October 12, 2007

Au boulot – on the job with Allen

Posted in Working at 10:27 am by Lauren

Part of the reason I’ve been a little incommunicado since arriving in France is that before coming over, Allen’s boss secured me a job for three weeks at Allen’s office. They needed someone to help do their dirty (more accurately, dusty) work up in the archives, and my situation was perfect for it for a couple of reasons. I speak French well enough that Allen doesn’t have to translate instructions (which is what he had to do when some English-speaking employees were visiting), and I’m a lot cheaper to employ (as an old boss of mine would say) because they wouldn’t have to pay for my airfare, lodging, and per diem. So I got the job!

It wasn’t glamorous work (but it’s not as if I thought I was signing on to draft a peace accord in the Middle East or anything). Put on a white “bluse” or lab coat, go upstairs to the dusty, dusty archives, and pour through boxes that are improperly archived. The most interesting work was doing inventories with Allen because in those cases I had somebody to talk to. But a full week of my time was spent “reconditioning” files. 

“Reconditioning” just means taking improperly archived files and properly archiving them. How, you ask, does one properly archive a file? Well, you go through every last solitary paper in the box, remove all paperclips and other metal (hallelujah, we got to leave the staples in), take papers out of plastic or colored paper folders, replace folders with folded white pieces of paper, label those new “folders” in pencil (not pen!), and label the box. The “best” part was taking the papers out of plastic folders. Apparently if you leave plastic and paper in a box long enough, the ink from the paper will fuse to the plastic. I’m not a chemist, in case this precise scientific explanation confuses you to think otherwise. Not only will the plastic affect the first page, but the second, third, fourth, and twentieth pages will all stick to the one before them in the pile. It makes a lovely noise when you pull them apart, trying to make sure everything’s still readable. Sadly, for all of the boxes that I archived, there are probably ten that won’t be addressed because of time constraints, and in ten years all of the paper will be inextricably stuck together. Fortunately, part of Allen’s team’s job this year is teaching people how to archive properly from the start.

Another task I took on at Allen’s job was copying the number and date of memos onto paper folders. (Note: we do have archival folders in the United States, yes? Why do they not use folders here? Personally folding the paper actually takes some time. And then there’s no tab, so you have to pull out everything in the box to find what you’re looking for.) So, I’d take the 11 X 17 equivalent paper, fold it in half, and then put a memo into it, copying the number and date onto the paper folder. Doing this meant scanning the memo itself for information, which is where I learned the French word for guinea pig (cobaye). I also got to scan memo after memo about precisely how much of a specific chemical compound would give a mouse/rat/beagle/rabbit/guinea pig seizures/foaming at the mouth/lethargy/spontaneous death. (PS to the chemists out there: giving an animal a drug until it dies does not count as “spontaneous” death.)

So, now you know where I’ve been. The upside to all of this is, 1) I got paid (actually, come to think of it, I haven’t gotten paid yet; maybe this week?), 2) I got to spend every waking moment with Allen (no really, every last waking moment – and we didn’t kill each other!), and 3) the free lunches. Oh yes, and I got to practice my French: Apres administration de 50ml, on a observe la mort spontanee chez le cobaye. 

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