Life Lesson 2: Office Overflow

Tuition for CEGEP was a joke. It amounted to a token sum of money. The books were the only thing that cost real cash, and my parents covered me on that front. University was another deal entirely. That was going to be expensive, and although my parents were insistent I get a degree, I was stuck paying the shot. That could only mean one thing: summer jobs. The years of relaxing, fun-filled summer vacations were at an end. Now I had to spend those months of freedom working to stay in school.

Getting a job proved to be a whirlwind of index cards on help-wanted boards and lots of tiny classified ads. If you’ve ever gone that route looking for a job, you’ll know that the world’s economy seems to be based entirely on dishwashers.

I eventually found something promising on a board at school. It was for an office overflow job at a medical-book publisher downtown. “Office overflow” amounted to anything and everything the regular staff couldn’t fit into their day. That included filling book orders, changing light bulbs, and churning out a million billion photocopies. For five dollars an hour, three days a week.

What astonished me about the job was that I was some kid off the street with no references or experience to offer, yet I was put in a position of trust that supplied me with countless credit-card numbers from people all over North America who were trying to order healthcare books through the mail. Had I been a little more dishonest, there was a fortune in fraud to be made.

Instead I contented myself with liberating office supplies that could assist me in my early small-press ventures. File folders, labels and staple removers were mine for the taking. And with a postage machine at my disposal, I never bought a single stamp while I worked there. I applied my burgeoning creativity to coming up with all sorts of names for fictional recipients of promotional material to cover my own postage expenses whenever I cooked the books. In all, I must have scammed them out of six, maybe seven dollars. I was a criminal mastermind.

My masterstroke came when I was instructed to throw away several boxes of unwanted literature the bosses had accumulated in their offices. Instead, I flagrantly disobeyed and stashed the pile in an obscure corner of the office. On my lunch hours, I would hit various used book stores in the neighbourhood and sell them for spare change. Even the used book stores didn’t want anything to do with most of them, but I managed to unload a few. Maybe as much as four dollars’ worth.

I wasn’t fired so much as cut back until my job no longer existed. I went from three days, to two, to one, to nothing over the course of my final month there. Once the school year started, I realized I’d never been paid my 4% vacation fee that all employers are required to cough up for services rendered. I wrote a letter asking when this would be forthcoming. The letter was passed on to the accountant, who was cooking the books on a much higher heat setting than I ever could. Her letter back informed me that I had been listed as a supplier, not an employee, and therefore no additional monies were owed. She hoped, she concluded, that this cleared up the matter for me.

I let it drop after that and never saw my 4%. I may have screwed them, but they screwed me so much harder. The lesson?

Know what’s coming to you, and make sure you get it.

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