Friday, May 18, 2012

In America seeking the real American Dream... or not

The American Dream... what does it all mean?


Yesterday, I received a phone call from my temp agency while I was at work.  Although we're not allowed to use our phones in the room where we work, I always have mine nearby and on vibrate in case it is a phone call I need to answer.  Being that this call was from the temp agency through which I have my current employment, I thought I'd better leave the room to speak to them.  I answered, and the conversation was as follows:

Me: Hello?
Temp. Agency Employment Counselor (i.e. TAEC for the rest of this post): "Hi, Alia, this is Persephone (name changed for sake of my internet reputation) from XYZ Temp Agency.  I'm just calling to let you know that I forgot to have you sign two sheets of paper, so I'm gonna need you to come in sometime soon and sign those.  Are you able to stop by today and do that?"
Me: Actually, as it happens, I'm working right now.
TAEC: Oh, right, you're working for ____.  Well, what we could do is have you come in at 6 in the morning tomorrow; the office opens at 6 and there will be someone here.
Me: Actually, could we do this by mail or by email?  It would be pretty hard for me to get from my town to where your office is located, and make it to work on time, all while during rush hour.
TAEC: Nah, we're gonna have to have you do it in person.  It'll take 2 seconds, and if you could just swing by, that would be great.  They're your payroll forms so they're really important, and we're gonna need those signatures on there, 'kay?
Me: (too surprised by the fact that this conversation seems at all logical to TAEC to respond) Alright, I'll see what I can do.  Thanks.

I sat at my desk, angry and completely stunned.  It's not simply the fact that I was going to have to wake up at five in order to correct a mistake that I was not responsible for.  That's a first-world, tiny problem in the grand scheme of things.  It would not be much of a hardship at all to drink some extra black water/caffeine combination that our bodies run on like gasoline, get into my car with the heater on to envelop myself in a contained environment shielding me from the morning cold, and barrel down the highway to a rectangular office building to lift my hand and sign my name.  I could handle that; I would not die.  No, it was, of course, the principle of the matter that angered me.  How is it that a salaried, full-time employee at a multi-million corporation can make a mistake, and then treat the hourly-waged pawn piece of a temp, the one working for the client, that way?  How was it my responsibility to drive (at least!) an hour and a half to put my signature on these forgotten forms?  Because I have been in a grim state as of late, due to many factors, I dramatized the situation in my head, resulting in thoughts about our country and the growing normalcy of temp agencies.  After about half an hour of working while seething, I called the agency back.  The conversation:

Lady at Front Desk (LFD): Good morning, you've reached ______; this is Janice (rather than use her actual name, I'll use the name I gave the voice of my GPS), how may I help you?
Me: (explained the previous conversation with Persephone) So, I was wondering who I should contact to request compensation for my time and for the gas.
LFD: What's your name?
Me: (spelled out my name)  Are you sure it isn't possible to do this by mail?
LFD: Oh, I see you live in the town of R and work in the town of P.  Correct?
Me: Yes.  And with rush hour traffic, it would be nearly impossible to make it to work in time.
LFD: Well, unfortunately we cannot offer you compensation.  What we can do is send you to another one of our offices that is on the way from your town of R. to the town of P.  Would that work for you?  I can speak with them to make sure someone will be there before your working hours, and we'll get back to you later today.
Me: Sure, that is definitely more manageable.  I appreciate your help!

A few hours later, I hadn't heard back, so during one of our breaks, I called, and Persephone answered.  She said that she had been "given the information," and would be in touch with me shortly.

Work ended, and I checked my voice mail.  After Persephone, Janice, and whoever else got involved in this Complicated Form Signing Matter had had the day to mull over this issue, the message on my voice mail from Persephone was as follows (I still have the message, so here's a pretty accurate transcription):
Hi this is Persephone from _____.  I'm just calling - um, just wanna follow up with you.  I'm gonna mail those forms that you have to sign.  I'm gonna mail them to you.  I'm gonna put my card in the envelope, so when you sign them, just shoot em back and mail them back to me and we'll be good to go.  If you have any questions, just call _________.  Thank you.  Bye."

No, none of this is truly the American Dream.  Who is actually happy to be living this scenario?  It's not the American Dream for someone spending half a day figuring out the logic of using the postal service to fix their mistake.  However, the American Dream as we know it is actually, in reality, quite unhappy (2.5 children - come on, half a child would not be ideal now, would it?, a large house that we hardly are in to enjoy, a one man and one woman family, 50% of the time resulting in divorce, one automobile per person, a safe, 8-hour job in an air-conditioned, clean office, being protected by a health insurance company that, in fact, makes its money off of denying the "care" it promises) is rapidly resulting in millions of people finding themselves dependent on a third party to ease their financial stress.  The temp agency, as I have discovered from many conversations since returning from the Peace Corps, is becoming the way to financial stability for so many people.  Companies love temps; they get work done cheaply without needing to provide benefits.

The American Dream has taken a small handful of our population far, setting them at the top.  At risk of sounding like a bitter 20-something-year-old hipster: Corporations are eating us alive right now.  They didn't necessarily in the past, not to this degree.  But now, our population is larger, corporations are more resource-consuming yet not paying the taxes that would replenish those resources they use (need examples?  I can write a list, but not here - I should at least attempt to stay on topic), and we're becoming more and more dependent on the mercy of said corporations, such as temporary agencies, to survive.  And, slowly but surely, people equal chess pieces in the large-scale, patriarchal family of a nation that we are.

(Oh, and for the record, today was my last day working with this temp agency; therefore, I do not mind putting this post up right now.)

1 comment:

  1. It sounds to me like some serious reverse culture shock is going on. (Even if bureaucracy in Ukraine may have been even a lot worse many times!). But regarding the "American Dream," I think spending a lot of time in a third world country gives a person a new view on that. This, combined with the challenges of unemployment/underemployment, can make things seem a lot worse than they actually are. It is very self-empowering to simply break free from the expectations and find ways to "live free." Easier said than done. Good to recognize the risk of bitterness and not let yourself go there . . or stay there. Someday these things may seem funny. Right now, though, it may not seem so. But . . . remember, there will always be people who made daily life more difficult than it should be. At least knowing this, we can try not to be one of them inasmuch as possible!

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