I always felt I could do more in life, be more in life. Today, however, I just wanted to make it to work on time and I didn’t know if that was going to happen. The alarm didn’t go off; I got a run in two pairs of hose, and the hem of my skirt ripped on the city bus. And if that weren’t enough, the line at Starbucks was longer than I expected so I got in some exercise my pudgy body hadn’t anticipated.
Yet, I was grateful I wore my Adidas instead of heels. After all, I had to jog the last two blocks to the office while carrying my venti, caramel macchiato in a travel tumbler, purse, and tote bag with my shoes. If this had been an Olympic event, I won bronze. There were two men, obviously more experienced, who managed an all out run ahead of me while carrying their briefcases and didn’t spill a drop. I couldn’t say the same. Say hello to the new stain on my suit.
I managed to make it to my desk and sit down before Mr. Elroy Jenkins III, the owner of Red Door Antiques and Auctions, came in for the day. My boss briefly acknowledged by existence with a terse nod and waddled into his office.
I pulled out a pair of sensible shoes from my bag and was grateful for the second time today he didn’t see my foot attire or note the sad state of my slightly sweaty hair when he came in. A solid ten minute lecture on decorum would have followed.
8:00. It was officially another day when I would be at the beck and call of a narcissistic lunatic in a fluorescent-lit world. I hated this place, but there weren’t any other jobs that paid as well as this one. In fact, I was lucky to have found this job when I did because the rent had been well-past due. Forget that. I was considering bartering sexual favors with the landlord’s repulsive son for another month’s rent. Trust me when I say that was an uber-bad idea.
For the next four hours, I answered the phones and correspondence for Mr. Jenkins and basically lied through my teeth about why various projects were running behind or why bills hadn’t been paid or why shipping had been delayed. I hated doing it, but I wanted to make sure I got paid, so I did what I was told.
I stood up to stretch and the ripped hem of my skirt caught on the lift lever of my chair. Now, standing from a seated position is somewhat of an art-form when wearing a skirt. Most women can do this with an ease and grace I envy on a normal day. This wasn’t a normal day. When I stood, the chair rose up with me. So I sat back down and manipulated the material so it was no longer on the lever. However, I should have held the material because when I let go, the skirt hem caught again so when I stood up, the chair rose again.
“Pretending you’re at a carnival, Vivienne?”
Stacy. Oh my God. It just had to be Stacy Jenkins, heiress to the Jenkins’ throne.
I often feel like jabbing a pen through one of Stacy’s pretty, blue eyes. I refrain not because of pending assault charges, but because I fear extracting Stacy’s eye out of the socket with the pen. I am not about to let go of a Montblanc just because I hate her.
I slowly sit back down and repeat the process of extracting myself from the chair while glaring at Stacy. This time I held the material in place when I stood and the chair remained where it belonged. Hallelujah!
“You know, if you would just lose a few pounds, you could wear a smaller skirt that wouldn’t catch on the chair,” she said while perching her size zero butt on my desk.
She’s not worth it. Be calm. I told myself while taking a deep breath.
“It’s not a size problem. It’s a ripped seam problem. It snagged on the bus seat this morning. I’ll just drop it off at the cleaners on the way home and they will fix it good as new.” Yay me. Totally cool.
“Well, right now it looks tacky and unprofessional. You really should do something about it. We may have clients coming in later today and you don’t want them to see that, do you?” she asked while coming around my desk and pointing her perfectly manicured nail at my skirt.
Her crooked index finger just entered into my personal space. I took a step back and eyeballed my pen sitting just out of reach.
“Well, I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout tailorin’, Miss Stacy,” I said in my best Southern “Mammy” voice. Margaret Mitchell may rise from the grave and smack me dead, but my Montblanc is still on my desk and her eyeball is still in her head.
“Use some tape or something to hold it up. Good grief,” she said while slinking off my desk. “Come here and let me fix that.”
My mental radar tells me I’m about to get screwed over. My hands instinctively go to my hips and I think my right eyebrow just shuttle-launched into my hairline. “Excuse me?”
“I’m just going to fix it for you,” she said.
Mom always told me my face was going to freeze in a specific position. I was certain it was this one and it was coming to pass because my right eyebrow refused to move and my left eye suddenly developed some sort of twitch.
“Good grief. You don’t have to look at me like that. Just get over here and let me fix it.”
Why I walked toward her, I will never know. Maybe I’m just a masochist at heart. Stacy grabbed the standard issue, beige tape-dispenser off my desk and turned me around like a seamstress working on a wedding gown. Her fingers were bony, much like the rest of her. The next thing I know is my hem is no longer tickling the back of my knees and she looks pretty pleased with herself.
“Okay. All done,” she said wiping her hands on the back of my chair. “Now you no longer look tacky and unprofessional.”
Well, color me surprised. Stacy can be nice. “Um, thanks.”
