IT IS EARLY, I sit at our kitchen table, sipping coffee and pondering the coming work week. Tomorrow begins another job through the temporary employment agency. Another semester as a student at George Washington University behind me, I am ready to face an office again.
It is not exciting work, running a word processor, but it pays the school bills and keeps me busy during the long, hot summer days. I know I am fortunate in having a skill; many of my friends spend weeks trying to find any minimum wage job between semesters.
It started last summer. For three years, I had been working for a consulting firm during school breaks. A semester would end and I'd phone the typing pool supervisor, informing her of my availability, and in I'd go, taking my place behind the mag card machine as if I had never been away. But that ended last summer. The company was expanding and moving to a new location; more typists were hired in my absence and new machines brought in. There was no place for me.
So I began the temp route. The day I arrived at the agency, I was a nervous wreck. How would they react to me, wheeling through their doors in a wheelchair? Would they be willing to find me jobs in accessible buildings? Or would they think I would be too much of a bother? I had already applied at one agency a month earlier, and they had never called me. Would this agency treat me in the same manner?
My apprehension proved unneccessary. The receptionist looked a little startled and perplexed when I told her I'd like to apply, but when I passed the typing test at 78 words per minute, my tension subsided and the interviewer looked excited. With a promise that she'd try to "find me something in a few days," we shook hands and I wheeled out the door feeling hopeful in spite of myself. I had been as good as money coming in there off the street, potential bucks on four wheels, and this is why in two days I had my first assignment lined up for the following week, a two-week run at IBM. I loved working at IBM and was pleased when the agency sent me to IBM jobs the rest of the summer.
The day is spent reading the paper, going to garage sales and watching Masterpiece Theatre." Before turning in, I read a little William Faulkner. Monday
I make myself breakfast. While I'm dressing, Mom calls in to say she has placed my wheelchair in the car for me, then leaves on her 10-speed for work.
Addres in hand, I "cane" my way to the car and set off for the office. I have never been to this building before, though I have worked for IBM many times.
I lug the wheelchair out of the car, attach the foot peddles, hang my cane and backpack on the handles and then get out of the pouring rain into this invitingly dry office building. The company offices are on the fourth floor; I give the receptionist the name of the contact the agency has supplied me.
"There is no one here by that name," I am told.
Stunned, I wait 15 minutes to see if anyone will suddenly, miraculously turn up by that name. Then I call the agency.
"Oh! They gave us the wrong address," a voice chirps across the phone. With the new address, I halfheartedly wheel back to the car, miserable at the prospect of having to get the chair back into the car in the rain. Halfway through the procedure, I look around, hoping to see someone who might offer to do it for me. But the few I do see just stare as they walk toward the building. I tell myself it is just as well. Most of the time I reject all offers of help anyway. I must be consistent.
An hour later, I finally find the place. By this time, of course, all nervousness has left me and I wheel in limp and soaked like a wet rat. Upon meeting my supervisor, I immediately relate the mess of a time I have had getting here. She seems somewhat uncomfortable and calls someone to show me around. As I begin backing out the door, I become stuck between two plush chairs. Embarassment shades my face while two pair of eyes study my predicament. Both persons both blurt out offers of help just as I free myself.
By 5, after memos and charts and reports, I am dead tired. A warm dinner and loving company of Mom and my hound are uppermost in my mind while cleaning my desk for the night. My supervisor, Charlene, appears before I get back into the chair which will roll me to my wheels. Now she is more relaxed with me; I sense it in her eye contact and smooth speech. She inquires about my lunch: Did I know the cafeteria hours? Had I found the building easy to get around in? Tuesday
I don't like the word processor they have assigned to me. An early model with very few features, it is a brick. But I manange to eke out three letters before 10 a.m. Then Charlene appears around the corner with a 30-ish woman in tow.
"This is Susan," Charlene introduces the woman. We exchange hellos and Susan sits down at the machine next to me. The rest of the morning is spent working on a long report. Susan, also a temporary, talks continuously, trying to figure me out. Finally she blurts out what apparently has been on her mind since we met.
"I don't, you know, usually ask people these kind of things, but, uh, what is the matter with you?"
"I won't discuss that, Susan."
"Oh? I don't blame you. I don't discuss my asthma, either."
"Your what?" I doubt my ears.
"My asthma. You know, a-s-m-a."
After dinner, I discuss the personality of Susan with Mom. She suggests that I talk to my supervisor, requesting another desk far away from Susan. I mull this over, but decide to give it the week before I do anything as decisive as seeing a higher-up. Wednesday
It is better with Susan today. Shortly after we begin working, she apologizes for any rudeness she might have exhibited yesterday. This gives me a lift that lasts the whole day.
At 5, I sign out at the receptionist's deak in the lobby. Going toward the exit, I notice a man standing on the other side of the door watching me. As I come nearer, he opens the door. I am grateful to him. The building has been designed for access to the disabled -- there are curb cuts, modifications in lavatories, low-to-the-floor drinking fountains -- but the doors are murder. I thank the man and begin the trek to my car.
"Hey, can I ask you a question?" he shouts after me.
"Sure," I reply and brace myself.
Why do you park so far away from the doors? All of these parking spaces are for the handicapped and they're all empty, except yours way over there."
"I know. I like the exercise."
He bursts out laughing and I move on. I guess it has never occurred to him that, like the TABs (temporarily able-bodied) of this world, the disabled enjoy exercise, too. Thursday
Today I work under a person from another floor, instead of my supervisor. Jack loads me down with work all day, and I type a dozen tables during the course of 8 hours. This is one of the drawbacks of temporary employment: We temps get more than our share of hair-tearing jobs. But, the temp is there to work, to use her skill for 8 hours in whatever is set before her. So I sit at my brick and try to make the charts look as pretty as possible in as little time as possible.
At 12:30, eat lunch at my desk and call Mom for a chat. In walks Jack and inquires about one of the tables, interrupting my conversation with Mom. I hand it to him, asking Mom to hold on.
"Okay, here's another one. This is just a draft, but she wants it single-spaced anyway. . ."
Telling Mom I'll call her back, I then inform Jack as jovially as possible that I'm still on my lunch break.
"Oh," he mutters and continues giving me directives on the afternoon's work.
The day is a long one and I can hardly wait for it to end. Wheeling down the hall in the afternoon, I bump into some other disabled employes. It's a comfort to know that I am not the only non-able-bodied person in the building. We chat about the Orioles, as we are all three baseball fanatics and never tire of the subject. Friday
My machine breaks down an hour after I begin work. When Charlene learns of this, she immediately calls the service center, then sets off seeking another machine for me. Finding one on the other side of the building we gather up all my paraphenalia: memos, reports, coffee, paper holder (of which there is a shortage here) and pencils and pens (which people steal, so I never let them out of my sight for long).
I get set up at the other machine and notice there is no paper. Trying the desk, I find that it is locked. I hop into my chair and stroll back to my other desk to pick up paper.
I finally begin to type. It is heaven. This gem is a later model than my brick and is infinitely more enjoyable to run. I turn out my final products in half the time it takes me to do on the brick.
In the evening I go to the Kennedy Center, a joy to patronize because ot its easy access: no bother with steps or restrooms, ample parking. The music is fine and I lay my head back on the seat, miles away from the clicks and beeps of a mag card word processor.