Or at least, some branches of government.
After less than a week of temporary employ, I was today fired from the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions. My sin: unprofessional conduct. How this came about is, in my opinion, faintly ludicrous, but here, for your enjoyment, is the full tale.
Near the end of my holiday, I was contacted by my temp agency about a potential job. They were not sure I would get it, as the position required an inteview and I was, at that exact moment, in a different state; nonetheless, after describing it as a general administrative position and right up my alley, they promised to do their best. The following day, I received a second phone call, informing me that the client, upon reading my CV, had declared me a suitable employee for the next two months. I would start work on Monday at 9 AM, and thus was the matter settled.
In fact, on the day itself, I arrived early. In due course, I was shown around, introduced, taught the rudiments of using an internal database and then, after approximately two hours, given a very large whack of photocopying indeed. For those unfamiliar with corporate or legal-grade photocopying, understand that it is no mere button-press, on-your-merry-way exercise. Instead, you are presented with a folder (or folders) the approximate thickness of two good-sized Bibles and told to go forth and multiply, which activity involves standing beside a very large, very loud machine for upwards of an hour and not doing anything else. In my case, the magic number of copies was 23, with a side-order of exquisitely time-consuming tricky bits. This project consumed the remaining five hours of Monday, all of Tuesday and just over half of Wednesday: roughly seventeen hours spent in a narrow hall beside a photocopier.
In order not to go insane during this time, I listened to my iPod (having first, as a matter of course, asked for and been granted permission to do so), read snatches of a book and toyed with assorted newspaper puzzles (the crossword, sudoku) rescued from beside a nearby recycling bin, none of which impeded the actual copying. Rather, with no other pending work, it made sense: I copied, collated, highlighted and filed as ordered, making the occasional wry remark as passing office-dwellers exclaimed over my large collection of paper and otherwise getting on with it. On finally completing this mammoth task, I was given more photocopying, such that the promised moniker of ‘general administration’ was beginning to sound a bit thin: five large folders, each to be copied five times. That took the rest of Wednesday and most of this – that is to say, Thursday – morning, whereupon, after a brief excursion to a nearby court (20 minutes, tops), I was given another file to copy.
Needless to say, I was not thrilled; but copy I did. Idly, while the pages printed, I wrote out two poems from memory onto pieces of paper – one anonymously attributed, one by e. e. cummings – and pinned them beside the machine, reasoning that, as I was spending a lot of time in its general vicinity, some friendly words might be nice. Job done, I returned to my desk, typed a letter (or rather, typed less than ten words into an existing document template), printed it and sat, waiting for my boss to return from wherever it was she’d gone. When she did return, it was with a smile and the news that, coincidentally, the head of HR wanted to see me. This was the man who’d welcomed and inducted me in on Monday. Off I went.
Inside his office, I sat down. Stern-faced, the head of HR lost no time in informing me that my supervisor was not happy with my performance and unprofessional behaviour. I had, he said, been chilling out to my iPod, clearly not focused on photocopying. During this time, I had also dared to put my feet up on the bench, a charge I did not deny, although able to see how this, at least, might have caused some contention. Furthermore, I had made disparaging remarks about photocopying, which caused me to blink a bit, given that:
(a) so had several other employees, usually in sympathy to my workload; and
(b) this is a psychologically healthy reaction to photocopying, especially if one is also laughing at the same time. (I was.)
He then drew two pieces of paper from a nearby pile and pushed them, with deliberate slowness, across the desk: the poems I’d put up.
‘Are you,’ he asked, ‘responsible for these?’
‘Well,’ said I, ‘ I wrote them up, yes, but I didn’t write them.’
‘You were seen,’ he said gravely – if somewhat redundantly, as I had just admitted as much – ‘putting these up.’
This behaviour, I was told, was unprofessional. My disdain for the position and the work it entailed were such that I was to be let go, immediately, before the end of the day, as they – being, one assumes, the HR manager and his immediate fellows – would much rather pay somone who was happy to be there, and incidentally, I needn’t come back to his office again. The actual quality and timeliness of my work was not discussed; pointedly so.
All of which gave the distinct impression that, from my CV, the head of HR had been expecting rather a different sort of person: pencil-skirted and sleek, perhaps, with an eye to bureaucratic formality, and not the sort of person to wear a leather jacket or ThinkGeek shirt.
‘Fair enough,’ I said.
Following this frank exchange of views (and trying, admittedly, very hard not to grin, and sometimes succeeding) I went back upstairs to locate my now-ex-boss. Smiling prettily, she agreed to sign my timesheet, laughed over our joint inability to add up my hours correctly, and in all aspects behaved as though she had not just dobbed me in for a dressing-down and firing. She said it had been a pleasure working with me, but this I found hard to believe, given her stern disapproval of my behaviour as recently expressed elsewhere.
In the doorway to her office, I stopped, hand on the frame, and looked her in the eye. I am quite able to endure being dressed-down for possessing corporate eccentricities, because the absurdity of it makes me grin inwardly; but I do not appreciate the jovial pretense that such has not happened – or rather, the smiling assertion of the velvet glove that the iron hand is nothing to do with them. It is for this reason that, rather than walking straight out, I smiled in turn and related the following (truthful) anecdote, which I will approximate here:
When my father was fresh out of school – and this is a while ago, because my father is in his seventies – he took a job at a bank, as was done back then. In his spare time, he wrote odd limmericks on some of the bank notepads. Nothing rude; just poems. Passing the time. And one day, the bank manager – you can imagine, a large, older, balding man, run to fat – called him into his office, demanding to know why my father was writing obscenities on bank property. And standing there, my father decided – not out loud, but in the privacy of his thoughts – that anyone who would call a limmerick obscene simply for being a limmerick was a humourless person not worth working for. And very soon after, he quit, and found happiness elsewhere.
I finished by saying that I, apparently, was following in his footsteps, except for the bit about choosing to leave. My now-ex-boss smiled her same, pretty smile, except perhaps it was a bit tigher this time, and said ‘Really?’ in what, under different circumstances, might have passed for a genuinely curious tone of voice.
‘Really,’ I said.
And then, without further ado, I went back to my desk, packed up my bag, put on my coat and left.
And that, as they say, was that.