March 12, 1998
I'm reading amagazine. Apparently, there's a woman who won't stop having plasticsurgery until she looks exactly like a cat. I'm pondering theimplications of this when someone walks by my cubicle. Fortunately,I've positioned myself and the magazine so that passers-by mightassume my concerned look has to do with work.
You see, I'm not paid to read magazines. I'm beingpaid to name weight-loss products for use in foreign markets. It's anodd job, a temporary job, just another gig in the life of afree-lancer. Definition of free-lancer? No medical benefits, no jobsecurity, no 401K, and you're lucky if you get a parkingvalidation.
But you do have your freedom.
This is one of the more bizarre corporatefree-lance jobs I've had, though the company is not unusual in thesense that, like many others, it has done away withbenefits-expecting "perm" employees and replaced them with disposable"temps" from staffing agencies. Oh, sure, we may read a few backissues of Allure, but we're paid by the hour and can be hired andfired like you order office supplies, on an as-need basis. We're solow-maintenance, it isn't even necessary to learn our names.
For me, this was supposed to be a two-weekassignment. Six months later, I'm still reporting to my cubicle forabout 20 hours a week, like one of those relationships you know isdoomed on the first date but continues, inexplicably,nonetheless.
Perhaps I have a special knack for naming fat-freesnack bars and diet gum that makes me valuable, despite my proclivityfor magazine reading. Still, after seeing most of my temp friends getthe ax, I wonder when my time will come.
I know I am marked. On my way to the water cooler,I can practically hear Human Resources yell, "Dead man walking." Suchis the life of a temp, however. You can't get emotionally attached.You're a handshake away from no job.
And that's the way I like it, really. I can'treally complain about "The Man" trying to squelch my spirit or theomnipresence of the cruel capitalist machine, because I have chosenthis life. I have opted to be a nameless cog. For all theinsecurities of this lifestyle, I don't owe the company anything. Ican come and go as I please, stockpiling office supplies and perhapsmaking a long-distance call or two along the way. My time isflexible, and when I lose this job, there will always beanother.
My goal has long been to work as little aspossible in order to earn enough to live and have ample time topursue my as-yet-non-lucrative creative endeavors.
Oddly enough, I see my less-is-more work ethic asthe legacy of my Jewish immigrant grandparents. Did they come toAmerica and slave, sewing seams and painting houses, so that I couldaspire to a weekly timecard with as few billable hours as possible?Maybe. They weren't working manual labor for the love of it, or forthe honor, but for the necessity.
They earned enough to send my mother to college,after which she got a cushy government job and raised me to believethat a sunny day is reason enough to call in sick. If it was warmerthan 72 degrees, I knew she'd come flouncing in from the beach, flushfrom the sun and donning her favorite "I just told my boss I have theflu" peach sundress. She never looked happier than she did on thosedays.
My inheritance is the luxury of owning my time, ormost of it, anyway. It's no trust fund, but it is it's own freedom.I'll admit that it's no day at the beach, living without vocationalsecurity, not to mention the neck strain involved with my on-the-jobmagazine-reading technique.
To me, though, it's a small price to pay. While Imight be a lowly temp to companies who choose to hire me, I am theCEO of my own life.
If I were a corporation, I would be a terriblestock risk. Investors would run for cover. But I would have abeautiful logo -- a snapshot of my mother's sunburned smile.
So, when the hatchet falls on my latestincarnation as the Walt Whitman of weight management, I'll be sad,sure. And broke. But only temporarily.
Teresa Strasser is a twentysomethingcontributing writer for The Jewish Journal.