Monday, August 19, 2013

Airline Food

You will know me on any airplane. I will bring my own food.  That’s right, folks, one of my temp adventures was at a caterer for a large airline. They prepared the food, and took it to the plane, and barring any fights, time out for a beer/weed/sex, or other hazards specific to the mission, loaded it on the plane.

A merger meant that the airline caterers had to hire about 500 people. So a temp had been brought in to support the human resources division throughout the process, and I was to replace that temp while she went on vacation. I had a day for her to train me.  

Cindee was a pint-sized Diana Ross transplanted from New York to the south who claimed to be Haitian by birth. She and her husband had both worked for a very large bank and been transferred South before she was laid off. If she weighed 50 pounds it would be in full, soaking wet winter attire and heavy jewelry. The first thing she did was to shut the door to the office and proceed to badmouth the actual HR department there.  
What? He's never seen food on a plate?
The office was in the back right quadrant of the building and had two doors, one opened onto the hallway inside the building. To its immediate left was the office for the company’s two HR employees, across was the cafeteria where employees could eat three meals a day for free, and to the right was a perpendicular hallway. Turn right and you walked ten feet, made a sharp right and walked eight feet to an outside door. Turn left on that hallway and there was a gate that led to the area where the meals for the planes were prepared. 

Directly opposite the office door was another which led into the hall by the back doorway. People could come in the back door of the building, enter the hallway, and then knock on that door of the HR temps office to inquire about a job. Cindee said HR wanted us to ask if they had applied on-line, and if not to tell them that was the first step. Apply on line, then we would call them to come in, complete paperwork, and send them for a blood test. If all went well at that point, we would call them to come in for the job offer and orientation. It didn’t take much time to see Cindee made up the rules as she went along. The two HR employees, Selena and Tonya, seemed to shut their doors all day.

And so she ran her own business, gave me an hour’s worth of training and seven hour’s worth of complaining. Most of the complaining was about the company, and the rest was to inform me of her superiority to the HR department. After all, she and her husband had worked in the bank’s corporate offices, though they’d laid her off. Still she was ‘corporate,’ and from New York, a boost to her esteemed status. 

She also had a couple of annoying habits. When she talked, at the end of a sentence or phrase, she’d say “MmmHmm” with high, rising accent on the Hmm as though she were assuring you that what she just said was true. She also kept a space heater blasting on the highest temperature possible (in 95˚ to 100˚ humid deep South blazing hot August misery,) and had a chronic snort. What do I mean by chronic? I counted 38 disgusting snorts in 60 seconds. Did she stay thin from cocaine? I told myself it was just one day, then I’d have a week of work in peace. She acknowledged that it annoyed some people, but explained “I have sinus, mmmHmm, I do, I have sinus.” 

Trying to get the work done wasn’t easy. People came to the door that led to the outside to get a job. They came alone, in pairs, in groups, in whole families and knocked, beat, or banged on the door or the window beside it. If I were on the phone, or unable to answer right away they would bang harder and yell. “I know you in there, dammit. Now open this door, damn it, and get me a job.”  

Opening the door was like a game show. You might find someone dressed in proper business attire for a job interview, but not often. It was anything from night club attire, shorts, flipflops and tube tops, or huge high heels, sheer clothes, three inch nails, swimsuits, baggy pants, tank tops. Many times I opened the doors to find an entire family, four generations, in Indian garb including saris, turbans, tunics, etc. all wanting a job. Or a Vietnamese family right out of central casting for Apocalypse Now               

They begged me to give them a job. I understood. I was temping there myself without knowing how long I would be earning a check. But I needed to get them to understand the proper procedure.

On the morning of my last day I told Selena and Tonya to feel free to ask me to do or help with any job and get their money’s worth out of me. They replied they planned to keep me longer to help. Great news. Besides, I really liked them and felt that they knew their temp Cindee was a bit of a wild card. 

A wild card who was surprised to see me when she returned. I wasn’t any happier about being back in her snorting, bitching, blazing inferno. Cindee continued to operate by her own rules, HR kept their door shut, and when employees begged to get their family members hired, she was quick to make it happen. And just as quick to gloat about the cash gifts she received from them. Yes, she showed me the money. She also managed somehow to avoid work for hours visiting pals around the other side of the building and then put 20 – 30 hours of overtime on her time card each week. So I guess she was as superior to all of us as she said, because she was raking in the big money.

As I was given more responsibility by the HR team, I found process improvements easily. So tasks that Cindee had spent ten or more hours on, I had completed in two or three. This does not make a new temp popular with the old temp.

There were also phone messages to be retrieved, and Cindee found them very entertaining.

“‘Yeah, I just want someone to know I’m going to file a sexual harassment because yesterday before my shift started I found T.J. in his truck behind the building having sex with Natalie and me and T.J. been together for a month now and he said he wasn’t having sex with anybody else. So I need to file for sexual harassment.” 
“Yeah, uh, yeah, you know, like, I came in, and I went for my drug test and all, but I haven’t heard back from you, and if it’s about the drug test, well, I’m on some strong antibiotics and painkillers that might cause a problem.” 

