I am intimidated by the 14th floor of our building. We call it the Mausoleum due to the deathly silence — quiet as the grave — that greets you upon entering its inner sanctum through the twelve-foot-high mahogany doors. The air is incredibly cool and still up there; amazing considering the way that the heat rises throughout the rest of the building. The color palate — medium grey upon darker and lighter shades of grey — even suggestes a funereal quality. The furniture is stark and muted, and even the potted plants are those sad little breeds that have learned to live in the absence of natural light. The ceilings are soaringly high and your footsteps have a way of echoing in their vastness, even though the floors are carpeted.
Our highest-level executives work up there, in the Mausoleum. The atmosphere of the place certainly lends itself to the no-nonsense attitude displayed by the executives, who seem to have all the humor and liveliness of exquisitely-dressed undertakers. The smattering of times that I’ve been up to the 14th floor, I haven’t heard a single conversation taking place nor have I seen a single soul roaming the hallways. I make my way, quietly and discreetly, towards my destination. There, I have only once seen the actual person I’ve come for. Every other time, I’ve left my papers at her desk and made a quick exit, afraid that my naturally clumsy or over-talkative tendencies will take over at any minute if I were to see an actual person up there.
The only time I’ve ever seen any of the actual executives in the flesh is during their infrequent sojourns down to the 13th floor, where I work, to ensconce themselves in the state-of-the-art Executive Boardroom. I’m not entirely sure why it’s located on our floor — I’m guessing you’d run out of room pretty quickly on a floor when the offices are the size of my townhome, though, so maybe that’s why. It’s a positively posh little setup they’ve got, all floor-to-ceiling windows with a breathtaking view of the entire Houston skyline — from Reliant Stadium to the Medical Center to Downtown and all the way over to the Galleria — flat-screen plasmas, wet bars, set of kitchens and serving areas. It takes up a good quarter of our entire floor and, I imagine, is quite impressive to the right people.
On the opposite side of the elevator lobby from the Executive Boardroom is a grand staircase. It looks like something out of the Queen Elizabeth 2. It leads from the 13th floor up to the 14th. Above it, midway between the two floors, hangs a hideous piece of mixed-media artwork that probably cost entirely too much money (as is usually the case with corporate office art). And at the top and bottom of the staircase are two ornate, gilt-trimmed, bird’s-eye-maple grandfather clocks that — once again — probably cost more apiece than I’ll make in three years. Immediately after my first of many interviews for the job, as I was being escorted back to the elevator lobby, I made an incredibly lame joke about the company’s apparent predilection for grandfather clocks. It was not only lame because it was completely unfunny, but was made even lamer by the fact that I actually used the word “predilection” in conversation. (Side note: this is a problem of which I’m fully aware, thank you very much, Richard and I don’t do it on purpose; inside my little cranium, I tend to think in [probably archaic] prose instead of in normal, human conversation, which may be why I’m obsessed with quotes out of everyday conversations. Did that just make any sense?)
The great thing about this staircase is that — much like the hallways of the Mausoleum — I’ve never seen a human being on it. I’ve used it once, but it felt awkward and wrong, like taking your shoes off at the front door of the Biltmore and just wandering about in your stocking feet, picking your nose and scratching your ass. I guess that what I’m really trying to get down to here is that everything so far seems very much for show — and I don’t mean that in a bad or negative sense. I just feel sometimes like I’ve been dropped into the middle of court at Versailles and am trying to slowly learn my way around. There seems to be a carefully orchestrated method to every conversation or look or throat-clearing, a million hidden intricacies and subtleties that I fear I’ll never learn. There is an unwritten dress code guided by the beautiful, swan-like foreign women, to whom fashion is an effortless afterthought. And everything is cold and beautiful.
Those of you who know me (and haven’t just stumbled onto my blog through some odd twist of Googling) know that I’m not exactly the pomp and circumstance type. I’m the nervous, giggly, clumsy, overapologetic type. And although I love my job, I live in constant fear of the day when my “professional” side gives way to my inner Woody Allen in a hideously embarassing and public way (yes, more embarassing than falling flat on my face in front of my coworkers or calling my mother an asshole in front of my boss’s boss). I’m not cold or beautiful. I feel like an impostor most of the time.
But at least — for the first time in a long time — I’m enjoying my job. Who cares if I have to be an impostor for a while? A little glitz never hurt anyone, just as long as I can come home at the end of the day, throw on an old T-shirt, drink some cheap Mexican beer and get it all right back off my chest.