“We don’t make anything in this country anymore, because we keep aborting our workers!” – A Housing Works customer who believes that abortion, not cheap, foreign labour, is the reason why his shoes are made in China instead of the good ol’ USA.
First of all, I’d like to thank everybody for their heartfelt messages of condolences on the passing of Anna’s grandmother. The outpouring was completely unexpected, but truly appreciated, Anna was amazed that people who had never even met her could offer such kind words, so thank you again.
Now, we’ve been back in New York for about three weeks. When we returned from our stay in Las Vegas and California I was greeted with something very special in the mail – My employment pass. It took almost six months for it to be approved, but I am now legally able to work here. I’ve been volunteering at Housing Works, a chain of high-end thrift stores that raise money for HIV research and awareness, for almost three months now and I genuinely enjoy it. Sure, some customers can be more than a handful, but when you see some of the stuff that gets donated, highlights of which are pictured in this post, how could you not love it? There is paid work within their stores and I figure if I can get paid for something that I currently do for free then I might as well go for it. I’ve done some asking around, the management are happy with me and want me on board, but I still haven’t received a definite answer, however, one of my colleagues mentioned that Housing Works use a specific temp agency and maybe I should give them a try. Hmmm, maybe I should indeed…
I returned home from another day at Housing Works and Anna was out at a going-away party for one of her colleagues, leaving me at home to fend for myself. I decided to take this oppourtunity to make sure my resume and everything was in order and send it in to the temp agency. I hadn’t updated my resume since 2009, when I first started working for GEOS Language Centre, and I have to admit, they must have been desperate or I was just lucky, because my grasp of the finer details of English in that resume was not that special for someone who was applying for a position teaching the language. I finished dotting the ‘i’s, crossing the ‘t’s, correcting the obligatory typos and then I was ready to email it to the agency. I looked up their details online and saw that, not only were they still open, they were only about a 15 minute walk from our place.
I got changed, found all of the hard copies of my qualifications and references, saved my now updated and error-free resume to a thumb-drive and headed out the door. I arrived at the office at 6:30pm, half an our before they closed, and I must confess, I definitely wasn’t impressed. The agency has offices on the second and third floor, the latter being the one I needed. I could have taken the elevator up there, but it had the appearance of the type of metal box where, once you step inside, there is only a slim chance of ever exiting alive again. Alternately, I opted for the rickety spiral staircase, so narrow that two people are rendered unable to pass each other, instead, the person on the wider portion of the steps would need to hug the wall while the person on the narrower part walked down sideways, similar to the side-on jog adopted by Barack Obama as he descends the steps of Air Force One:
Once I got into the office it was just as grim as the stairwell; The room stunk of body odour and there were several derelict-looking men asleep in a waiting area bedecked with tan wallpaper and brownish-greyish carpet. There were numbered counters with thick glass screens, possibly bulletproof, through which you needed to communicate with the agent helping you. There were two young men working so I approached the counter and told them my predicament. The first man replied that registration time was 7:00am – 12:00pm and that it would be best to arrive closer to 7:00. I mentioned in passing that I have been volunteering at Housing Works and I’m just looking for something similar that pays. The other man working there ran over to me, tapped on the glass like he was trying to communicate with a tropical fish and said, “Come back around 10:00am, we’ve got some new jobs coming in, I think we can help you!” Well, that was a little too easy.
I got up a little earlier than usual and made my way back down to the temp agency, finding a $20 note en route. I really hope this doesn’t turn into another installment in the “T-Factor” series. I arrived at the building and ascended the rickety, spiral stairs back to the same waiting room as the previous night, only this time it was complete chaos. At first count there were 42 people waiting, all of whom were either African-American or Latino. This is not a racist judgment call, merely just an observation and simply the way it was. I was the only white person in the room for probably the first 15 minutes until a strung out, middle-aged guy with frizzy hair and crazy eyes showed up. This place catered to three main demographics:
- People who have simply been dealt a bad hand in life,
- People who had made poor decisions in the past and are still paying for it now, but trying to change their fortune, or
- The lowest common denominator.
The bulk of the people were from the first category, with quite a few from the second, but it was the third group that were the loudest; The guys with facial tattoos yelling across the room at people getting served before them, the two girls with prison ink on their necks making out in the corner, the woman arguing with security that she should be allowed to take as many of their nasty, complimentary cookies as she likes because she can’t afford to buy snacks for all of her kids.
I told the security guard I wanted to register and he gave me the form and a pencil and I got down to it, then lined up to hand it in. I was immediately called over to one of the windows and was served by the same guy that I had spoken to the previous night. “This is the guy I was telling you about”, he said to his co-worker, a young, Japanese-American who handles a lot of the jobs for Housing Works. This guy instantly reminded me of MacArthur Parker, Troy McClure’s agent in The Simpsons. He had a look at my qualifications and said, “We have two rules in this place; The first is that we don’t allow hats, as we treat this the same as job interview.” I removed my hat, apologised and explained I was just on my way to my volunteer job. “The second rule is that I don’t give a shit about the hat-thing, because I know gold when I’ve found it! Besides, you’re probably the best-dressed guy in here.” It was at this point I could feel the glare of 42 pairs of eyes burning into the back of my skull, but the only times I’ve ever been described as “Gold” in my life have been out of pity or sympathy! I told MacCarthur that I had a copy of my resume on a thumb-drive, but I had no way of printing it and he replied that he’d already seen enough. I went on to explain that I’m an English teacher, but wanted a break from that while I’m overseas, I also explained the reasons we’re here and that I just wanted a flexible job to supplement my wife’s income and I would love to get paid for what I currently do for free. “Would you like to work 12:00pm-8:00pm Friday at Housing Works on E 77th Street?”
I was walked over to a private area, right next to the nasty cookies, and was handed two copies of a contract; One for me to fill out and one with all the necessary areas highlighted to avoid any confusion. I sat there filling it out while I watched a huge plate of cheap, nasty, complimentary cookies disappear. “Dude, I haven’t had these since grade school!” was one of many comments.
I completed the paperwork and lined up to hand it in. “Yo! Has anybody ever told you you look like Larry Bird?” Yelled a small, Latino man as I walked past. Maybe it was the Celtics cap I was wearing earlier, maybe it’s just because I’m tall and white, but I really hope I don’t look like Larry Bird! Later, I heard the same guy scream at one of the agents, “I have the freedom as an American to wear a hat! It’s my right!”
They gave me a run through of how payment works, I explained that I didn’t have a social security number, but would apply for one the next day and they were happy. I managed to escape unscathed.
I went to Housing Works and then we had a mini fondue party to make up for not being able to make it to Anna’s cousin’s Christmas party. A great night was had by all.
This morning was the part I was dreading. I have written about our nightmarish trip to get Anna’s social security number, but mine was completely hassle-free. Except for the rain, that is. I got drenched walking to the store, but it could’ve been a lot worse.
Everything thus far has gone extremely smoothly, let’s hope tomorrow follows the same course and isn’t another installment in the “T-Factor” saga.