Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chapter 6: Working for a Living


You'd think a 25-year-old guy would love the independence of living alone. But lately, I hate it.

Anything more than 30 minutes in front of the TV makes me question the intelligence of the human race, so I usually wind up at my computer. Of course, these days, surfing the internet only leads me to one place.

It doesn't matter how hot the porn video, or how addicting the game. Regardless of what I am doing, my eyes flit nervously back and forth to that little icon in the bottom right corner of my screen, the one which tells me everything Emily said online that day.

I curse my lack of will power and tell myself that I don't care what her IMs say, but all the while I know I will fail. I will watch as my right hand, acting on its own, slides the mouse over and clicks twice, and my eyes will open wider and my mouth will go dry as I eagerly read, then re-read, every line of every conversation. And, depending on what words are on the screen, I will either soar with relief or wallow in agony.

I wake up earlier each day. After showering, I wander the apartment, cleaning sinks, toilets and windows that are already spotless, then stare longingly at my PC before forcing myself into the car and on the road to the office. My job has been the one thing keeping me from insanity since this happened.

After arriving at work today, I sat at my desk and looked out the window. It was still dark.

My company, High-Grade Temps, places construction workers and factory laborers in short-term assignments around Boston. Todd, who runs the company with his wife, Sheila, hired me as an account manager after I graduated three years ago. I majored in marketing, and this was really more of a sales job, but I saw the potential right away. Everywhere you look in downtown Boston, there is a huge, expensive, complicated construction project going on, and there are not nearly enough workers to go around. I was no salesman, but I didn't need to be. I never had to call around looking for business. Construction firms found me and begged for workers, sometimes telling me to name my price.

I had been with High-Grade for about a year when AtlantiCorps, one of the biggest placement firms in the country, opened an office ten miles from ours. Though they are based in Dallas, AtlantiCorps smelled the ripe Boston market half a country away.

Jared, one of my fellow account reps, was the first to quit. He refused to say where he was going, but we all suspected it was AtlantiCorps. Then, one employee after another followed suit, each submitting a formally-worded resignation letter that looked suspiciously like the one before.

I walked into the office one cold April morning, and the emptiness of the place hit me like a two by four. We had ten employees left, down from a high of 35. Atlantic had pulled our workforce out from under us.

Todd called me into his office. "Eric, we've lost a lot of good people. We need to recruit more account managers, fast. Neither Sheila nor I have time to run the day-to-day business here anymore, so we want to promote you to General Manager."

"Me? What about Gordy?" I said, instinctively.

The GM position would be challenging. Some problems would be out of my control. I'd be blamed for things I could do nothing about, and--

"Gordy's been here five months, Eric. We think you're the best candidate. And, of course, there would be a raise in it for you..."

AtlantiCorps did not offer me a job. They didn't even contact me. Slam-dunk promotions did not come along every day; I had no logical choice but to take it. Still, I waited almost a week to formally accept, and I only did it then because Todd threatened to look elsewhere. But I'm really glad I took the job.

I've learned a lot, and have served the company well. Show me a form, and I can fill it out in my sleep. Ask me a question, and I can answer it while doing three other things. My inbox is constantly filled with problems that others could not solve, and I love being the guy who can take care of them.

We're back up to 15 employees now, and yes, our overhead is a lot lower than it was when we had 35. But AtlantiCorps has taken a lot of our business away, too, so there's also a lot less money. Todd has been stressing about that quite a bit lately.

He continually reminds me that our account managers should average one placement per day, and that more than half of them do not. I reply that we're all working as hard as we can, that we're not out there partying. "I'm aware," he'll say.

I always thought Todd was exaggerating. But, last week, I realized just how bad things have gotten. "If the next six weeks don't pick up, we're gonna have to start layoffs," he said.

Summer is long gone, and that was our busy season. How the hell were we going to find new business now, in the middle of fall?

"We better find it somewhere," he said, and I noticed he wouldn't look me in the eye.

After all I've done for him, it would really suck if Todd fired me.

Next... Chapter 7: "It'll Be Over Soon"