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Posts Tagged ‘sports authority’

Pulling Cables

“Hey Bobby, what’s the weirdest job you ever had?”

No one’s ever actually asked me that, but if they did, I’d pause, pretending to think about my answer as if I wasn’t waiting for someone to ask me that. Then I’d say, “Um, I guess I’d have to say…pulling cables.”

The asker, not trusting their ears, would say, “Did you say waiting tables? What’s so weird about that?”

“No,” I’d say. “I said pulling cables.”

“Wait…what?”

During my senior year of high school I scored a plum job answering phones at a billing center for a prominent medical lab–prominent meaning there’s a good chance this lab has tested your pee and/or blood for something at some point in your life. My friend Nikki’s mom worked there and set us up with the gig through a temp agency. The job paid $10 an hour, plus time-and-a-half overtime, and was just 15 minutes from my parents’ house.

The following August I went away to college and when I came back for winter break that December, the billing center had moved offices–it was now about 30 minutes from my parents’ house. They were still willing to bring me back, but I was worn out from my first semester of college–which included a lot of driving as part of my job as the world’s worst traveling knife salesman–and decided I wasn’t willing to commute a half hour each way for three weeks, even for a job I really liked. (Five  years later, I commuted two hours each way for a year to my first job in the city that paid less than I’d been making at the billing center. Even now, living and working in Manhattan, my commute is 40 minutes each way on a good day.)

The temp agency still had my paperwork on file and my contact there set up my friend Sean and me with a three-week gig for the same rate of $10 an hour.

We were placed at an obscure technology company and told to show up the following Monday for some work “pulling cables.” We, of course, didn’t know what that meant (I’m not sure our contact did, either, but to her credit she kept a straight face when she told us). But for $10 an hour–far more than I’d been making selling knives–we were willing to just about anything for three weeks. Or so we thought.

Imagine an office building in one of those industrial office parks, a la The Office’s Dunder-Mifflin. In that office building, imagine a large room off a drab hallway. The room is filled with a constant humming sound emitted from a few dozen computer servers each about six feet tall–the same kind of server someone decries as being “down” when they can’t get on Facebook at work.

In this room, the floor isn’t really a floor. It’s tiled with 2’ by 2’, removable square panels mounted on a series of metal stanchions. Under the floor is a snake pit of thousands of computer cables that connect the servers to…well, I was never sure what they were connected to.

Our temporary boss was a man who introduced himself to us as Robert–but whose office door had a nameplate on it that said “Moshe”–explained that our assignment for the next three weeks was to pull up any loose cables that were no longer connected to anything at either end and put them in a pile off to the side. We were basically there to remove the dead snakes from the snake pit and leave the live ones alone.

The process of pulling a cable always began at the end of a cable which had already been disconnected from a server at one end of it. I would hold that loose end, then wait for Sean to get in position. Sean would remove one or more of the floor tiles a few feet away in the direction we assumed the cable was running–as I wiggled my part of the cable in my hand–in the hopes of locating any semblance of movement created by my wiggling. If Sean saw movement, he would grab that cable and hang on tight, waiting for me to run ahead to the next spot where I anticipated the cable continued, then lift up those tiles to find the same cable and grab it.

This leapfrogging would go on for sometimes five minutes, other times 20, until we could locate the end of the cable and pull it completely out of the floor. We would then put it on a small pile of cables that we had successfully removed. Our dialogue when tracking and pulling a cable would carry on as follows:

“Do you see it?”

“No.”

“What about now?”

“NO.”

“Okay you should definitely see it now.”

“I STILL DON’T SEE IT.”

“Do you wanna just start over with a new cable?”

“Yeah.”

(The conversation might also have included a string of profanity around the word “STANCHION!” if one of us had banged our shin on a stanchion.)

We made it about four hours into the first day before Sean said, “Bobby, I can’t do this anymore.”

“What do you mean?” I said. The work was mundane as it gets, but I wanted to rack up as many hours as I could. I needed the money.

“I can’t do this for eight hours a day for the next three weeks.”

“Okay, fine,” I said. I, too, was growing mind-numbingly bored, but wasn’t as willing as Sean to admit it just yet.

We finished out the first day but on the next morning, after talking it over some more, we approached Moshe/Robert to explain that at best we could do this work for four hours a day. Any more than that, we said, we’d lose our minds.

Moshe-bert agreed to our reduced hours a little too quickly–making me wonder if we were not the first ones to hold the prestigious cable puller position–and we went to work.

Even four hours a day was brutal, as Sean and I reached a state of delirium that no amount of coffee could remedy. Still, we pulled cables as efficiently as we could, and added them to the pile. When we found a particularly long cable, we cut it in half to make the pile seem bigger. There wasn’t a quota as far as we knew, but “doubling up” made us feel like we’d accomplished slightly more than we actually had.

At the end of our three weeks, our pile was disappointingly small. But by then we didn’t care–the small dent we’d put in the snake pit was negligible (the before and after pictures would have looked identical) and I’m sure Robert-Moshe was left wondering what the hell he’d paid us for.

 —

Pulling cables wasn’t the last time Sean and I worked together. Four years later we were new college graduates looking for the dream jobs we’d been promised our entire academic careers. Instead, with our first student loan payments looming, we settled for part-time sales associate positions at The Sports Authority. The application included a drug screening. My former employer, the medical lab, tested our urine.

The job was pretty miserable, as most retail jobs are. I made $8 an hour but Sean, who had previous forklift experience (not a joke), made $8.50/hour.  We spent our weeknight shifts barely interacting with the bare minimum of customers perusing the teams sports section of the store, offering help on items like hockey sticks and mouthguards, which we knew nothing about.

The rare non-miserable “highlights” of working at TSA were: 1) someone in the receiving department had a “hook-up” at a convenient store and brought in free day-old Krispy Kreme knock-offs; 2) the break room had a VCR and three donated VHS tapes, Home Alone, The Mighty Ducks, and Billy Madison, which we watched literally every time we took a break; and 3) wait no, just two non-miserable highlights.

As Sean and I pondered where we’d gone wrong, how we could have a Bachelor’s degree in hand yet no job prospects worthy of one, our only saving grace–our mantra, really–became, Hey, at least we’re not pulling cables.

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