Memories From 1997

The other night Josh was making fun of a long-sleeved t-shirt I wear sometimes, calling it a “team-building exercise jersey from 1998” which is a line from a song.

His comment, delivered in his best Australian accent because of the song, reminded me of the fact that I did actually get the t-shirt from a job, although it was 1997, not 1998.

The summer between high school and college, I had my first non-babysitting job. It was not actually that much more lucrative than babysitting, and it was decidedly less stimulating. I was hired by a technology company that had designed a computer program for the FDIC, because part of the contract was that the company would provide a person to staff a “help desk” starting that summer.

That part of the contract stuck even though the computer program got delayed and wasn’t installed until well after I left the organization.

Come to think of it, anyone who would have needed help for that incredibly easy computer program should not have been employed by the FDIC. Monkeys could have operated the computer program. And not those trained chimps that know sign language, I mean feral jungle monkeys from Wildest Borneo could have used the interface with ease. It was that simple.

Anyway, there I was, sitting at an empty receptionist desk in an office dedicated to architecture and planning or something. I quickly realized my phone was never going to ring with people needing help for the computer program that wasn’t loaded on anyone’s actual computer. So I did what you’d naturally expect: I pulled out my book and started to read.

After the first day, my supervisor told me I couldn’t read my book during work hours because it looked like I had nothing to do.

“Um,” I said diplomatically, “I actually DON’T have anything to do, because none of these people has the computer program I’m supposed to be helping with.”

“I know,” he said patiently, “but you need to look busy.”

I learned an important lesson that day about the work world – it’s more important to LOOK busy than to BE busy.

Bereft of my literary diversion, every day I asked people in the architecture and planning office for work to do.

“Is there, in fact, anything I can do for you at all?” I would inquire sweetly.

“Why YES,” the person would reply, “here is a schematic for a very large parking garage. We’re going to re-number the spots, so you need to take white-out and mark out all the existing numbers.”

“Thanks for asking!” another would respond, “could you make a small dot with a red pen on every third line on this booklet full of gazillions of meaningless lines?”

OK, I made the second one up.

Other than helping out with white-out, collating, and stapling, I would pretty much just sit there, offering helpful advice to bored office people, or to the many maintenance guys who would take their coffee breaks in the reception area. I won’t venture to guess why actual professionals would ask advice from a teenager wielding white-out, but I think they appreciated the captive audience and the fact that I was effusive about the pictures of their children and grandchildren.

If nothing else, I got a durable t-shirt out of the deal, and was that much more grateful for going off to school that Fall.

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