I’m Basking in this Afterglow that results from a year of hard work and dedication to my job: showing up early, leaving late, committing to working non-paying, weekend-long events, etc. It’s been about a year-and-a-half since the events of the horrendous marketing meeting and, almost like a phoenix, I’ve risen from the ashes of Former, New-Guy, Cast-Out Christian to become Productive, Always-Chipper, Often-Accepted Christian. Having been given these new responsibilities, I can’t wait to get started on my first big assignment: to plan, recruit for and work a large event at DePaul University’s downtown campus. I have been assigned this task on a Friday and will have the weekend to think of promotional ideas and strategies to begin implementing at the start of the next week. On top of all of this, I have been offered a temporary workspace—an office vacated by someone who recently left the company—so that I can work without distractions for the duration of my planning.
I’m bottling every morsel of excitement while sitting inside my new office while I figure out where to even get started. Excitement becomes no-clue-what-I’m-doing. No-clue-what-I’m-doing becomes slight frustration. Frustration becomes panic.
If you were to stand outside the corner of Randolph and Wells in downtown Chicago at this exact moment, you would see this perfect grid of glass and steel framing divided into separate square offices. Inside each of these offices would be a confident, successful individual who is working away diligently on any number of creative projects, except in one tiny square of the grid where an unexperienced Mexican kid is pacing back and forth and looking up at the ceiling while silently saying to himself, “Shit, shit, shit, shit.”
In Comes the Receptionist, sly grin on her face. I know I’ve mentioned before that she has always seemed mad and, to the best of my knowledge, I think I’ve yet to see her expressing anything but. I know she can sense my feeling of worry and, well, honestly, she’s always seemed like she’s basked in this kind of misfortune of others. She asks how things are going, if I’ve had any time to work on my very important (her words, not mine) assignment.
Any time? Jesus, lady, I’ve been sitting here for hours upon hours losing my mind on this thing. I nod without saying a word, afraid I’ll start rambling on about how I haven’t the slightest clue of what I’m doing, how I feel I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned in the past 1.5 years, how I want to get demoted so that I don’t have to deal with this anymore.
She responds to my silent nod with this little gem:
“Feel free to bring in stuff over the weekend to decorate this place with – it looks depressing without anything in it.”
What? I don’t have anything to move into here! Am I even supposed to bother? I’ll be here for, what? Like, two weeks? Three, tops? I mean, everyone here with an office has stuff inside their offices. Tons of stuff, really—picture frames, posters, plaques about God-knows-what, magazines and books strewn about and just … stuff. Things like, I don’t know, this little Zen tray with water and these smooth stones. I know I’ve seen bowl-fulls of potpourri in some of the women’s offices. Maybe I’ll get some of that. Ooh, and I remember my boss had these sweet ficus plants arranged so that they cover the wiring of the computers and speakers.
To Crate and Barrel it is.
I Find Myself inside this huge store with no idea where to begin looking. I start flipping through magazines they have inside, to get some sort of creative, design-minded inspiration. I’m so nervous of somebody I know seeing me here reading this magazine, like a co-worker or past acquaintance. I put the magazine down and walk over to the first thing that catches my eye.
“Excuse me, how much is this one here? I can’t seem to find the tag.”
“This is a wonderful choice, by the way. My sister just bought this the other day, Beautiful piece, here,” says the helpful Crate and Barrel employee.
“Yeah, it is a very nice, uh … very nice picture frame.”
“Let me check for you.”
It is pretty beautiful, I suppose. Very sensible, would look great inside the office. I’ll probably get a lot of compliments from … well, from the women, I guess. Did she say her sister just bought this? I’m sure it’s a unisex picture frame. They make those, right? I’m sure they do. I mean, she likes it, and she has a pretty decent fashion sense from what I can tell, so she must be reliable. Right?
Holy Christ! Eighty bucks for a picture frame? Almost ninety when you include taxes? No way! I start to laugh but turn it into a cough super-fast. But still, I mean, Jesus, this lady cannot be serious. It’s a picture frame. How much if you remove all of the cocaine, diamonds and jewelry from the hollowed-out part in the back of it? Are there similar versions of this frame whose suede backing isn’t from a unicorn’s hide? I want to tell her that that’s just ridiculous, that there’s no way I would spend that much money on a single item, ever. Instead, I respond:
“Oh, okay. Yeah, seventy-nine ninety-nine, okay, yeah, I’ll take it then.”