“No problem whatsoever, “she said. Stacy glanced at the clock on the wall. “And I’d just burn that skirt when you get home. Polyester is so 1970. Anyway, break time is over. Gotta scoot.”
I was wrong. Stacy is never nice.
“I don’t know what you even talk to that woman. She’s such a witch.” David whispered as he came up to my desk. We watched Stacy scurry down the hall toward the executive offices where she made her lair.
“Got me,” I replied.
“Lunch?” he asked. “It’s my treat.”
I’m pretty sure David can tell by my permanently frozen facial expression it’s been one of those days where a bottle of wine and a bag of Oreo cookies would make it all better or he wouldn’t offer.
“I don’t know Dave. The last time you treated, I spent the weekend in the bathroom. Remember? Come on! Try this place! You’ll love it! I don’t think so. I haven’t been able stand the smell of garlic since then.”
David wriggled his bushy eyebrows ala Groucho Marx. “Viv, just pick the place and we’ll wine and dine and talk smack about the she-devil. It will be fun.
“I’d rather just smack her.”
“See. That’s the spirit…”
I couldn’t help but laugh, but again refused the offer. I had a bottle of Merlot and a bag of Oreos waiting for me at home tonight. It was my little incentive to get through the day and I already bought tickets for David and me to go to the Kraftwerk exhibition at the MOMA this weekend.
I was about to make a quick dash to the bathroom to take care of some necessary business and check Stacy’s handiwork, but other duty called, or rather bellowed.
“Tumbly, get in here!”
Mr. Jenkins has two volumes: loud and louder.
As much as I hate working here, I really hate going into his office which is ten times more dismal than any jail cell imaginable and forty times more torturous than the annual visit to the gynecologist.
I make three brisk knocks to the door. No more. No less. Three is the magic number and they must be brisk – not too fast, yet not too slow. It only took me two days to figure it out because his Excellency didn’t tell me when I was hired on as his executive assistant that’s what he wanted. I just stood there knocking at the door waiting to be acknowledged until I hit the right combination. Really? Who does that?
“Come in, Tumbly.”
Company rules stated no one could have personal items on their desks. Mr. Jenkins said it a thousand times, “You are here to work. If you want to see your children or your pets, go home.” He led by example. For a man who had been in this office for over twenty years, there was not a glimmer of personality to be found. However, I realized a long time ago the man has no personality.
I looked around the room hoping something might have changed overnight like maybe a leprechaun came in and farted rainbows or something. However, it was still the same. The office walls and carpet were the color of oatmeal and the chairs and the desk – the color of toast. I glanced out the window to the north and even the sky, overcast and gloomy, reminded me of mushrooms, no… maybe a chicken liver pâté.
Maybe was just hungry. There were those Oreos…
Mr. Jenkins interrupted my thoughts by tapping on a sheaf of paper. “Are these the billing and lading reports you turned in yesterday?”
I looked at the blue cover sheet and nodded. “Yes.”
“And you used the dates that I gave you?”
I nodded again. “Yes, Mr. Jenkins. That’s first quarter, just like you requested. The billing reports are in the front. The lading is next with a final summary categorized in the back.”
He picked up the entire stack of papers and threw them up in the air. “Then why,” he sneered, “am I looking at figures from December in this report?” The pages flew like confetti and landed across the desk, the chairs and floor like powdered sugar sprinkled on French toast. I was definitely hungry and couldn’t help but stare at the eighty-seven pages littering the office.
“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Sir, the only figures from December in this report were the ending figures from last year which then became the starting figures for first quarter of this year.” I looked Mr. Jenkins in the eye. “This is how it’s been done since I’ve been here. If you wanted it done differently, you should have explained what you wanted other than, ‘get this done by Friday.’”
Admittedly, I shouldn’t have said it. But then again tact was never one of my strong points.
“Ms. Tumbly, you will gather up this mess and re-do this report or you will gather up your things and leave. Do I make myself clear?” A vein stood up on his red forehead and throbbed.
Crystal freakin’ clear you big wad-ball. “Yes sir,” is what I actually said. I guess I have more tact than I thought.
I bent down as modestly as I could in the skirt I was wearing and started gathering all of the strewn pages together.
“And also, have Stacy take you shopping. That skirt is appalling. I can’t believe you would think that’s appropriate work attire. What on Earth possessed you to tape the back of that up like that? Have Stacy put your new clothes on the company card and we’ll deduct the purchases from your next check. You know my daughter is a real fashion icon and you could learn…”
Somewhere in the middle of Mr. Jenkins’ babbling on about his precious baby, my skirt and shopping, I reached back to figure out what he was talking about. Damn that Stacy. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted her. She did keep the hem of my skirt from hanging down just as she promised. However, instead of taping it to the inside of the garment like a real hem, she taped all of the material to the outside of the skirt and used at least half a roll of tape. My radar was once again right. I got screwed.
“… and you could stand to lose a few pounds. See to it that whoever is bringing in the donuts on Thursdays knocks that off. I don’t want to see you eat another donut.”
