Friday, June 19, 2009

Death to Bouncy Balls

During my years staffing USY on Wheels I had the best summer job in the world. Unfortunately, I finished my classes during school the last week of April and Wheels didn't begin until the second or third week of June. That was an eternity. I went to a temp agency in Hamden, hoping to earn some money for the trip. That and my parents didn't want me doing nothing for five weeks. I was fine with that, but ended up losing that argument.

I aced the typing test and did well in the interviews, but there was nothing available. I couldn’t understand why nobody wanted a smug 19-year-old. It took another week to find a job for me at Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It sounded okay - a known company where I would probably be doing some computer related task.

Nope. The temp agency thought I'd be perfect for a job in their warehouse.

I showed up for my humbling first day and was told about my job. There were Health Care expos across the state that Blue Cross had involvement in. The warehouse stocked all their literature - brochures, booklets, pamphlets and other information. The presenters at each expo would call in the amount they needed, and we would fill the order. It seemed simple enough.

Just like any health expo, job fair, college fest or car show - it wasn't the information that drew people in, it was the free stuff. Key chains, buttons, coozies - this is why people would humor you and listen. I know this first hand as my father used to go to conventions and return suitcases full of swag. Pens, fun shaped tablets of paper, hats and chachkies all with the drug company's name and logo. Once he came home with gallbladder and stomach action figures.

This year, Blue Cross would hand out bouncy balls. Not just any, the kind that triggered a small red light to illuminate when you bounced them. There were hundreds of cases of these balls. When you opened a box, each ball was individually wrapped in plastic, like a happy meal toy. The powers that be were furious about this. The idea was for the balls to be free inside the box so the average consumer wouldn't have to struggle with a plastic wrap. Upon being introduced to the balls, I realized that this would be my main job. I was to open each box, cut out each ball, throw away the wrapper, place the ball back inside and reseal the box.

I forget the break down of how many boxes there were, but at the time I calculated somewhere between 70 and 75 thousand balls. That’s 75,000 red lights, all triggered by the slightest touch. I could see those lights when I closed my eyes. I could see them in my sleep. I later learned that I was the fourth person that the temp agency sent and the only one who lasted more than one day – one guy didn’t even make it through his lunch break.

The thought of quitting entered my mind but I didn’t have a choice in the matter. My dad dropped me off in the morning and picked me up each night. I survived the job by dragging the task to a snail's pace. It was a six week sentence for a job that could have probably been finished in two if I was focused or monitored. I made the most of my breaks. The only other employee in the warehouse was the delivery driver and I got to have a break for every cigarette he smoked. I used all of my breaks to read. By the end of my time at the job I had finished nearly five books.

Occasionally there would be a large delivery that would require an extra hand and I got to head out on the road with the driver. We would make small talk while I attempted to stick my head out the window to avoid his second hand smoke. During one long drive, he revealed that he just got out of prison and I was convinced I was in imminent danger.

"As soon as you get in there, you stab someone," he warned me, "and finish the job, or else you'll look like a punk."

I silently nodded back to him as if I was taking mental notes. The only thing I noted was not to anger this man who I shared a truck cabin with, miles from anyone I knew. When the subject changed to NASCAR I was able to breathe again, even though all I knew were Dale Earnhardt jokes my college friends told. He asked who my favorite driver was and I quietly said Dale.

“The Intimidator,” he laughed. “Good man.”

It must have been the right answer because two days later I received a Dale Earnhardt pen that he got from "a guy who got them cheap." All in all, he was a pretty nice guy for an alleged murderer.

The job was easy, the pay was alright, and I probably wouldn't have found anything else to occupy my time before my real summer job. I took a couple of the bouncy balls as a souvenir. As soon as I got home that night, I took the drivers advice and stabbed a ball with a pair of scissors. I pulled it apart, ripped out the light and smashed it with a hammer. I didn't want to look like a punk.

No comments: