The rain is back. We’ve had two very hot, dry weeks, but now the thunderstorms and torrential downpours have returned. The difference between Florida rain and New England rain is this. In New England the rain arrives, settles down and doesn’t leave. It can rain for days. It does rain for days, sometimes weeks. Most annoying of all is when you’ve worked all week, rain arrives on Friday afternoon, stays for the weekend like an uninvited houseguest, then heads out the driveway with you on Monday morning, off to Nova Scotia or out to sea. You are left sitting in your windowless cubicle, wondering if you’ll ever see the sun again.
I have yet to see an entirely rainy day in Florida. Dark clouds roll in swiftly, thunder rumbles, a downpour unleashes, then the storm moves on just as quickly as it came and you go to the beach. This particular Monday morning, I remembered to bring my sneakers and a T-shirt to work. I was planning to walk in Wyman Park at lunch time. I had a full day at work. The owner of the company was preparing for a meeting in Austria on Friday. We had to close the books for June, make journal entries and adjustments, and prepare financial statements.
This is the second temp job I have had where I was asked to be responsible for financial statements that will be used in bank negotiation for large loans. I am a lowly temp. I have over thirty years of experience in bookkeeping, am familiar with six accounting software programs, and ran my own business. I have no benefits and am being paid thirteen dollars an hour by the temp agency. This is the state of employment in post-recession America. I choose to do this because I am focusing on my writing, chasing a dream of one day making a living as a writer. I am obsessed with writing and can no longer work fifty weeks a year, forty hours a week in a cubicle. My husband is supporting me in this endeavor, working his ass off in residential construction during a hot, humid Florida summer. I am grateful and determined to succeed, for the both of us.
Driving from Boynton through Delray, the clouds turn ominous, the rain pours down. I’m glad I have an umbrella. As I pull into the parking lot in Boca, the rain stops, the sun comes out, I no longer need the umbrella. This is Florida.
It rained again at lunch and during the drive home. Then the sun returned in time for me to take a walk around the neighborhood before dinner.
I got out of work at 2:15. No rain yet. I stopped in Delray, changed into my sneakers and rolled up my capris. I parked at the north end of the beach and headed off to some unexplored territory, past the volleyball nets and the sailboat rentals.
This is my first time walking along the far north end of the beach. Most of Delray Beach is open to the public, no houses line the waterfront. But along this stretch of beach, the houses return. This is what the beach looks like on a hot summer day, two days before the Fourth of July.
The houses are boarded up. I assume the owners are now at their beach houses in Nantucket or the Hamptons. The temporary bookkeeper pretends she is on a deserted island. She has the beach to herself.
The accountant came to the office today. He made some adjusting entries. The boss called from Vienna. He asked me why the entries were made. Why did the corrections need to be made? The original entry was made in January. I was not privy to the reasoning behind the original entry or the adjustment. We were on speaker phone, I waited for his reply. Silence. I said it again, “He didn’t explain his thought process to me. He said it was a wash, not a problem, and he corrected it.”
“I really don’t understand why it had to be corrected. Why was it wrong to begin with? It’s throwing off the profit margin.” Silence. I waited for what seemed like five minutes but was probably fifteen seconds, then said, “I can’t help you with that, I was living in New Hampshire when the original entry was made.” What I wanted to say was, “I’m a goddamn temp. Adjusting entries and financial statements are above my pay grade.The accountant is making a lot more money than I am. He’s in charge, right?””
Years ago, just before the Great Recession and the Lehman Brothers crash, I was unemployed for fourteen months. I was laid off from a job, due to a corporate buyout. The accounting department was absorbed by the corporate offices in Portland, Oregon. The accountants on the West coast would do their work in addition to our work. This is the state of corporate employment in America. One bookkeeper doing the work of two bookkeepers.
I temped for most of those fourteen months. One six week assignment brought me to a town hall during property tax season. I was collecting real estate taxes along with receiving payments for water and sewer bills. It was an old building in the center of a picturesque New Hampshire town. I worked behind a bank teller window with metal bars. I was expecting Bonnie and Clyde to drop by at any time. I fielded a lot of complaints, angry taxpayers or people who needed an extension on their payments because they too had lost their jobs.
Two hours into my first day at work, a woman wanted her property reassessed. I had never worked in a town government situation like this. I knew the assessor’s office was next to the tax collector. I got up and walked over to the assessor, a sour looking woman who clearly didn’t like her job. “I have a woman here who would like her house reassessed. She feels her taxes are too high.”
The tax assessor put up her hands, as if I was about to slap her across the face and she needed to shield herself. “That’s your job.” She stepped back from me, hands still up, protecting herself from this work I was sending her way. She turned and left the room.
My job? I’ve been here two hours, I’ve never worked in a town hall, I’m a temp. Isn’t your title Tax Assessor? I went back to the bank teller window and directed the woman to the door which said Tax Assessor. I’m not sure if anyone helped her, but she never came back.
I finished work in Boca at 2:15. I could have walked the beach, it was nice out. Instead, I drove home and spent the rest of the day editing my second novel, more determined than ever to succeed at writing. I took a short walk after dinner.
For more thoughts on work in America, check out my favorite Opinionator, Timothy Egan.