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Workers’ Comp Part 1: Lying on Resume

“Workers’ Comp” is an excerpt from my first book, Down and Out in California.

I haven’t found a full time job that I want, and so I apply to temp agencies. There’s a bit of lying on resume.

My mother tells me that when she was younger, temping is how she got by. Her stories of this and trading cooking for rent reductions with her male roommates as a single working woman in the sixties fascinate me. Her stories of life prior to any protection against sexual harassment in the workplace astonish me. My mother left job after job after being groped by a boss or coworker, because the only recourse was to put up with it or quit. She saw temping as a way to brace for that reality, no need to put up with any ongoing abuse when she could just get another temporary position, and leave that one if the boss turned out to be handsy.

Now I am single after a long and amicable breakup with Tommy Boom-Boom. I’m living with a male roommate on Abbot Kinney, in Venice. I live across the street from a block of condos. There is one in particular that I almost owned, but didn’t have the money for. Right after grad school my parents considered putting a down payment on a condo that I would then pay the mortgage on, and I did the research to find one. In the end they found it ten thousand dollars above the price they were willing to pay.

It’s now worth ten times what it was then, and will be more, but I try not to think of it.

The condo across the street is a split level with a fireplace and skylights and a balcony, but instead I try to enjoy the location of my new home, the bottom floor of a dark duplex. The room itself is small and dingy and has a window that’s mostly underground. Still – I’m within blocks of the beach, and the famous Venice boardwalk, and I am at the edge of the city – and that helps keep me sane and rhythmic.

I am out of the house a lot, hanging out at the house of The Mad Scientist, because a lot of fun stuff goes on there. Temping seems attractive because I know that the positions will be, well, temporary, and that there should be breaks between them with time off. Ironically this is not what I get, the temp agency is looking to fill a permanent position with me. I make it to the interview stage with the agency and take the bus to the mid-Wilshire area to interview. It’s on the second floor of a rectangular office building made primarily of glass. Yet another nondescript hallway with beige carpeting and nondescript offices off of that hallway. Middle Los Angeles seems to be just one large office building.

Here I’m given lots of paperwork, and a typing test.

I bomb the test, it’s not a good keyboard and I do horribly for my own standards, but make seventy words per minute so they put me in the pool of transcriptionists. They let me know fifty words per minute or more gives one this role, and that by their standards that is as high as one can be.

It surprises me that people are being hired specifically for their typing skills at below fifty words per minute. They ask me if I have any experience with transcription and I lie and tell them that I do. They ask me if I know how to work a Dictaphone, and I lie and say that I do. Then they ask me if I have every worked in the legal industry, and I lie and tell them that I have. They give me a job.

In truth, I have no experience in the legal industry, but I figure I’ll pick it up quickly. I’ve never done transcription, but how hard can it be to type?

I’ve never even heard of a Dictaphone. It’s the first time I’ve pretended to be more experienced, rather than less experienced, in a job interview. Until now it’s been a lot of pretending that I don’t have a masters’ degree and am not going to leave a job for a better one if it comes along.

It turns out there is little need for worry. I Google how a Dictaphone works. It isn’t rocket science. It’s a mini-cassette tape recorder with a system of foot pedals for play and for rewind. It’s intuitive in its design and I take to it immediately.

The job is located near LAX, in a neighborhood I’ve never heard anyone call Westchester. It’s on Sepulveda near Manchester, and I’m happy that it is one simple bus ride from my place to work.

The neighborhood is nondescript, made mostly of office buildings and large streets with impressive medians that block off any foot traffic. The residential portions of the neighborhood snake off of the main road in contained suburban loops, again no point walking these.

The neighbors just look at me funny the one time I take a walk on my lunch break. After that I never leave the building during the workday, except maybe to pick up something to eat from the Ralph’s grocery store a few doors down.

Taking the bus to work is a pleasure, and makes me a part of a distinct minority in Los Angeles.

I’m the only person on the bus that isn’t of color, and usually there are a few riders that seem to be living on the down and out, and just paying a bit for a seat indoors for a while. I listen to music and stare out the window, and always give my seat to older riders, or people traveling with children. The eight months I spend in Los Angeles without a car are some of the most joyful. There’s something freeing in opting out of the dominant culture. So much time is returned to me that was otherwise spent driving.

I travel to the offices every day and spend from 9:00am to 6:00pm with an hour lunch break in between typing.

The offices are those of a workers’ compensation defense attorney – he defends the companies against claims made of injuries on the job. There are about fifteen people working in the offices between lawyers, paralegals, secretaries, the IT guy, and myself. The office is named Bret Macintyre and Friends, which gives a feeling of inclusion that does actually affect company culture. It’s a tight knit group of people and at first I enjoy the social camaraderie. We all get in on each other’s business and everyone has a role in the tribe that we are. I am the quiet, wise observer in the office.

I arrive on my first day to meet a few of the attorneys and Bret himself. Bret is about fifty, has a short beard that he makes jokes about, because he is indeed the only lawyer I ever meet with a beard. People don’t trust people with beards, but he says he uses that to his advantage. He’s always wearing a suit without a jacket and the tie a little too loose, and toes the line of overweight but keeps it together. He is smart, direct, friendly, and generous.

He’s a good boss.

I also meet the office manager, a short, brash Latina with curly hair and bright red lipstick who talks about nothing but her upcoming trip to Bali. She is harsh, and judgmental, and I am surprised that her condescending tone is allowed to be client-facing. She shows me to my desk with small steps and motions reminiscent of a spokesmodel.

The first day on the job I work half a day. I make friends with the only black woman in the office, an impeccably dressed Amazon named Marcella, who is overinvolved in making me feel comfortable because she hates the night transcriptionist. Seeing this opportunity I confess to her that I’ve never worked in the legal industry before, and I might have questions. She promises me that she will immediately answer all of my questions about the legal formatting and the jargon, and tells me that I should never hesitate to ask her anything and she is happier to make my integration here easier.

Problem solved.

To be continued…

(If you liked “Workers’ Comp Part 1: Lying on Resume” please buy a copy of my first book, Down and Out in California, or support me on Patreon for a free copy)

Other excerpts from Down and Out in California:

Party on the Freeway: Driver #69, Part 1

Driving for a Living: Driver #69, Part 2

Delivering Cigarettes to a Hospital Bed: Driver #69, Part 3


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