It was twenty years ago and I had one summer left before I would be gallavanting off to a SUNY campus to continue with my college education. I was twenty-one years old and thanks to a two year stint that I lovingly refer to as my period of WHAT THE HELL? I was a little late with my higher learning.
My days as Assistant Manager of Shed House were over and while I contemplated another ride on the retail express with all of its perks like minimum wage, $0.15 raises, working nights and weekends, no health benefits and two week notice of sick days, I ultimately decided against it. I wanted to make good money during daylight hours at a grown up job. I signed up with an employment agency and spent a couple of hours interviewing with them and completing their applications and questionaires.
Do you smoke? No.
Do you drink? Define “drink”
Can you type? No.
How many words? None.
Can you work on a computer? No.
Do you know shorthand? No.
Can you operate a multi-line phone? No, but I’m very good at talking on the phone for hours. Does that count?
Can you operate a fax machine? What’s a fax?
Have you ever done transcription? Not on purpose.
Do you have any skills whatsoever? No.
What kind of work are you looking for? Anything where I can earn a lot of money in a short period of time.
What is your strongest attribute? I look smokin’ hot in a mini skirt.
In less than a week, the agency called me and surprisingly enough, did not place me in a strip club but instead, found me a position as a secretary in the front office of a machine tool and die company. When I asked my placement counselor whether my lack of experience in typing and stenography and dictation and computers and all things office related would affect my employment, she had a coughing fit, told me she had another call waiting, wished me luck, hung up on me and I never heard from her again.
I was nervous. I had never worked in an office before and had no idea what to expect. I tried to dress conservatively, which meant I wore a skirt that did not go up all the way up to my thigh, I only unbuttoned the top two buttons on my blouse and my high heels were three and a half inches instead of four.
In my defense, I was young and stupid and had taken full advantage of my mall employee discount at Lerner’s and G&G when buying my wardrobe. And it was the eighties. And did I mention I was young and stupid?
Anyhoo … I got lost on the way there and my nerves were shot to the point that I wanted to throw up by the time I stopped at a Friendly’s to call them and clarify directions. The woman with whom I spoke was very nice and told me not to worry, everyone got lost their first time driving there. She was laughing and so friendly that I decided to put off throwing up until at least lunchtime.
When I finally arrived at the building, I walked into the lobby and tapped on the window of the front office. I saw two women sitting at desks and they both looked up at my arrival.
Kathy greeted me with a smile and I knew immediately it had been she who had been so nice to me on the phone. She was a gregarious, bubbly, married woman in her forties who took me under her wing right away. She was known as “Mom” to everyone who worked there.
Kathy and I clicked.
Joan was known as Grotesque Resentful Bag Lady Who Smelled Like Stink and Ate Small Animals When No One Was Looking. She was in her fifties, single, obese, homely and an all around bitch who took one look at me and wasted no time in calling the agency and loudly demanding my replacement immediately as in NOW. She didn’t even know I couldn’t type yet. When she found that out, she about had a seizure. When I asked her how to turn the computer on, she sucked in her breath so hard she swallowed her tongue. When I asked how to put someone on hold, the veins in her forehead exploded and for the rest of the day, I had to avert my eyes to the blood running down her face.
Joan and I didn’t click.
Kathy led me back to the shop to meet “the guys” and I can sum up my experience of meeting one hundred young, sweaty, good looking blue collar workers that day in two words. EGO BOOST.
I have to say, I enjoyed working there, even if it meant I had to deal with Joan and her ugly personality and ugly toes that stuck out of her ugly size 12 orthopeadic shoes. I had always lacked self-confidence and while my days working at Cavages Record Store and then at Shed House had boosted my self-esteem when I was younger, I was now coming off of a two year detour in my life in which any inkling of self-confidence I had ever had had been stomped on and ripped to shreds. But that summer I blossomed into a twenty-one year old knock out which opened up a whole new world of possibilities and I was working in a place where testosterone literally seeped out of the walls and ran amuck and my estrogen was more than willing to jump right into that muck and see what was up.
The door from the front office to the machine shop turned into a turnstile as one by one, workers found some excuse to stop by, whether it was to copy a blueprint, fax a part order or stand at the front window beside my desk because he could have sworn he saw some vagrant hanging out by his car so he better just stand there and keep watch for awhile to make sure nothing happened to it and by the way, what was I doing that night?
It would drive Joan crazy. Just batshit crazy. And that made Kathy very happy.
Kathy and Joan didn’t click.
And because I was born with not only a gene that caused me to inflict all sorts of mental and emotional anguish upon myself, but also a birthmark on my forehead that said “Attention losers, line up here” I didn’t date the nice guys. No, that would have made life easy. I never did easy. I always looked for the quickest way to make my life excrutiatingly hard. So I dated Asshole and his brother, Jerkoff and his other brother, Dickweed. And Kathy would just sigh and steer Perfect Catch in my direction and I’d bypass him and jump into Douchebag’s car. And Kathy would shake her head and I would moan “I know! I know! I’m such a moron” right before I walked out the door with Waste of Air.
And Joan would just sit in her corner and molt and watch her feet grow and gnaw her fingers and every so often she’d call the agency with her bloody stumps and demand to know when my replacement was coming.
Believe it or not, in my spare time I actually became good at my job. I was a quick learner and because I also had the gene that caused me to be a perfectionist that moonlighted as an overachiever, I did my job carefully and I did it well and once I mastered one task, I moved onto another. I did so well that the owner asked me to stay on and as tempted as I was to keep earning money and dating good-looking scum, I declined. I wanted to go to college – I wanted to learn stuff and live on my own and have the opportunity to date collegiate scum for awhile and see how they measured up.
So I only worked there for that one summer and during that time, I broke a computer, an adding machine and a couple of toner cartridges. I learned how to work a fax machine, how to compile and enter data, how to prepare invoices, how payroll worked and how to sound like a sexy 1-800-ALL-PORN operator on the intercom when announcing the arrival of the lunch van.
Hey, Joan? You know that “little hussy” you treated like shit? The one you thought was too stupid to answer a phone, the one you constantly berated and insulted and patronized until she cried, the one you knew perfectly well was within earshot when you declared to the room that she would be pregnant and on welfare inside of two months? She went off to college and wound up with a 4.0 GPA and graduated Summa Cum Laude and become a responsible and productive member of society before marrying and producing two little future responsible and productive members of society.
And she learned how to type.