“Hey, this is Mary, my husband might try to pick up my check tomorrow, but don’t let him, cause he and my boyfriend got in a fight last night and he stole my car and it had my weed in it.” 

And so on. The fights were another source of amusement, especially after they had to tell their side.
“Okay, I was doing my job getting the trays out, and I might have been talking to someone and Judy came by and thought I was talking to her. Then a tray just accidently by itself slid off a shelf and hit her on the back of the head. So when I went out to load the food on the plane, she came out there and took a drink and shook up the can and made it spray all over me. I don’t know why.” 

“Yeah, well, I was pushing a cart to the kitchen like my supervisor told me to and I heard Mike saying, ‘Hey, that’s Judy the baldheaded whore.’ Then he hit me with the tray on my head trying to mess up my wig. I asked him very politely to leave me alone. Later I went to help load the plane. It was hot and I was going to have a Mountain Dew, but somehow when I opened it the whole thing just went everywhere and at the same time Mike just happened to walk up to me and got it on him. I thought it was bad that he just happened to walk up to me at that time.” 

Yes, the entertainment was endless. For me, anyway. Cindee loved to tell me about her son, Michael, who was a seven year old genius. Yet even a genius has problems. Michael had to spend a day in the dental chair having eight cavities filled. Cindee explained that eight is not a high number but actually normal for children. But the day after she began to panic about the effect all those mercury fillings would have on him. Nothing I said would convince her that there was no mercury used, so she called the dentist’s office. 

“Hello, this is Mrs. Jones, and my son Michael was there yesterday because he had eight cavities filled, mmHmm, eight. And somebody should have called to ask me about the mercury, mmmHmm, because we are holistic people, that’s right, I said holistic. MmHmm, and we are not candidates for mercury,MmHmm . So we’re gonna have to sue the dentist for putting mercury in Michael’s teeth. Yes? What’s that? Look we’re not stupid, I told you we are holistic, MmHmm and we are Jehovah’s Witnesses. And you, did you hurt him, cause he was tired when he got home, MmHmm. What do you mean? Oh. Oh, okay. Oh. Yes, he brushes his teeth. MmHmm Once a day. Hmm? He gets a piece of candy at night when he goes to bed. No, it’s just a piece of candy, it’s not enough to cause cavities. MmmHmm, well, I can’t talk anymore, I’m at work. 

Nothing more was said about the mercury. Or the dentist. Or Michael’s teeth. 

Then there was the excitement of Cindee and her husband taking young Michael to see The Karate Kid. 

“We went to see The Karate Kid, mmmmHmm, we took Michael, and you know he’s very advanced in school, all the teachers say he needs special tutors and classes, mmmHmm, because they can’t keep up with his intelligence level. MmmmHmm, so he takes Chinese lessons, and we went to the movie, and he knew everything the Chinese people were saying, so he translated for us for the entire movie. Can you believe it? It was awesome! Everyone in the theater kept turning around and staring at us, and you know why. 

Me: Because they don’t like people talking during the movie?

What? Oh, you’re so funny. No, they were staring because they couldn’t believe that a little black boy is fluent in Chinese.

So, the hiring rush was soon completed meaning Cindee and I were out of a job. Too bad because there were many characters there – the secretary from Detroit who dressed in shiny, silver lame, disco attire, another with an office full of every kind of stuffed toy and at least five dozen full candy jars, the guy who performed  breakdancing demonstrations if he thought we needed a smile, the Cambodian woman who wore a t-shirt with the recycling emblem and the words “I Recycle Boys,” and more.

Well, enough for now. I’m flying to San Diego next week. It’s five hours, right? I’ll make a couple of sandwiches. For five bucks, cash only, I'll make one for you.



Sharon Buchbinder said...

Holy cow. You have nailed the airline catering industry. I worked as a "lead salad girl" for a company eons ago. I had BA in Psychology, I spent a lot of time analyzing heads of lettuce. Mind-numbing work at 5 am. I was so bored, I did bird calls. My boss did not find me as amusing as my co-workers did. Great post. :)

David Herrle said...

Excellent and amusing post! "I counted 38 disgusting snorts in 60 seconds. Did she stay thin from cocaine?"

Denise Barratt said...

Enjoyed the story Jennifer! You really saw the bright side of things!

paulie punch said...

Why have you not further developed this character ?
This is good , and interesting , I like the way you think , and eat ,just want to say that I am listening and learning .Do not stop . Everyone could relate to airline food and "Memoirs of A Misanthrope" as in true stories inspires . continue kindly, I am listening ?

Jennifer Perry said...

Paulie Punch! You have revived and restored my will to complete this! Thank you and I'll have a new post up soon. May I add you to my list of people to thank when the book is published?