Therefore our esteemed Piano Lady's three-week sojourn at Seattle Gourmet Foods, wrapping and packaging really, really fabulous chocolate candies, was not only pleasant, but a bit nostalgic. A temp agency that she had gleaned from the Yellow Pages provided the job, and only a couple of surprises lurked therein, for Teacher.
The first surprise was purely demographic. The twenty-plus temp line-up that Seattle Gourmet brought in yearly to gear-up for the Holiday Season was 100% female and 99.9% non-white (Teacher comprising the only white hiree). Mother-daughter pairs were common. The few male employees in evidence were either office personnel or else involved solely with freight work.
The second surprise lay in how easy an eight-hour shift was. After a decade or two of self-employed single motherhood, Teacher couldn't get over the shock of being done at the end of what had felt like about fifteen minutes' work. "Is this how everybody's been living, out here? No WONDER they all have lives!" she marveled. (The only hitch being that you have to work two of the little buggers to survive, of course.)
The third surprise lay in the handling of the temporary recruits, by the white-collared staff. This is not a diatribe on Seattle Gourmet Foods or on its staff, because the company is probably just as fine as its chocolates. Its name has remained intact for this piece. Not once did the Teacher see any worker mistreated. Accustomed to being the one wearing the suit, however, Mrs. Respectable discovered with a jolt that slavery and caste systems are still very, very alive and well, in America. By the number of black Americans in the temp line-up, the parallel was a little spooky. Workers were never addressed directly. They were herded like lower beings, to be viewed with aversion by any decent, law-abiding citizen forced through unfortunate circumstances to mingle with murderers, transients, and psychopaths. It was a brand new view over the fence, for the Mme. Piano Teacher...and an ironic commentary on just how far American "freedom" has actually evolved. Needs a little practice, kids.
She bit the bullet, however, and although she never picked up on any felony-speak among her colorful cohorts, she did pick up on other interesting things. Her assignment was to fasten little gold bows onto chocolate, spoon-shaped coffee-stirrers encased in plastic wrappers; so while fumbling along, the first thing she noticed was a soft, lyrical music humming to her right. It was Vietnamese. She had never realized how beautiful that language was. Ukrainian--far bolder with rich Slavic gutterals--pattered steadily to her left. Those were seasoned employees, not temps. Smack next to Teacher stood a "Japanese" temp who looked extremely Chinese, spoke loudly (in stilted English) of her Mormon faith, and who never, ever stopped talking. The entire, aurally exhausted group had learned by day's end all about how the lady's mother had entertained Elvis in a hotel room during World War II. The only African in the group was a sweet twenty-year-old named Trixie, an outspoken astrologist. Sadly, she didn't last. Trixie could only work for a few minutes at a time, before growing bored and wandering off. A Pisces, no doubt.
Teacher did discover some remarkable human specimens buried in that drafty warehouse. The Ukrainians--the toughest, fastest workers in the place--included a concert-trained pianist in their number. The woman loved to sing while twirling spoons at light speed. Mere mention of Rachmaninoff sealed her bond with Teacher instantly...it became a veritable cartel. Very lucky for Teach, especially when she found really huge, chewy, yummy chocolate bars being slipped to her under the table.
But meanwhile, our humble protagonist had found a house to rent just a few miles from Aunt Ramona's forest...which, unfortunately, lay about ninety miles from Seattle Gourmet Foods. And since $8.00/hr. would barely have paid for the gas, Teacher had to throw in her lot and go, resting content with warm memories of fellow convicts.