But I need more things. So I buy more, too. A smaller, stainless-steel, less-pricey picture frame, these solid, chunky blocks of wood that I’m assuming are used to separate books on a bookstand or similar flat surface with so that the books can, you know, stand upright or whatever, this hollowed out, bone or rhino horn-looking thing (pen holder?), plastic coasters, a wooden box divided into four odd-shaped compartments, a leather-covered notepad and not one, but two insanely expensive ballpoint pens, all costing me a few hundred bucks.
My plan, mainly so that I don’t get caught and ridiculed, is to convert my temporary office into a thoroughly livable, maximally efficient and downright desirable workspace over the weekend. I have two frames at this point that need pictures in them because, you know, my co-workers won’t believe that I have any relation to these happy, cheerful black families whose pictures are already in here. At home, I dig deep through closets and boxes. The only thing I can come up with is a picture of my sister, around two years old at the time, and another of my then-girlfriend.
It gets a little awkward, maybe even sad, when I’m informed that this larger picture frame, the one that has put me seventy-nine bucks and ninety-nine cents back, is meant for something like a couple’s thirtieth or fortieth-year anniversary. Yeah? Well, guess what, damnit, I’m out almost ninety bucks with tax and refuse to wait three decades before I can use it.
I Arrive at The Office at half-past noon on Saturday with a box-full of these odd, completely exaggerated items. I start with the coasters, placing both at my temporary desk. Nice, they look good there. People can put down their drink when they come in. Their Diet Cokes or whatever.
I place both picture frames looking at me, one with a picture of my little sister and the other of this middle-aged black family since I forgot the other picture I was supposed to bring. I start placing these books I’ve brought from home on a barren shelf; S.P.I.N. Selling by Neil Rackham, personal journals, various design books and … The Rise and Fall of the Aztec Nation. What? Whatever, it’s an old book and the title is nowhere on the cover or spine, just put it in with the rest.The books are supported by these solid, chunky blocks of wood, which I’ve since come to learn are meant to keep moths out of closets.
Next is the hollowed-out, bone-looking thing that I think is a pen holder. Inside goes each expensive pen, placed so that it looks like I just used it to write some important piece of information down on my elegant, leather notepad, which is placed smack-dab in the front of my computer. Down to my last item, I can’t seem to figure out where the hell I’m going to put this wooden box, let alone what I’ll even put inside of it. I place it on my desk and decide to dig through stuff back home to bring back on Monday.
I Show Up to Work on Monday and sit down in my office. I dig through my book bag and pull out the following items for my wooden, four-compartment box: an old watch with no battery, a letter from a childhood sweetheart and a rolled-up tie in case I, I don’t know, need to put one on. I seem to have again forgotten, possibly lost, the second picture, but before I can process this, my boss walks in.
“Wow! This place looks great! Oh my goodness, is that your daughter? Oh, she’s so precious!”
“Well, no it’s actually my sis…”
“And, who are these, your friends?”
Yeah, this smiling, middle-aged black couple are really good friends of mine.
She sits down before I manage a response and we begin to go over what she expects of me in regards to my assignment.
The assignment! In my materialistic stupor I completely forgot about brainstorming for this huge, all-too-important, totally-catastrophic-if-it-goes-even-slightly-wrong assignment. Thankfully for me, she expects me to have an overall layout, schedule and roster filled within two weeks time. She doesn’t want me to overwhelm myself, to not put too much emphasis on tiny details as they have a way of working themselves out, to have fun with this.
While she’s providing me with what feels like this monologue of unnecessary office banter, I can’t help but think that I still don’t fit in here, how this whole thing feels so forced. It was my first day a year-and-a-half ago and, man, what an awful day that was. I was so overwhelmed by this necessity to be accepted by a group of peers and I can’t help but feel the exact same at this moment. I mean, I bought almost three-hundred bucks worth of crap to give off this image, so that I could fit in a little better. It starts to hit that I still don’t feel quite connected to this much larger force.
As my boss walks out, these feelings start to sink down to the deepest pits of my stomach. I’ve sold out everything I’ve ever respected just to fit in here. I sit back in my chair, check my e-mail, surf the net and, well, heal, thinking to myself Thank God I kept those receipts.