(Chapter 1 of this blog was posted December 14)
You can write, my writer friends said. I’d love a job where I had to do nothing, other people said. But they had never tried it: filling eight hours a day with nothing to do and people checking up on you to make sure you were busy. Busy doing what, no one ever specified.
Each morning, I took my time hanging up my coat. I sipped my tea and ate a muffin at my desk with some random papers scattered about in case someone should greet me. Only my boss ever did and he seemed relieved I had arranged some plausible charade. The women around me disappeared for hours at a time, often together. They were project managers and architects presumably engrossed in the business of organizing space for people like me to bang around in. My attempts at entertainment tested my creativity more than my year in a graduate writing workshop had.
Bill Barry’s Boys (they were furniture movers and all-around handymen) were worth a few minutes’ musings per day, especially Michael of the Huge Biceps. He stopped by my pristine cube to say hello, striking a Rocky-Balboa-Over-the-Door-Frame-Poster pose. I can’t imagine now what we talked about. Maybe he just hung around while I stared, and then, when he finally got dragged away to do some heavy lifting, I wasted a few more minutes cooling off. Some guy named Ben roamed around the office in sled-like white shoes that reflected the overhead fluorescents and took Polaroids of us. My most popular pose was hunched over my immaculate desk. I have no idea what Ben’s real job was, but his work hung in all of our cubicles except mine because Michael of the Huge Biceps unpinned them and put them in his own workspace. Wherever that was. The Other Hot Michael, an office intern, read me the names of all the players on his team roster (he played football for UMass Boston) who cheated on their girlfriends. Between the two Michaels and an occasional candid photo shoot from Ben, the mornings passed.
Another guy returned from an extended sick leave (Jeanne Something Wicked Italian (whose real name was Indrisano) pointed her index finger at her temple and whirled it around whenever anyone asked what he’d been sick with). He fidgeted in his cube and occasionally poked his head over the divider to insist I read Heart of Darkness. “I can’t believe it,” he said. “An English major who’s never read the greatest novel of all time?” Had I been an English major? Had I ever done anything beyond this mind-numbing ruse of putting in a day’s work?
Walter, whose job was related to whatever mine was supposed to be, seemed busiest of all. He was constantly grabbing his coat and dashing out of the office to stem some emergency. Since he was responsible for all telecommunications (read: telephones) already in place, and I would, possibly? improbably? someday be responsible for new phone systems, I thought maybe I could help him out until I was actually needed. When I asked him he said, “Sure. You can tell anyone who asks that I’m in Cambridge.”
We had a brand new Deadbeat Dads office there, and people did ask, regularly, where Walter was. I felt my most productive when I could tell them.
To avoid eating with Steve and Security Bob, I had begun bringing my lunch and stowing myself on a bench on the Common for my lunch hour. Unfortunately, the weather was starting to turn much colder so I hatched another plan. Let Steve and Bob go to lunch. Spend that hour reading and eating at my desk with no danger of my manager stopping by, then, when Steve returned, take my lunch hour and spend it inside someplace warm, Fanueil Hall, Filene’s Basement. Two hours down. Two lonely hours.
One day, as I contemplated where to stash myself from 1 to 2, Cathy Lange invited me to lunch. “A bunch of us are going,” she said. Cathy wore shoes a little like Ben’s. “Oh these?” she said when I asked her where she got them. “These are my boyfriend’s.” Still, I was flattered by the attention. Maybe they like me, I thought. Maybe they haven’t judged me just because my only friends here are muscley boys and my disgusting boss and his friend. So, at noontime, I filed out, full of hope, behind Cathy, the other new girl, Melissa, both Jeannes, and Robin. When I passed my boss and Security Bob, they looked hurt.
“Thought you brought your lunch now,” they said.
I shrugged. The women exchanged just-in-the-nick-of-time glances.
“Come on,” Jeanne Indrisano said. “We only got an hour. We can’t disappear to Cambridge for two days like some people.”
Just as the elevator door closed, Jeanne I. muttered, “Assholes.”
I tried walking beside Melissa, thinking we new, friendless girls could bond. Instead, I discovered she and Cathy had already worked together somewhere else. “I introduced her to her boyfriend,” Melissa said.
“His name’s Frank,” Cathy told me. “And he’s the cutest boy in the Cosmos.”
Jeanne Kelly chose the restaurant: authentic Chinese in the basement of a place in Downtown Crossing.
As soon as we sat down, Robin said, “Listen. This is for your own benefit. You can’t hang out with your boss and Bob anymore.”
Deeply ashamed, I said, “I know –, “ but before I could finish, Cathy Lange said, “They’re spies.”
Jeanne Kelly added: “Anything you say to them gets right back to Sammye and Ray.”
Sammye and Ray were the big honcho managers whose new offices were set apart from us. No cubicles for them. Instead, they got real, glassed in spaces and were solely responsible for the weekly updating of the memo headings that we all received memos about.
Spies? I thought. Of what?
“Take it from me,” Jeanne Indrisano said, “keep your mouth shut.”
So thrilled was I to be their company, I nodded as if they’d just given me the best advice I’d ever received. As if it all made perfect sense. Maybe no one had a job beyond saying something incriminating or reporting that someone said something incriminating. As for me,
I wondered what the hell I could ever say that would get me into any trouble in this place?