Saturday Single No. 552

I was reminded this week of one of the briefest jobs I’ve ever had. My pal j.b. asked folks on Facebook about their short-term jobs, and I was one of a few people who responded. And as I thought about the job in question, I realized it was not only the briefest but one of the strangest.

From mid-1996 into the summer of 1998, there was some chatter among folks I knew that some opportunities to play music full-time (and get paid for it) might come my way. So I was temping just to keep my options open, mostly in various offices for a bank that did business from the Midwest on out to the West Coast. It didn’t pay all that well, of course, but it was enough to squeeze by. (I sold a lot of books and ate a lot of macaroni and cheese.)

Anyway, by the time the autumn of 1998 came sliding into view, I could see that the music opportunities were not going to be there, and I made my way to a collection agency to become a skip tracer. I got hired but learned that there would be a two-week gap as they found enough new skip tracers and collectors to make up a training class. So I took one final two-week assignment from the temp agency.

I ended up working for the same large bank in its mortgage operations, located in a building in Northeast Minneapolis, across the Mississippi River from downtown. There were about ten of us temps starting on the same Monday, each of us at a desk that was empty except for a pile of file folders. Each thick folder, our supervisor explained, was the paperwork for a pending mortgage. Our job was to go through each file and make certain that all the places that required signatures actually had signatures on them. The supervisor suggested that we should be able to get through about eight of the applications an hour.

I lasted a week and a couple of hours. It wasn’t the dreariness of the work that caused me to leave early (although the work was stupefyingly boring, leafing through files of thirty pages or more to see if fifteen or so signatures were in their proper places). What got to me was my back.

My chair was uncomfortable, my desk was awkwardly sized, and I could not find a good match for the two, so I ended up hunched over my desk to go through the files. By the time I got to Friday, I had a painful knot in my spine just below the shoulder blades. I thought maybe with a weekend of rest, I could get through the next week. After that, I’d be off to the collection agency.

But by the time of our morning break on that following Monday, my back hurt worse than it had when I went home on Friday, so I told my supervisor that I just couldn’t stay. And I left, took four days off, which pinched the budget but eased my pain, and went off to work at the collection agency the next week.

I hadn’t thought much about that six-day gig for a long time, and then j.b.’s question the other day brought it to mind. I certainly never connected that gig to the cascade of mortgage fraud that came to light about eight to ten years later. But I remember looking at the carts full of folders of mortgage applications that we temps were reviewing, and I recall thinking that it was odd for so many mortgages to be flowing through that temps were needed to make sure the papers were signed. And I thought it odd that we temps had what seemed to be a responsibility that would be better handled by permanent staff.

I now suspect that elsewhere in that building were one or more rooms set aside for the wholesale approval of those mortgage applications that we ten were reviewing. The banking corporation was in fact one of the banks that was caught up in the mortgage crisis that set in around 2006. It wasn’t one of the largest offenders, but it was involved. And if my suspicion above is correct, that means that for five days and two hours, I unwittingly played a role in the 2006-2008 meltdown of the American economy.

So what tune do I have for that? Well, I dug around looking for tunes about fraud and thievery and even turning a blind eye. I thought about the 5th Dimension’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Sweet Blindness,” but then my thoughts fell on a different Nyro tune. So here’s Barbra Streisand’s cover of Laura Nyro’s “Hands Off The Man (Flim Flam Man).’ It’s from Streisand’s 1971 album Stoney End, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.

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