My career at Whitewater Marine

For my first assignment from a temp agency in Seattle, they sent me to Whitewater Marine, for Tuesday-Friday this week.

I'd never heard of them, so I googled and learned that it's a shipping company, the kind that has real ships. They run ginormous cargo carriers up and down the Pacific Coast, transporting everything on earth, whatever anyone pays them to ship.

Sounds more interesting than insurance, I thought. And it was.

On Tuesday morning, I showed up twenty minutes early, and the address turned out to be a smallish, old industrial building at the waterfront. When I say 'waterfront', you might envision Seattle's famous and scenic piers on Puget Sound, but — no. This waterfront was a deep, green, kinda smelly canal, far from downtown.

The building is surrounded by skyscraper stacks of shipping containers, and huge cranes, and trucks loading and off-loading, and big burly guys driving triple-size forklifts. Men often pop inside the office to use the john, upstairs, when the sanican outside is occupied.

A 30-something guy-in-a-tie introduced himself, then sat me in front of a computer. He showed me how to input codes that represent specific shipping containers, and also the codes that represent specific pallets, huge shrink-wrapped stacks of whatever's being shipped — tons of lumber, tens of thousands of tampons, etc.

In addition to status and recipient, I input the length and width and weight of everything, along with codes indicating exactly where it would be secured on the ship. All this info is so other software could figure how to wedge a little more into the vessel.

As the boss showed me what to do, I had questions, because I'd rather get the data right than wrong. He had answers, and eventually there weren't many questions left, and it started making sense.

By late in the morning, I'd mastered the very tiny portion of the business the boss had shown me, and I began quietly humming at my desk. Nobody was near enough to hear.

At one point, I remember wondering whether the shipping containers are airtight. Would you suffocate inside one? I might have wondered this out loud, but not loud enough that anyone answered.

On and on went my work — more papers, more keystrokes, probably too much humming, until all the info from all the papers had been input into the computer.

"Oh great," said the boss when I told him. "Guess we're caught up."

"What else can I do for Whitewater?" I asked, and he showed me how to file last week's paperwork. "Sort it in order by pallet and shipping container, then paper-clip the handwritten forms to the printouts of what was input off each form."

And I did exactly that. The boss hadn't said to compare the input forms to the output printouts, but there are words and numbers on the papers, and they were always the same, except a few times when a line or two from the input form was missing from the printout — which meant that some stuff hadn't been keyed into the database.

Being a conscientious dipshit, I brought this to the boss's attention. His response was what you'd expect: "Damn, we gotta fix that," and he fixed it, using software unknown to me because hey, it was my first day.

All afternoon I filed hundreds and hundreds of pages of paperwork, and five times I brought errors to the boss's attention. Thought I was doing pretty good, because you don't want the ship to dock in Alaska and have the longshoremen discover three pallets of tampons that weren't on the manifest.

The boss never said, "Good job, mate, catching those errors," though. Which seemed peculiar, and is possibly pertinent to the mystery.

Whitewater is a family business that's been around for a hundred years, and I met the company's vice president who's the founder's great-granddaughter, but she didn't seem like an asshole. Everyone was cordial, the coffee was free and good, and at the end of the day the guy who'd been my de facto boss said, "Thanks, Doug, see you tomorrow."

I said good night, walked to the bus stop, came home, and an email was waiting for me from the temp agency.

Whitewater Marine just reached out to let me know they will not need further assistance.

My feelings were slightly and momentarily hurt, and I wondered what the fuck.

At no time in my brief career at Whitewater had I said anything politically impolite, nor had I ogled anyone's ass. I am, by habit, not an ass-ogler.

I'd made no offensive jokes, nor, to the best of my recollection, any jokes at all. Perpetually aloof, I hadn't made small talk with anyone, because I never make small talk, period.

Perhaps I'd annoyed them by finding those errors.

Perhaps they were put off by my 'business casual' attire — sweat pants with a slightly stained polo shirt.

Or by the mask I wore all day, when everyone else was faced.

The entire staff looked fit and athletic, so maybe they didn't want a fat guy in the place, even for a few days. The men's room was on the second floor, up a narrow, steep stairway, and struggling my way up and down had left me kinda sweaty and heavy-breathing every time.

Or perhaps it was exactly what I'd been told — they'd simply realized they didn't need a temp at this time.

Whatever it was, my four-day assignment had become a one-day assignment. I would've preferred having someone say goodbye, but — oh, well. The bank balance is dwindling, and I will need a paycheck some time, but you know I'd rather be in my recliner.

To the email from the agency, I replied, "OK." Then I stayed up past midnight eating beef jerky and watching old movies. Slept late this morning, and woke with a smile and nowhere to go.



  1. My guess is, Whitewater was expecting a *modern* worker. By that I mean, one who barely does any work. You did 4 days of modern worker work in one day. They will probably ask for you again in the future.

    1. Well, I ain't washing that polo shirt, and I'm stupid enough to go back.

    2. I should think that after a brisk game of polo the least you could do would be to wash off the horseshit. Not all of it: just the larger chunks.


    3. I am chunky and horseshitty enough it'll never wash off.

  2. Nice narrative, good story...Eel

    1. Thank you, sir. I seriously can't tell any more, whether something I've written is good or just self-wallowing crap. I would've pegged this as the latter, but what do I know?


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