* * *
Donuts were the last thing on my mind when I finally shuffled into my apartment after 9:00pm. True to his word, Mr. Jenkins sent me out shopping with his darling daughter and I endured hour after hour of shopping with Stacy, who I’m fairly certain survives only on Red Bull and blow. No wonder she’s a size zero.
I threw the packages unceremoniously on the couch and plopped down next to them. For over eight straight hours I listened to her explain to me I had no sense of style, I was overweight and I could have everything she has and more if I would just do this or be that. I tried to explain to her I didn’t want what she has, but just like her father she didn’t listen and her non-stop monologue grated on my nerves.
The only, and I mean the only, single benefit to the entire trip was I got my hair done which was long overdue. The stylist did something with aluminum foil that made me feel like I was suddenly going to start picking up VH1, but I have to say my hair doesn’t look like a rat’s nest and will go back in a ponytail if I so desire. It’s a two for one special.
After sitting for a few minutes, I realized I couldn’t stand the mess next to me any longer and I wanted out of the clothes I had been in and out of all day. I hefted myself up off the couch, grabbed the bags and boxes and schlepped them all to my bedroom.
My bedroom is my sanctuary, the one place where the rest of the world doesn’t trouble or bother me. Like the rest of my apartment, it has twelve foot ceilings and high windows that look out over a rather mundane neighborhood, but it also has a brick wall that took me three weeks to uncover from cracked plaster and faux finishes. It was a project that cost the landlord nothing and me several blisters. Across from the bed and the brick wall it rests against is a wardrobe and dresser I found at a flea market when I moved to the city. I had to pay three college buddies a case of beer and pizza to move them to my third floor apartment, but the furniture has served me well, the guys – not so much. Against the wall opposite the windows are my three prized possessions, my father’s sword, an original printing of Sir Thomas Mallory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”, and Bojan.
“Oh crap, Bojan. I forgot about you. I’m so sorry, boy,” I said taking his big head in my hands and looking into his gray eyes. I scratched him under the chin and down his chest for good measure and apologized again.
I’m pretty sure he accepted my apology, but didn’t let me off the hook. Bojan went to the kitchen and came back with his leash. “Subtle thing, aren’t you?”
Two days ago, I had paid one of the girls in 4D to let him out while I was at work. It was the summer and easy money for a teenage girl who wasn’t quite old enough to work. Note to self: talk to her mother to see if she is actually letting him out. Note to self #2: let it go. I’m home 3 hours late. Note to self #3: Find out where this dog’s owners are.
Bojan sat patiently while I clipped his leash to his collar and took him to the door. As soon as the front door opened though, he quickly bounded down the stairs without worrying if I was hanging on for dear life or not. By the second floor landing, I actually was smart enough to let go of the chain of death as he was in a full out sprint to the front door of the building. I followed as quickly as I could, but there was no way my two legs could keep up with his four.
Surprisingly, he slowed down toward the bottom of the stairs and waited for Jackson, the doorman, to open the front door for him. He walked out, hung a right and then found the nearest tree where he hiked a leg and let forth Niagara Falls. I could be wrong, but I swear I heard him sigh. He then sniffed around and decided it was time to go back inside so he came and stood next to me as if he hadn’t tried to rip my arm out of its socket. I tentatively picked up his leash and together we walked casually into the building - totally unlike the escape scene minutes before.
“Hello, Ms. Tumbly. Nice looking pup you have there,” said Donald McCurdy as I was coming back up the stairs. “Where’d he come from?”
Don’s lived in apartment 3C, the apartment next to mine, for as long as anyone can remember and has probably been alive longer than anyone can remember.
“As strange as it sounds, he was laying outside my door Sunday and has been here ever since. I don’t know how he got here. Jackson doesn’t have a clue and the other folks in the building don’t have any idea where he came from. Did you see or hear anything?”
“Not a thing, but I’ve been away on some business for the last week. You might talk to Murphy, the night doorman.”
Bojan interrupted our conversation by rubbing up against Mr. McCurdy. I was surprised he didn’t knock over the elderly man as the dog has some heft to him. Don gave him a good scratch behind his ears and Bojan left us and trotted the rest of the way to the apartment where he waited for me to let him back in.
“Some dog you have there. I’d say he’s a keeper,” said Don.
Bojan walked in circles outside the apartment door and I couldn’t help but chuckle. “He’s something all right.” I shook my head and went to let the beast back inside.
The rest of the evening was filled with dinner, The Late Show, and a Battle of Unstoppable Force meeting the Immovable Object when I tried to get in bed and my bed was filled to maximum capacity with the demon dog from Hades. No amount of yelling, pushing, shoving or cajoling with food would move this beast from his residency on my eight hundred thread count sheets.
I finally grew desperate and drew my father’s sword from its sheath and leveled it at Bojan’s head.
:All you had to do was ask nice, resonated a strange male voice inside my head, which hit the floor as I fainted.