January 29, 2001
Replacing Secra


Two women came into the office to interview for my old job last week.

I sat behind the desk, downstairs in Reception Area Hell, and greeted them as they arrived. The assumption anyone makes when they enter the first floor Totem Pole office right now is that I'm the receptionist. It's a logical assumption: I'm the first person you see when you come through the door, I'm cute, I'm wired to automatically smile and say "HicanIhelpyou?" when someone walks in. But that's OK. It's a temporary indignity. Plus it gives me a chance to check out my potential replacements, up close and personal.

The first job candidate endeared herself to me immediately. She arrived five minutes late, looking windblown and freshly-baptized -- she'd been caught in the brutal East Bay rainstorm, she explained cheerfully -- and as she struggled through the front door, the wind blew her long skirt up, revealing a pair of mismatched knee-hi pantyhose underneath.

You've gotta love a woman with the nerve to wear knee-hi stockings under her dress to a job interview.

She was effusively grateful for the hot cup of coffee I brought to her. As she sat in the lobby with the clipboard balanced on her knees, filling out the job application, I watched her surreptitiously blotting her face dry with a Kleenex, combing her knotted hair with her fingers, tugging at her wet stockings. Once in a while she asked me a question: Is there parking here in the building? Has this office been affected by the rolling black-outs? Did I need to see her Social Security Card? She was young and sweet and genuine and totally wrong for the job.

("Run!" I wanted to tell her. "Run like the wind, while you still can!")

Her interview lasted two hours: a full hour longer than scheduled. At first I could hear laughter erupting occasionally from behind Franz' closed door ... but eventually the laughter died down, and after a time all you could hear was the endless one-note murmur of Franz' voice, droning on and on.

When she emerged I said, "How'd it go?"

"I think it went really well," she lied. She admitted that the interview went a bit longer than she'd expected -- "Ordinarily job interviews are boom-boom-boom, and you're outta there," she said, looking slightly bewildered -- but she felt "good" about her conversation with Franz. "He seems like a really nice person," she concluded. And then she grabbed her umbrella and her jacket and hurried back out into the rainstorm, never once looking back, and I thought Well, that's the last we'll see of her.

The second job candidate arrived ten minutes early. I turned around and there she was, standing silently in front of me: an elegant, unsmiling Size 2 with an expensive razor cut and a $1200 briefcase.

"Hello," I said. "Can I help you?"

She looked at me dismissively -- or rather, she didn't look at me: she sort of looked AROUND me -- and she sniffed. "I'm here to interview with Franz," she said coolly -- except that she pronounced his name incorrectly, rhyming it with "cans" instead of "cons." I had just handed her a job application and asked her to have a seat -- she was looking at the clipboard in my hand as though I were offering her a platterful of fresh-squeezed turds -- when Franz suddenly emerged from his office and waved to her. She walked off down the hallway to meet with him, without a further word to me, as I stood there holding the clipboard in my hand.

Her message was crystal clear: I don't waste my time exchanging pleasantries with receptionists.

Her interview lasted even longer than the first one did. When she came out of his office, the two of them were smiling and shaking hands like a couple of reunited high school Prom dates. Her smile disappeared, though, as soon as she looked at me. One minute the smile was there -- thin, forced, tight-lipped, insincere -- and the next minute it vanished completely from her face.

I don't waste my time smiling at receptionists, it said.

She strode right past me and out the door, her $1200 briefcase tucked under one arm, without saying a word. I didn't waste *my* time asking her how it went.

I'm spending a lot of my time these days in the elevator. Half of my day is spent downstairs, supervising the temp/covering for the temp/making sure Franz doesn't chew up the temp and spit her out: the other half is spent upstairs, assimilating myself into the new job. That's the way it's going to be for a while, I'm sure, until a new Executive Ass is officially hired and trained and the umbilical cord is finally, permanently cut between the first and fourth floors.

Whenever I could break free from Reception Area Hell last week, I snuck upstairs and worked on building my new office. It was a labor of pure, unadulterated love. I was starting from scratch: when I moved into the office, it was completely empty except for a battered executive desk and one small bookshelf. For three days I wandered all over the Totem Pole Company, poking into supply closets and digging through abandoned desk drawers, harvesting leftover staplers and stackable "In" baskets and telephone message pads. An empty office near the copy room had a perfectly good bookcase sitting next to the door, so I loaded it up onto a handcart and trundled it down the hall to my office. I found a great swivel chair -- with arms -- in the old conference room. The office manager gave me a wall calendar featuring Japanese tea gardens, and I tacked it up next to the bulletin board.

On Thursday I brought my boombox from home, along with framed photos of the Tots and David, my World's Cutest Nephew coffee mug, my Space Needle snowglobe, my wind-up chicken. (All of the stuff, in other words, that I carted home in a huff just before Christmas vacation.) Later that day I got my new computer and the phone was hooked up. I recorded my new voicemail message that afternoon.

My office had sort of a funky smell when I first started moving in -- a combination of old sandwich and new mold -- so I bought a bottle of Febreeze and sprayed everything down, and then I set a citrus-scented solid air freshener on the floor in front of my portable electric fan and let it run for most of the day. Everything smells like oranges now.

It still looks a little empty in the new office. The bulletin board is painfully empty, and I don't have enough books to fill the scavenged bookcase. Plus my desk is too neat to be believable: it doesn't have that *lived-in* look just yet.

But it will. Eventually.

This morning the grapevine reports that a decision has been made: Franz has decided to hire Size 2.

I'm disappointed. I have a feeling that Knee-Hi Lady and I might have become friends. But I'm not surprised: Franz is a guy, after all. 

Guys are stoopid.

Plus, if you hadn't guessed already, Franz and Size 2 already knew each other before the interview. I think she's the friend of a friend of a friend. (Clearly she doesn't know him all THAT well, or else she'd know how to pronounce his fudking name.  But she already had the proverbial tiny/tastefully-shod foot in the door when she showed up on Thursday.)

But that's OK. I will cooperatively and cheerfully assist in training the new Executive Ass, regardless of how we may feel about each other personally. I'll give her my updated copy of "The Franz Bible" -- a notebook I've put together over the past two years, filled with personal and professional information about Franz, photocopies of all his identification, account/membership/Frequent Flyer/credit card numbers,  lists of favorite hotels and restaurants and personal contacts. (The list of "Personal Physicians" alone takes up an entire chapter.)  I'll show her how to transcribe his voicemail messages. I'll explain the Atlantic Ocean filing system. I'll take her on a tour of the office (both floors) and introduce her to everybody.  I'll show her where the bathroom is, and I'll make sure she's got a building pass and a parking spot and a working key to the front door. I'll do everything I can to make sure she's comfortable and secure and settled. 

And then I'll go upstairs to my quiet, private little window office, pop a Steve Earle tape into the boombox, and close my door ...

... while Size 2 sits downstairs in Reception Area Hell.

two years ago: holy hills bros.

throw a rock