Tag Archives: work

Elf

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It was the end of a long hot day of trying to sell hemp jewelry and shiny rocks on the side of the highway. (Total sales for the day: $36.) I was eating dinner and reading a copy of the David Sedaris collection Holidays on Ice I’d picked out of a free pile behind a thrift store.

The first story in the collection is “SantaLand Diaries,” a memoir of the pre-Christmas season Sedaris worked as an elf in NYC’s Macy’s store. Early in the essay, Sedaris recalls how he imagined his life in the Big Apple. Of course, his life didn’t go the way of his imagination, and he writes,

But instead I am applying for a job as an elf. Even worse than applying is the very real possibility that I will not be hired, that I couldn’t even find work as an elf. That’s when you know you’re a failure.

Ouch. That hurt.

I had applied for a job as an elf some years ago. Like David Sedaris, I applied to be a Macy’s elf. Unlike Sedaris, I did not apply for elfhood in NYC.  I was in the Pacific Northwest, where I’d recently moved to live with my boyfriend in an apartment his parents had paid a deposit and a month of rent on. The boyfriend didn’t seem to be concerned about finding work (I suppose he’d had a long history of mooching off his parents), but I was scrambling to find a job, any job.

First I called Manpower, the temp service I’d worked through for three years in the medium sized Midwestern town from whence I’d come. The Manpower employment specialist (or whatever they call themselves) who took my call seemed absolutely bored. I asked him if I should go into the office to meet with someone. No need for that, he assured me. There weren’t really any jobs anyway. (No jobs? I wondered. In a major U.S. city? No temp work at all?) He said I could email my resume if I wanted to. They’d keep it on file, but there were currently no jobs.

I dutifully emailed my resume to Manpower. I never heard another word from the Manpower office.

I dutifully spent hours looking at the online employment ads. I dutifully sent off my resume any time I found a position I was even marginally qualified for.

I discovered the bowling alley near my apartment was hiring but didn’t want anyone with visible tattoos. Since when was a bowling alley so concerned about the image of its employees? I could cover my tattoos (so I dutifully sent off my resume), but it seemed like every second person in the city had visible tattoos. Maybe I’d get hired by virtue of my undecorated skin. But no. No one from the bowling alley ever contacted me for an interview.

I discovered the regional chain of convenience stores was hiring, but planned to do a credit check on all applicants. I’d never heard of a potential employer doing a credit check on a job applicant. How could a person with poor credit pay the bills if s/he couldn’t get a job because of poor credit? The no visible tattoos bowling alley tipped me off that the job market was tight, but the credit check for folks applying to work not for a bank or an accounting firm or the freaking CIA  but for a convenience store really convinced me the job market was in the employer’s favor.

I continued to read the want ads, complete online applications, send out my resume, but my phone didn’t ring and my inbox was empty. I started to grow panicky.

Then I saw it: Macy’s was hiring elves. I’d read “SantaLand Diaries,” and thought, If David Sedaris can do it, I can do it to! In fact, I was qualified for the job.

Qualification #1 I am short. I’m under 5’5”. Sedaris recognized the importance of (lack of) height to a career as an elf. Despite being pretty sure he failed his drug test,

still they hired me because I am short, five feet five inches. Almost everyone they hired is short.

If Macy’s was looking for short, they were looking for me!

Qualification #2 I’ve worked with kids. I spent my first two summers out of high school working at a camp for kids with disabilities. Sure, that had been 20 years ago, but I’d done some babysitting since then. I didn’t think kids could have changed too much, even in 20 years.

Qualification #3 I knew a thing or two about taking photos. I’d worked as the assistant to the photographer my first summer at the camp for kids with disabilities. The second summer I’d been promoted to head photographer. I was sure I could handle whatever camera system Macy’s used to take souvenir photos of kids with Santa.

Qualification #4 I’d worked in high volume, high stress retail situations before. I’d been the cashier on multiple occasions during Mardi Gras and Jazz fest at a t-shirt shop on Bourbon Street. I doubted screaming, shrieking, bawling, pissing children and their bossy, rich parents could be any worse than drunk tourists.

I dutifully answered the questions on Macy’s online elf application. I took the application very seriously. I attached my resume. I did my best. It was only a seasonal job, but it could get me through until the next employment opportunity came along.

