Travails of the temp worker

Réal and I agreed to temp for Ken in the "back office" at his 1-800-DRYCLEAN business while he flew to Seattle to see his new grandson.

We reported for our job training on Wednesday evening, having exacted dinner as the price of our compliance. After a fine dinner accompanied by abundant champagne, we settled in for our lesson. Ken demonstrated how to run the necessary computer program and how to put identifying tags on each item. He showed us where the user manual was (as if we'd actually RTFM!) and printed off a cheatsheet. Piece of cake, right? Right!

Friday night we reported for duty. After some difficulty gaining access to the office (Ken's house) — it helps if you use the right key — we turned everything on and set to work.

tag the bag
Put the first tag on the customer's bag

Ken's whole system depends on putting a numbered tag onto each item, cross-referenced to the customer, identified by scanning a barcode on their green pick-up bag. The bag itself gets the first numbered tag, which is the key to matching up all the customer's items after they have been cleaned or laundered.

use two staples
Use TWO staples, not one

We were given very specific instructions: "Use TWO staples to attach the tag." Not one, not three, TWO. Every day has its color, and Friday's tags are lavender.

The first order got completely screwed up, naturally. After entering the first item — dry clean » shirt/blouse » maternity blouse » white » solid » polyester — I prematurely clicked "Finish" instead of "Next Item," resulting in the computer spitting out an incomplete invoice for this customer. There were more items that should have been entered, plus I had forgotten to enter the bag as an item.

We had forgotten the instructions for how to correct mistakes, and that wasn't in the cheatsheet! "We can figure this out, can't we?" We decided to just start over, putting aside the invoice that would have to be voided.

getting a little silly
Maybe it's a sari

Don't you just hate software that thinks it knows more than you do? It insisted on using its idea of what the numbers should be, not what they actually were. Before long, everything was all out of synch, and we were forced to call Ken for tech support. Apart from being necessary to avoid completely screwing up his business, it made him feel helpful.

Then we encountered what we decided must be a tablecloth. Oh, no! The computer wants to know if it is "small," "medium," or "large"! How are we supposed to know? That wasn't in the cheatsheet either. Discovering that the tablecloth was big enough to use as a sari, we decided on "large."

Shirts, pants, shorts — these things we could cope with. There were buttons on the screen to code those. But what about this floor length, solid black, velour-like garment of polyester and spandex with faux leopard fur collar and cuffs? The cheatsheet provided no guidance on how to identify exotic garments. Another call for tech support.

The software isn't particularly well-designed, but that turned out to be the least of our problems. More nettlesome were issues like deciding what color things were or even what to call them. There were buttons for "green" and "light green" but none for "really dark green looks almost black." There were buttons for "sweater," "vest," and "turtleneck" but not for a sweater-vest with a mock turtleneck. And, chauvinistic as it may sound, some women's garments simply defy categorization.

by jove we've got it
By Jove, I think we've got it!

Eventually we worked out a process and by the time we got to the last bag we had finally discovered many of the heretofore secrets of the software, such as where it kept hidden the complete list of brands (you knew there had to be more than six!) and where to find rich descriptors for patterns, like "jungle" or "cartoon." We were no longer temps, we were professionals!

The secret to our success — or failure, as the case may be

A key breakthrough was realizing that we had not faithfully replicated the conditions of our training. Fetching a bottle of bubbly from the refrigerator turned out to be just the right thing to do. With a glass in hand, everything went smoother!