A little over a month ago, I decided to try out some advice and take a well-paying job for a year or two to save up, pay off that debt, and to get back into those pricey acting classes. I haven’t lost complete hope in this plan, but October did not prove a promising example.
Putting on the Clothes
Every work day, since the end of October, I would rise at 6:30, get dressed (in corporate clothes I never thought I’d own), and get on the Path train with the sleepy yet pushy 7:45 crowd. I then took the NRQ to 5th Avenue 59th and pile off train with all the other people in corporate clothes they never thought they’d own. In that neighborhood, with those levels of companies, I’ve learned there are the people who take the train to work, and those that don’t have to, and the ones that do are not very happy about it.
I’d round the corner and head down to 57th past a piece of construction that everyone loved to complain about and reach my office building which stands looming above Madison Avenue, clearly trying to compensate for something. I’d see the lobby for the last time until 6pm, and head upstairs. When I got there, I made sure to run in the bathroom and sneak an apple before my boss spotted me, otherwise she’d asked why 10 things had not yet been completed (even though I was 15 minutes early and couldn’t charge for this time). While grabbing this apple, I empty the dishwasher (while trying not to think too much about the college degree I have), and make sure there is enough diet coke in the fridge for the addicts. Otherwise, panic will ensue, shit will get real.
If I haven’t run into my boss yet (for the sake of privacy, let’s call her Marsha. Sure. Marsha), I run to the mail crate and lug it inside.
I begin separating things into piles for each person and their preferences. Fine, easy enough. And yet, there’s a strict time limit on this since Marsha fears that someone will have to see the mail in piles (!!!), and feels that is an “unprofessional” sight for an employee to see, a concept she fears most in life.
When it’s time to carry the mail around, I have to call Marsha to sit at my desk because she has been yelled at many times if the CEO has to open the door for himself when he arrives. You read that correctly. Full grown man. Refuses to open doors.
After sprinting around with the mail, because Marsha is always in a hurry, I come back to her panicking about a light bulb being out but, not to worry, she has called the building and they are dropping everything they are doing and changing the bulb before CEO-man arrives, because he HATES broken bulbs (Doors and darkness. Got it). If they don’t arrive in 10 minutes, she says, call them again and tell them to hurry.
After this, she gives me about five more passive aggressive instructions then scampers off. Poor Marsha has a lot of anxiety. I am chained to the desk until CEO-man arrives, I open the door for him and double check he has his precious fruit water in the fridge (which I am currently enjoying at home), otherwise, he yells at poor Marsha. (Updated fear list: Doors, darkness, dehydration.)
Rising Above the Crazy
I normally can take tasks like this in stride, as I wasn’t expecting an artistically or intellectually fulfilling jobs when I took a receptionist position. And yet I do believe that there are financial offices out there (and even plenty of people in the office I recently left) that are not robots. I simply didn’t get to work with them (or speak to them for too long without Marsha leering around the next bend).
I had a lot of down time at that desk, especially after some tension had occurred, to analyze why people in this situation seemed so afraid all the time, especially CEO-man. He has all of the dollars. He has hoarded so many of these dollars, that he has actually thrown off the balance in the economy of who else can have any of the dollars. But CEO-man don’t care, he will sit in his corner office full of modern art, gold coins, and occasionally some other shady things I will not go into in this post (Big Brother is always watching, I even had a camera next to my desk).
Once you have focused your life on gaining as much as possible, then your constant fear is losing. It isn’t to support a cause, a family, or contentment (which many employees there ARE doing), but for CEO-man, it is a number. A constantly growing number that is always beyond your reach. This energy trickles down his assistants, which trickles down to Marsha, which ends at me. And our energy (the 1950’s-esque team of women feeding the office) is saturated by this fear of losing and a fear of disorder that would indicate we are losing. Therefore, over the years, Marsha has lived in fear of broken light bulbs, a lack of cold fruit water in the fridge, or the wrong lunch being delivered (I once kept her from throwing away four unopened salads when a restaurant “goofed” up an order. It was nothing short of a tantrum.)
After a scandal erupted about CEO-man and the press started calling, I decided it was the final “what the hell am I doing here” straw and gave my notice. And now I am at home trying to break the pattern that my body and brain went into each morning, the one that kept me from feeling like myself or experiencing any emotions other than the fear around me.
When I left, Marsha had no expression behind her eyes when she said, “We’ve appreciate everything you’ve done for us here, now please hand me your key card.”
I wanted shake her, and tell her that she deserves better than this. The world will not end if there are no granola bars for a day, the delivery man does not need to be ripped apart if they send an extra salad, and NO ONE actually thinks that certain food-smells are unprofessional! It’s okay to relax and be proud of your work instead of living in fear that someone will disapprove of your decisions.
As a temp, I often get a unique view into these worlds. I’ve been in PR, Marketing, Finance, and non-profit offices all over Manhattan. A small world mentality brews is every type of company, but I know some companies are capable of seeing each day for what it is, and while remembering that people spend a very large percentage of their lives inside those walls. It’s okay to act like humans, you will not lose all the dollars if you do.
As I start to feel like myself again today, and continue the search for yet another position that makes more sense for me (while balancing my actual theatre career), I say good riddance to the fear that was encouraged where I worked. And yet, I feel sorry for people like Marsha who are programmed to fear people like CEO-man. Someday you will walk out onto Madison Avenue for the last time, the same way I did last night, and realize that what you did was important, and the inadequacy he projected on his office, was all an illusion.