Macy’s never contacted me, not a phone call, not an email. Nothing. Of course, not hiring me was a good move on Macy’s part because during the first week of December, my boyfriend convinced me we should ditch the apartment and travel the world on foot and via Greyhound.

Still, I was devastated. I didn’t even make the first cut for a temp job as an elf, a job I was actually qualified for.

I’d felt like a failure then, and here was David Sedaris, eight years later confirming that indeed, I’d been right.

IRS

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I fell off the face of the earth for the first time in late 2009.

Up until then, I’d been a pretty good worker bee. I worked full-time jobs for most of my adult life. Even when I decided to work only part-time, I went through a temp agency. I filled out a tax return every year. I was in the system.

In 2010, I filed a tax return for the prior year and had my refund deposited to a debit card I bought at a supermarket.

I didn’t work a job in 2010 or 2011.

In late 2011, I ran away from my not very nice boyfriend. I lived with a family member in a major city, and I tried to find a job. I thought the only way to survive was to get back in the system.

In the spring of 2012, I had a job scoring student responses to standardized test prompts. I spent eight mind-numbing hours a day reading essays written by high school students and assigning each essay a score  based on a rubric provided by the state where the students were tested.

When that job was over, I fell off the face of the earth again. I was back on the streets, estranged from my family. I didn’t have a job for a long time.

In 2015 I had a van and was in contact with my family again. I was broke and remembered the job I’d worked in 2012. Taxes had been taken from my check. I’d probably overpaid. I’d probably get a refund if I filed a return.

I had to download the forms from the IRS website and print them out. I was able to get my W-2 online too, through my employer’s payroll system. I filled out the forms. Sure enough, the government owed me a refund. I mailed the forms to Texas and waited.

I’d asked the IRS to deposit my refund directly into my bank account. I checked my balance regularly, but nothing was added to it. Then the letter came.

The letter explained the IRS couldn’t verify my identity. I guess that’s what happens when a gal falls off the face of the earth for several years. Because the IRS couldn’t verify my identity, my funds would not be deposited into my checking account. The letter included a phone number to call so I could speak to someone about proving I was who I said I was.

I called the number immediately. I listened to a recording say all representatives were busy and no one could talk to me. The recording suggested I try again later; then the call was disconnected. I was not invited to remain on the line for the next available representative. I was told no lies about my call being important to the IRS. I was not thanked for my patience. Basically, I could call back later when the workers weren’t so busy, or I could go to hell as far as the IRS cared.

In the next few days, I called the IRS number multiple times. The only answer I ever received was the recording.

One morning, I decided to call the number as soon as the line opened, which was before normal business hours, at 7am, I think. Miracle of miracles, I was connected with a real live human person!

The IRS representative asked me many questions I couldn’t answer. What was my address when I lived in a collage town in the Midwest? What was my address when I lived in a big city in the Pacific Northwest? What was my address the last time I filed a tax return? The answers to those questions were at least five years and thousands of miles behind me. I’d quit thinking about those places long ago.

Because I couldn’t answer the questions to the IRS representative’s satisfaction, she said she couldn’t release my funds. She said I’d have to go to an IRS office and speak to someone in person. I asked her specifically what documents I’d need when I went into the office, and she listed them for me.

Luckily, I was in a major city with an IRS office downtown. I gathered my documents and my courage and headed to the office as soon as I could.

My first problem was parking. The building housing the IRS office had a parking garage, by my van was too tall to fit inside. I tried to nudge the van in, but I had to back up when my roof hit the bar demonstrating the height limit.

I drove around the block a couple of times until I found an empty line of metered spaces on the back side of the high-rise housing the IRS office. I had to turn around to get the van facing the proper direction, but finally I was parked. I was glad to find coins in my bag so I could feed the parking meter.

After walking around the building, I found the proper entrance. I walked through the door and was met by a guard and a metal detector. Nothing untoward was detected on my person, and I was allowed to proceed into the IRS office.

I walked into a small room with a counter. I was instructed (by sign or spoken word, I don’t remember) to get in line to take a number. I went to the end of a line stretching into a larger second room.

