Philadelphia Metropolis


My Life as a Temp

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By Matt Lettieri

In the past four months I've been a server at a wedding reception in Phoenixville, a law exam proctor at a local university and a booth attendant at the Philadelphia Convention Center, and I'm currently a data entry clerk at an office in Center City. At this point you might think I'm either an undercover spy or a lazy guy who can't keep a job. While these are both worthy attempts at an explanation, the truth is that I work for a temp agency.

Perhaps the greatest thing I've learned from temping is how to interact with many types of people in varying situations. For example, at the wedding reception I spent some time serving water. My interactions would play out like this:

Me - "Would you like some water, sir?"

Sir - "What kind of wine is it?"

Me - "Oh, it's not wine, sir. It's water. Would you like some?"

Sir - "It's just water?"

Me - "Yes, water."

Sir - "Where's the wine?"

If only I had the skills of a certain Jewish carpenter, I could've turned the water into wine and received a higher customer satisfaction rating. Alas.

Waiters Trays.jpgThose types of conversations were simple compared to the ones I had as a proctor of law exams. One of the test-takers would raise her hand, I would acknowledge her, and an exchange like the following would ensue:

Test-taker - "Are we to assume in question 20 that a breach of contract was unreasonable under UCC article 2-206(1)(a) and that the pact was unilateral in nature, thereby prohibiting revocation under common law principles?"

Clueless Proctor - "Let me find the professor."

Clearly, no knowledge of the legal system was required for that job.

Sometimes I simply refrain from interaction altogether, like in the elevator at my current office building. It can be awkward when I'm joined by employees from other offices and I become the odd man out in conversations about "the McGregor files" or about how "Jeff better watch his back because some heads are going to roll" or even about how "it's still a little itchy but I've been using the cream you told me about." I just try to stare inconspicuously at the glowing numbered buttons until I reach my floor.

This is the lighter side of working temp jobs. To be serious, after getting my nachelor's degree two years ago, I never thought that I'd be working as a temp today. It can be difficult not to know which days I'll be working or how long I might be in a certain job. My mind occasionally fills with self-doubt and hatches scenarios where I end up broke and evicted from my apartment, but the uncertainty keeps me on my toes and off auto-pilot. It keeps me engaged in the world around me; I never know where or when the next opportunity might present itself.

Most people seek stability in their jobs, financial security in their bank accounts, and a defined schedule for their lives. Temping doesn't offer these things. It's a stop-gap, a means by which to pay the bills while also maintaining a certain amount of time and flexibility to pursue something else, be it a full-time job, an education or an unconventional career path. The jobs usually pay a competitive hourly wage and sometimes even lead to full-time positions. 

I've chosen to be a temp because my passions -- writing and making music - belong to occupational fields which require one to follow an undefined and unsteady route to success. I know that spending my life as a writer or musician could often leave me with little else to spend; until I record a platinum album or write a New York Times best-seller I need to make money somehow, and temping gives me a way. It would be too difficult to balance the commitment to a full-time job with pursuit of my literary and musical dreams. I've chosen to sacrifice stability in exchange for the freedom to attempt to do what I love for a living.

We all live in different circumstances, and not everyone is free to make the choices I have made. People have families they must provide, or have faced illnesses or financial misfortune, or must pay off debts.

I know how blessed I am to be young and single and healthy and debt-free and I want to take advantage of it. These conditions won't last forever, and maybe not even for much longer; most things in life are far from permanent. For now, my job is simply one of those things.







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