A story from the book |
Best of Temp Slave! edited by Jeff Kelly
My older sister was a Kelly girl. That's the closest thing I ever saw to temp employment until I was twenty-one years old, trying to make it on my own. And not doing too well at it.
For a while, I tried to be a "bookkeeper" at a large grocery store -- I counted down register drawers -- but I wasn't so good at that, so they fired me. Then I fell back on telephone solicitation ("You've just won an excellent free prize.") but I wound up calling my employer an asshole and walking out.
Just before Christmas is not a good time to be jobless, because every business in town has already filled up its slots by mid-November. The shelves are full, so to speak. So I hunched my shoulders and turned up my collar and went into Western Temp Services to beg for a job. After I passed all the idiot tests, I was interviewed by a Yuppie.
"Do you know how to run a floor buffer?" he asked. I said I did not.
"That's the wrong answer," he smiled, making me wonder if this was in fact another idiot test. I looked at him the way a curious dog looks through a chain link fence.
"You should have said, 'It's been awhile since I've run one, but I think I can figure it out, ' or something like that." So much for the first amendment.
"We'll call you," he said. I went home and got drunk, dreading the factory job I certainly knew was waiting for me.
At eight o' clock sharp the next morning, the phone rang. I tried not to sound like I was sleepy, but some things you just can't pull off. The girl on the phone said, "Sorry to wake you up. How do you feel about Santa Claus?"
I replied, "What," which is what I usually say when I talk to these people.
"Santa Claus. You know, at the mall. Santa Claus."
"You want me to be Santa Claus?" A mental picture tried to form in the pool of my mind's eye, but there were too many ripples. Couldn't see it at all. "How much does Santa Claus make?" I asked.
"$5.25 an hour."
I said, as best as I knew how, "Ho ho ho."
By God, I looked like the old man in the sleigh. In my big red suit, with my own glasses perched above the flowing white beard, long white hair streaming behind me, I strode down the main aisle of the Southland Mall. How could they have known? The parents lined up their children at my feet and had them beg to me.
"I want a Nintendo."
"Okay," I said.
"And a mountain bike."
"You got it," I replied cheerfully. "Ho ho ho." And the child's parent would look at me like I was crazy and walk away.
When it slowed down a little, an old man on the bench near my little elf-cluttered stage told me, "This goddamn mall is useless. They should just fill it up two-feet deep with sheepshit and throw seed on it. It's goddamn useless."
"What are you doing here?" I asked him. He did not reply.
A pair of scruffy teenagers walked up to me, long hair and red eyes, and asked, "Hey, Santa, you got a joint for me for Christmas? Ha ha ha." I yanked my fake beard down and said, "Santa ain't got no joint for you kid. Santa gotta save some for himself."
A thirty-something woman climbed on my lap, probably thinking I was a limp old man, and purred, "What does Santa want for Christmas?" I grabbed her with both hands and said, "Santa gets off at eight."
A teenage girl, who apparently was a non-believer, began to argue with me about my identity. "You're not Santa Claus," she said, defiantly kicking aside one of her childhood building blocks.
"Sure I am. You wanna see my red nosed reindeer?" For the sake of professionalism, I added, "Ho ho ho."
I had been warned by the girl at Western Temps that little kids might puke on me, or pee on me, or worse. But none of that stuff ever happened. Being Santa Claus was perhaps the most rewarding job I will ever have held. This was the clincher: A little girl, just barely over toddlerism, hopped onto my knee and told me everything she wanted. She went on and on, and I couldn't make out a word she was saying. I just sat there and nodded, smiling at her mother (who looked relieved to be able to let go of the kid for a moment).
With real feeling, I told her, "Well, if you're a good little girl, you'll get all that and more. Ho ho ho." I placed her back down gently, and her mother led her away. From about a hundred feet off, still held by the hand, she twisted around and stared at me, and shouted, "I LOVE YOU SANTA CLAUS."
Everyone in the mall heard it. And they all saw the old man in the red suit pulling off his glasses and mopping his dewy eyes on his fuzzy sleeves.
"Best of Temp Slave created and edited by Jeff Kelly, himself a survivor or forced layoff, is both a timely and truly valuable collection of articles and comics earnestly written and drawn by temp workers and those in sympathy to inform the public of an arcane employment concept called 'temp work.'"
All rights reserved, Garrett County Press.
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