The second room was what I’d imagined an IRS office would look like. The walls were drab and unadorned, save for signs demanding all cell phones be turned OFF. The middle of the large room was filled with the sort of uncomfortable plastic chairs one finds in waiting rooms from doctors’ offices to the DMV. Cubicles lined the perimeter of the room; each had a sliding door in front in order to offer taxpayers the illusion of privacy.

The floor and the chairs were littered with yellow cards. I realized later they were survey cards. The IRS claimed to want to know if we were pleased with our visit, but we were all too suspicious to share our thoughts. What if the IRS didn’t like what we had to say and used our honesty against us? Most people there, it seemed, thought it better to leave the survey cards unanswered.

I got in line to take a number. While I waited, I turned off my cell phone.

Eight or ten people stood in the queue in front of me. One by one, they shifted to the front of the line where a woman behind the counter checked paperwork before issuing numbers.

Finally, it was my turn to step up. I fanned my paperwork out on the counter in front of the woman.

Where’s your W-2? she barked.

The woman I spoke to on the phone didn’t say I needed to bring my W-2, I said, panic setting in. What if the woman sent me away to get my W-2? Would all my time driving and parking and standing in line to take a number be wasted? Was my W-2 in the van? Would I have to drive all the way back to the house to get it? Why hadn’t the woman on the phone said to bring my W-2 when I specifically asked her what I’d need?

The woman at the counter said with disgust, I don’t know why people come here without their W-2s, but she handed me a number and one of those yellow survey cards.

I went back to the waiting area and sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair. I’d forgotten to bring a book, and my phone was off, as instructed, so I sat nervous and bored until my number was called.

Upon hearing my number announced, I stepped into one of the cubicles on the perimeter of the large room and slid the door closed behind me. I sat in a slightly less uncomfortable chair. The IRS worker behind the desk was a decade or so older than I am and was dressed in clothes as drab as the walls. Her demeanor was no-nonsense, but she didn’t seem unkind or grouchy like the woman behind the front counter.

She looked at my driver’s license and social security card, then back at her computer screen. She clicked her mouse a time or two. She asked me questions, which I answered as best I could. She clicked my answers into her computer. Her attitude was neither discouraging nor encouraging. This woman was a master of neutrality.

Once she asked all her questions and entered my answers into her computer, she dismissed me. My case would be reviewed, she told me. I’d receive a letter…

I left feeling dejected. I thought this woman was authorized to make a decision about my case. I thought she would decide I was who I said I was and tell me my refund was on its way. Sadly, I’d have to wait for someone else to decide.

In a week or two, I received a letter from the IRS. They weren’t able to verify my identity to the extent they were able to deposit my refund directly into my bank account. However, they believed in me enough to issue a check for the amount of my refund.

That was good enough for me.

 

Suddenly Things Are Happening Really Fast

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Last week I sent an email to the woman I am hoping to work for this summer. I asked if she had received the latest round of paperwork I’d sent to her. I also asked if she had decided when I needed to report for training.

I realized on Monday that I hadn’t heard from her, and on Tuesday I called the office. Her assistant answered the phone. I asked about the paperwork. Yes, it had arrived. I asked if the boss had decided when I should arrive for training. She replied, May 4th, as if the date were something I had known all along.

May 4th? The upcoming May 4th? Nineteen days away May 4th?

I stammered, a bit, I think. Last time we spoke, I reminded her, the boss thought it was going to be later in May. I asked if she were sure the training for my group was going to start on May 4th. Oh, yes, she assured me. The boss had decided she didn’t want to do training any later than that.

Then the woman I was talking to told me the boss was out for the rest of the week, but she’d be back on Monday (April 20). She said I could call the boss on Monday to get all the details. I’m assuming the boss woman was planning to call me on Monday and and tell me I needed to report to the forest in 2 weeks! I’m glad I called on Tuesday and got myself five extra days of knowledge.

I am totally overwhelmed that training on May 4th means I have to get on the road no later than May 2nd. (It’s a 10 hour drive, according to Yahoo Maps, so that probably means a twelve hour drive for me. What can I say? I have to stop to pee a lot. And since I do NOT want to drive twelve hours in one day, I have to leave on May 2nd.) I am totally overwhelmed with everything I need to do between now and then.

Want to see my to-do list?

Buy stamps (I’m hoping 100 postcard stamps and 50 first class stamps will get me through the summer. And by summer, I mean May 1st through Labor Day.)

