I’ve been at the new job for exactly three months now. I suppose this is the threshhold at which I can cease referring to it as my “new job,” although it still feels new to me. I’ve held a lot of jobs in my life, starting with the first job I ever held — as a freshly-minted 16 year old — which remains the best and most enjoyable job I’ve held to date. In chronological order:
- Bookseller at Barnes & Noble:
- I made thorough use of the employee discount and spent every single paycheck on books; they practically had to force me to leave the store each night after closing.
- Two of the greatest summers of my life, although I have an abiding fear that eventual melanoma-related repercussions will prevent this job from ever being the “best” on my list.
- YMCA summer camp counselor:
- Another awesome summer, spent with some truly awesome kids.
- Intern at Continental Airlines:
- Yet another great job; Continental treats even its lowliest employees like golden gods.
And then we begin the downhill slide:
- Hostess/waitress at a truly foul Mexican restaurant in Waco:
- I only lasted here for two months, due to excessive and pervasive drug use and sexual harassment amongst my coworkers; never before or since have I encountered such awful excuses for human beings, content to work at a slummy Mexican restaurant for the rest of their lives, to spend every cent they earn in a shift on drugs and booze in that same night and to spread disease throughout their incestuous little circle of waitstaff as if in a contest to see who can be infected with the most venereal diseases at the same time.
- Member sales representative for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo:
- Not as bad as it sounds; it just means working 18-hour shifts during the entire Rodeo season while subsisting on funnel cakes and various meats on sticks.
- Hostess/receptionist for a production company:
- I don’t want to go into exactly what this particularly brutal job entailed, but I worked twelve hours a day, five to six days a week, for next to no money while being promised a promotion any day now which, of course, was next on the list on my boss’s To Do List after shitting actual rainbows; when I left, I managed to take that same bitch of a boss down with me — God, that felt good.
- Account executive for a payroll company:
- About as exciting as it sounds, except that I met my fiance there and made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, who are all still around today.
- Senior benefits analyst for a seriously fucked-up Fortune 1000 company
- Benefits manager for a non-profit:
- Just read some of my earlier blog entires for anything you need to know about this extremely short stint at one of the craziest places to ever exist; now I know why normal, intelligent people DON’T work for non-profits.
- And now, my current position at a very large and very global company:
- Without giving too much away (since they would fire me in a heartbeat if they knew I was writing even one letter of one word about them — I don’t flatter myself, though, they’d do the same to any of their employees), the company is the largest of its kind in the world and is very successful…but very weird.
In this pantheon of jobs, there is one that holds more significance than any other — AES. At first glance, it would appear to be a very boring job, surrounded by boring people. You’re a senior benefits analyst? For an electrical contracting company? What’s a benefits analyst? And what’s electrical contracting? And, in many ways, it was a very boring and generally typical job. I came in each morning at 7:30, took an hour lunch at noon, spent most of each day on conference calls, and called it quits each day at 6pm. Nothing special on the surface. But this was the job that carved me into who I am today; this was the job that I compare all others to and the one from which I will never recover. This was the insanely abusive boyfriend and the great, unrequited love all bundled up into a business card.
There are many, many mornings when I wake up and think to myself, “God, the traffic to the Galleria will be awful this morning; I’d better get going fast” although I haven’t worked for AES in a year. Sometimes, when I’m sitting in my office at the new job, I think of going to the kitchen for coffee and the kitchen I visualize in my head is the old AES kitchen, with its cozy table and dim, sophisticated lighting. Things amuse me throughout the day, and I start to get up from my chair to go and share my amusement with a friend down the hall, but that friend is miles away at another office building in another place and time. I find myself constantly comparing every aspect of the new job to AES, as I would compare the builds and techniques of old and new lovers.
I remember my first day at AES in the kind of crystalline way that other memories are seldom held in my mind. It’s clearer to me than the first day of high school, the first day of college, the first time I kissed a boy: all other firsts pale in comparison to this first. I was nervous, obviously, and overwhelmed by the corporateness of it all. It was like meeting a blind date who was impeccably attired in an Ermenegildo Zegna suit with Caesare Paciotti oxfords when you’re accustomed to dates with slouchy fratboys in stained Gamecocks ballcaps. My boss’s boss was an intimidating woman who was fearfully avoided in the halls; rumors of her cruelty and sociopathic tendencies were in greater supply and variety in the office than ballpoint pens. I shared a cubicle space with my one friend, a man with whom I’d previously worked and who was responsible for helping me in the door at AES. The entire office itself wasn’t that large, in retrospect, but to my 23-year-old eyes it seemed vast. I felt certain that I’d be irretrievably lost and would fall prey to some vicious accounting clerk the moment I set foot outside my department.
During my first trip to the bathroom, a woman from finance pulled me aside at the sinks. “You’re the new girl in HR? Working for Floyd and Virginia?”
A snort, a look of pity: “Good luck with that!”
I stared after her as she left the bathroom, desperate for more information about what exactly I’d embarked upon in these new waters, but not wanting to seem unprofessional or immature in my pursuit for what I viewed at the time as possibly-worthless-potentially-troublemaking office gossip. As the days and weeks wore on, however, I learned more and more about Virginia and Floyd as people slowly opened up to me or as I eavesdropped on whispered conversations in the copy rooms and kitchens. It was my first real view into the warped, depressing lives of upper level management in corporate America.
Floyd was my boss; Virginia was his. They shared a relationship that can only be described as symbiotic and doubly-parasitic. It was not romantic in nature — God, no. Floyd was a sad, shuffling little man of about 60 with a soft pouf of white hair and a perpetual look of having just been kicked in the ribs. He was highly active in the local Baptist megachurch and admitted to having hired me at least partially because I had graduated from Baylor. In our interview, we mainly discussed Bible verses, hymns and the pros and cons of pews as opposed to individual seats.
Virginia, on the other hand, was a striking woman in her late 40s who was probably very pretty in her younger days. Her delicate hands and wrists were heavily laden with David Yurman rings and bracelets. She wore a haughty look nearly every minute of the day and a Cruella deVille-esque cape without a hint of self-consciousness. Her favorite pastimes were publicy berating Floyd — the larger the audience, the better — and abusing her staff and her vendors until they either broke down or fled.
I was determined not to be another number, determined to last, and I did. But this remarkable achievement had little to do with me and everything to do with the monster that was AES.
More next time. It’s late…and I’m tired…and it looks like I might be turning this into a truly Dickensian tale after all.