November 2, 2000
Entertaining Fantasy


Every once in a while I entertain a fantasy.

(Well ... OK. I entertain LOTS of fantasies. And I do it a hell of a lot more often than "once in a while." Remind me to tell you about the *Ю僱êrvØ¡ in a Brownie Girl Scout Uniforms* Fantasy sometime, OK?)

Today's fantasy, unfortunately, is work-related ... somewhat boring, probably ... and strictly PG-13.  In my fantasy, it is the spring of 1999 again, and I am still an innocent, carefree receptionist ... answering phones and distributing faxes and greeting visitors at the Totem Pole Company front desk. I am almost idiotically happy. Not only is this the best job I've ever had, in terms of location and hours and duties and self-esteem, but I'm making three bucks more an hour than I've ever made in my life. Plus my little boss brings ME coffee every morning.

Life is good.

Just then, the Human Resources Director Person races into the lobby with a frantic expression on her face, shouting, "Secra!! Help! Franz' assistant is quitting in two weeks: we need *you* to take her place!"

Bear in mind that I've seen Franz' current assistant. I see her when she comes in every morning, looking all perky and pulled-together and ready for anything ... and I see her every evening when she straggles out of the office for home, looking downtrodden and beaten-up and on the verge of total psychic collapse. (Once in a while I run into her at lunchtime in the Ladies' Room. She doesn't think I can see her, hiding in that middle stall ... but I recognize her shoes. And her hysterical sobbing.)  Bear in mind, also, that I am aware that she is just one of a string of Executive Asses who have come and gone in the past year alone. From all accounts, Franz chews them up and spits them out like fingernails.

Is that how *I* want to look in six months?

In the fantasy I tell the HRDP that I "have to think about it first," and I promise to give her an answer the following day. Then I go home and discuss the job offer with David. We carefully weigh all of the important factors -- added responsibilities, added hours, added wardrobe requirements, added stress. We look at where I am in my recovery. At this point I am six months sober: am I ready for something like this?

And of course we look at the money. Is an extra $2.85 an hour worth it?

The next morning I intercom the HRDP. "I'm sorry," I tell her politely. "I'd be glad to pitch in and help until you hire a permanent assistant for Franz, but I'm really happy, right where I am."

She says that's fine, no problem. They'll simply run the ad again. Two months later I'm still sitting at the front desk, happily answering phones and distributing faxes and greeting visitors at the Totem Pole Company front desk ... watching the new Executive Ass straggle sadly out the door every evening ... and thanking my lucky stars that isn't me.

End of fantasy.

The admin staff here at the Totem Pole Company is revolting.

I mean "revolting" in the revolutionary sense of the word, of course. (Except for that obnoxious Marketing Person who spits into her coffee to cool it off. She actually IS revolting.) The admin staff is a great bunch of people ... especially Jen, the Office Administrator. Jen sat in on my interview when I first applied here for the receptionist position. She was my supervisor during my first three months here. She continued to be a friend and a mentor, when I was plucked from the front desk and hurled to the top of the Totem Pole. ("If anyone can handle Franz," she said, "I think you can.")  I respect and admire her, both as a co-worker and as a person.

I bribe her to change the fax toner for me, twice a month.

But lately there have been a lot of changes around the office. New managers, new policies, new procedures, new rules ... most of which are being handed down, in somewhat ham-fisted fashion, from Stan, the new CFO. (Who -- apparently -- is finally allowing his Inner Franz to come out.)

A couple of weeks ago an edict came down from his office: The admin staff is taking too much sick time. Knock it off or else.

This didn't sit well with Jen and her staff, who routinely (and uncomplainingly) put in nine- and ten-hour days at the office, getting critical projects and proposals out the door on time ... who routinely come in on weekends  ... who make late-night runs to the airport to catch the last Fed Ex drop-off ... and who work about a bazillion times harder than me, Franz, The Human Resources Director Person, Matt Lauer AND God, put together.

You can read it on Jen's face: You think we're taking 'too much sick time' now, buddy boy?

Just wait.

Yesterday the entire admin staff called in sick.

(Or at least, all of the pertinent members of the admin staff called in sick. The obnoxious Marketing Person was here, spitting in her coffee per usual: I kept my World's Cutest Nephew mug as far away from her as possible.) Taken individually, the excuses all seemed perfectly legit -- Jen has the flu, Fez the New Receptionist Guy is in the hospital with some sort of shoulder injury, Tina has carpal tunnel syndrome, Jocelyn is studying for exams, etc. etc. etc. -- but when you put them all together they spelled:

S-I-C-K  O-U-T !

Secretly I found it all sort of thrilling. Down With Oppression! Abolish the Capitalist Class! Don't Fudk With the Admins!

But this meant of course that we had nobody to sit at the front desk and guard the gates of the Totem Pole Company. The Human Resources Director Person was out of town. The men in this office wouldn't know a ringing phone from a ringing between their ears. Temps are $25 an hour. There appeared to be only one logical solution.

All of a sudden: *I* was a receptionist again.

But just for one day. And just until they could either find someone else to do the job or until they could locate our truant admin staff and drag them back into the office by their steno pads. But it was sort of unexpectedly cool to find myself sitting in my old chair again ... even if it was for only a few hours.

(And even if it did sort of feel like I was crossing a picket line.)

There was some bad stuff about being a receptionist that I'd forgotten all about. I'd forgotten about the blank, dismissive look that some people automatically give anybody sitting at any front desk, anywhere, any time. ("Answering machine with boobs" is what the look says.)  I'd forgotten how frantic it can get when all ten lines are ringing at the same time, and how coma-inducing it can be when none of the lines are ringing at all. I'd forgotten about hang-ups, and wrong numbers, and fax machines screeching in your ear, and people who consider being placed on hold an affront to their delicate little sensibilities, and oily salesmen trying to worm their oily way past the gatekeeper ("I need the serial numbers from your copier right away!")

I'd forgotten how visible you are, sitting there at the front desk. No munching on Fritos. No cleaning your ear with a paper clip. No Radiohead. No spinning around and around in your chair, as fast as you can for as long as you can stand it.

No working on your website. (Ahem.)

But here's what else I'd forgotten about: I'd forgotten how much I love the phones. I'd forgotten how great I am on the phones. I'd forgotten how nice it is to be TOLD how great I am on the phones. I'd forgotten how slipping into that big fake cheerful *receptionist voice* every morning -- even when you're feeling lousy -- has a funny way of raising your spirits. The next thing you know, you really are feeling cheerful ... or at least slightly-less-lousy. I'd forgotten how energizing it can be, sitting right plunk in the middle of all the action. I'd forgotten how cute our UPS guy is.

And I'd forgotten how good it feels to feel good at work.

Now as I sit here in my cramped little Isolation Booth again today, miles removed from everybody else ... blearily transcribing another eighteen-minute voicemail message all about interoperability system standardization levels ... I'm composing an entirely different fantasy in my head.

In this fantasy, the Human Resources Director Person comes running into my office with a frantic expression and shouts, "Secra!! Help! The receptionist is quitting: we need *you* to take her place." At my present salary, of course. And with Jen as my supervisor again.

I don't even have to "think about it overnight" this time.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Special *Top-Secret* Message To You-Know-Who-You-Are:
I got your voicemail message today.
Yes, I'd love to help you pick out a You-Know-What for You-Know-Who!
I'll write to you privately, OK?
[Just don't let You-Know-Who read your e-mail ...
... and don't let her know you've been talking to her MOM. K?]

one year ago: long journey home

throw a rock