Try to sell a pile of books at the used book store

Figure out how I am going to pay my phone bill while I am in the woods

Buy 5 money orders to pay monthly installments on a debt (Don’t even ask!)

Finish notifying friends of my summer address

Go through the rest of my clothes and get rid of what i don’t need

Have my transmission mount replaced (I actually have an appointment with my mechanic to do this next Wednesday.)

Buy food supplies for the summer (I have no idea what to buy or how much.)

Buy other supplies (Dr. Bronner’s soap, paper towels, toilet paper, zipper bags, squirt bottles for dish washing system, oh, and don’t forget the laundry soap)

Buy Luci light(s) (How many do I need? Is one enough?)

Wipe out ice chest (I hope it’s not gross. It wasn’t gross last time I opened it, but that was a while ago.)

Get back slider window for van (Ohhh! I’ve been putting that off 8 months! I should have taken care of that 6 months ago!)

Pay insurance on van

Look into new tires for van (That’s going to cost a lot! I’m so overwhelmed!)

Buy bear whistle (I have to remember that when I go to Big 5 Sporting Goods for Luci light)

Try to get May 10th dental cleaning appointment rescheduled

Mail my friend’s August birthday present (or decide I can stash it somewhere in van until August)

Host little gathering for host family and friend family

Buy van supplies (oil, coolant, fuel cleaner)

Replace rusty screws holding on van topper to van

Of course, while I am trying to prepare for the summer, I am also working 8 hours a day, which looks like this:

Wake up at 5:15 am. Curse the state I am scoring responses for. Curse the students who wrote the responses. Curse the two characters the students are comparing in their responses.

Eat breakfast. Prepare lunch. Fill water bottles.

Get dressed. (Don’t forget to get dressed.) Brush teeth. Take glucosamine. (Oh shit! Add “Get glucosamine” to list.)

Leave house by 6:20 to get to work with time to park, put metallic sun shades in window, and be at my desk by 7am.

Sign in. Work. Look at clock.Try to stay awake. Work. Get distracted by coworkers moving around, chatting, coming and going. Look at watch. Work. Fantasize about banging my head against a brick wall. Work.Try to stay awake.Try to get comfortable in uncomfortable office chair. Work. Log out. Get up to pee. Sit back down. Log back in. Work. Look at clock. Work. Wonder if it’s too soon to get up and pee again. Look at clock. Work. Log out. Go on break. Eat granola bar. Sit back down. Log in. Work. Fantasize about banging my head against a wall of ice. Work. Look at watch. Log out. Get up to pee. Sit back down. Log in. Try to get comfortable. Wonder why the idiots all around me don’t whisper if they must speak. Work. Put head down on desk. Fantasize about repeatedly banging head on desk. Fantasize about shouting SHUT THE FUCK UP! at the top of my lungs. Work. Wonder if it’s almost lunch time. Look at clock. Sigh. Work. Try to stay awake. Work. Put my head in my hands. Sigh. Feel sad about the state of the world as it is reflected by the teenagers who wrote the responses I’ve been scoring. Sigh. Work. Hear my own stomach growl. Look at the clock. Notice lunch is in ten minutes. Sigh. Try to work. Feel antsy. Try to work. Sigh. Try to work. Log out. Go to lunch. Arrive back at my desk in precisely half an hour and repeat morning activities all afternoon.

Get off work at 3:30, feeling ravenous. Run errands if necessary. (Do I have enough gas to get to work in the morning?) Get home. Eat dinner. Check email. Wash dishes. Fill water bottle halfway and put in freezer. Try to write. Feel too tired to write. Try to control brain. Try to write. Notice it’s already after 7pm. Give up on brain. Give up on writing. Take a shower or decide I can go another day without a shower. Brush and floss teeth. Set alarm on phone. Read a novel until I’ve relaxed enough to sleep. Try to sleep. Try to shut off brain. Fall asleep.

So I guess what I need to do is make lists according to the next nineteen days. When will I go to the auto repair shop? When will I go to Discount Tires? When will I go to Trader Joe’s? When will I go to Big 5 Sporting Goods? When will I call the dental collage?

What am I forgetting? No, for real, what am I forgetting? PLEASE, leave a comment and tell me what I’m forgetting.