cabbies who frequented the one convenience store on my route. And I learned about the power of good, strong coffee to get me through the tasks at hand.
I even tried my hand at being a telephone psychic of all things. This was another fascinating business model. Again, this was independent contractor work (tax form 1099). I worked for a few different lines, but they all worked basically the same. I had to install a separate telephone line just for calls that came through the company. There could be no background noise when on the line with a client and you had to be willing to stay on the line as long as the client did (or to the company limit–90 minutes was usually the most time they allowed for any one call). The reader comes to an agreement with the company about the hours the reader will definitely be available for calls. I usually guaranteed each line about three hours per day. All the lines I worked for permitted the readers to stay logged into the system for as many hours as they liked as long as the minimum hours were met. There was a standard rate per minute that you kept the client on the line. This usually hovered around the 25 cent mark. If you went over a certain number of minutes in a week, this base rate might bump up to 35, 45, or even 55 cents per minute. Of course, as a 1099 worker, each reader is responsible for paying taxes and there are no benefits, but then again there was the advantage of being able to work from home.
As for the psychic part, well, let’s just say some of us were more ethical than others. I was mostly the “you control your own fate” type offering platitudes and a shoulder to cry on. (Yes, many clients paid us to listen to *them*. I had one client who called every Tuesday, talked non-stop for 90 minutes, then hung up.) There were others who seemed to relish the idea of being cruel to people or running them around in crazy psycho-drama nonsense. These are what I call the “dark cloud is following you” variety who convince each client that there is an evil presence that only calling and paying $5/minute can keep at bay. While I don’t think most readers meant any harm, too many of them did.
Finally, I joined up with Randstad Staffing and started doing temp office work. This was a lot of fun! If you like variety in your workplace, and you can show up at a moment’s notice, temping is for you. If you get a reputation as a reliable worker, you will never lack for assignments. I had one gig that lasted about six months working in the human resources department at the headquarters for a chain of gas stations. We were in the records department in the era when computers were just starting to become common in smaller businesses. Most of our work, therefore, was still in paper files. My job was to create file folders for people who had just been hired and to pull files of people who had been terminated. After I had been there a few months, I found out that a permanent position had opened and I applied for it. I was told that my credit rating was not good enough for them to put me on the permanent payroll, but that I was still welcome to keep filling that position as long as I stayed working for the temp service. I never did understand that. I was a security risk if I worked directly for the company but I wasn’t if I worked under the temp service?
Finally, my last gig with the temp service was with a little computer graphics pre-press agency as a receptionist. These guys hired me permanently, and I’ll talk about that next time. (Preview: I still don’t understand what happened there, either!)