Just last Friday, as I was walking to work, I thought about how lucky I was to have a job. Here it was, Friday the 13th and a full moon, but I had a job and today was payday. I had a full time temp job that was supposed to last for six months. I had been working for six weeks and was feeling pretty good. Soon, it would be summer and for the first time in years, I could actually participate in the summer concert scene. By October, I could save up and get a car, so I could start applying for case manager jobs – all of which required ownership of a personal vehicle. Or maybe I could get my old County job back. Finally, after eviction, homelessness, loss of most of my personal possessions, relying on the kindness of friends and relatives to survive, going on job interviews throughout the state, and making do, it looked like my life was finally turning around. I wasn’t crazy about this temp job with Sacramento County, but the delight of receiving a paycheck every week made everything look better. Things were picking up – I could see a future in my future.
But eight hours later, it was over. At 4:15 PM, my supervisor called me into the conference room. When I entered, the personnel supervisor who hired me was sitting at the table. Two weeks earlier, I had been transferred to a less busy office, as the supervisor thought I wasn’t picking up the job duties fast enough, even though I had no prior experience in the field or with the codes and procedures that I needed to remember. The pace was slower in my new office, but I was told that work would be picking up shortly, as they would be providing a new service. Since I didn’t pick up things fast enough at the old location, it was automatically assumed that I wouldn’t be able to pick things up quickly at the new location either. I was told that I wasn’t doing all that I should be doing, even though the person that was supposed to train me seemed reluctant to train me on what he did all day. Even though they were sure that I was smart, I was just not working out. It seemed like I was fired not because of my current actions, but because of what I might not do in the future.
I was flabbergasted. I had been given no indication that my supervisor was unhappy with my performance. As a former Mensa member, I was insulted by their patronizing attitudes and their “assumption” that I was smart. I was told that I would be paid for the forty-five minutes left in the workday, but I could leave now. In spite of my anger, I started to cry. When I went to my workstation to collect my backpack, my co-worker did not seem surprised that I was leaving, making me wonder about his collusion in my dismissal.
In less than ten minutes, I was out on the street. Once again, my dream was over. I had to consider that “too slow” was the new way of saying “too old.” My first full time job in five years was now a memory. Instead of working six months, I had barely managed six weeks. It was a bright, sunny afternoon, but all I could see were the clouds in my now-uncertain future. After thirty years of responsible hard work, I was useless, not even good enough for a temporary receptionist position. I felt like just giving up. Who was going to hire an over-fifty African American woman with a MFA in creative writing and a BA in social work with no car who lived in a room in the house of some benevolent white people, with nothing to call her own but some clothes, books, and CDs? This is why people commit suicide, I thought, why people take potshots at commuters from overhead bridges.
It was a different work world these days. Forget about someone telling you how to improve on the job. Forget about taking the time to learn your job. You are expendable, just one of many job seekers out there. Next! No wonder I can’t get a job with any county in California. Temp jobs are the wave of the future. Counties don’t have to pay any expenses like benefits or provide any employee perks – they just call up a temp agency for a warm, and preferably young, body. I feel like my life is over – no chance of getting a job I love helping people, rising up the ranks to oversee and pass on my knowledge to others, and then retiring at a ripe old age, feeling that I had done my part to help others realize their dreams. Will I end up on the streets again? Will I develop some debilitating disease after a lifetime of perfect health and become a burden on strangers because I have no family?
These days, it seems that everything is temporary – except for the chance that I will become self-sufficient again. That appears to be gone forever.