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Calling 9-1-1

OK, grab a beer or a bong or whatever. This is gonna be a lengthy entry. Today was a shitty day at the big brick monument to money where I work, and I lost my temper and walked out.

First thing in the morning, Jennifer told me that Kallie was out sick for the day. Jennifer existing is a negative, and Kallie being gone is a negative, so the day already sucked.

Then Carlotta came in, wearing a lovely low-cut dress — a summer dress, I think it’s called, though it’s the middle of January — and it looked great. She could never not look great, and then she leaned her cleavage over my desk and told me I’d made an hour’s worth of big mistakes yesterday.

What I’d done was, I’d jotted down a long list of names of the company’s several so-called presidents — one wouldn’t be enough, I guess — and the many vice presidents, along with which departments each of them are responsible for. Then I’d sent this list to everyone in my department, and everyone in all the departments we interact with, and up the chain to all the executives on the list. It's a list we update every few months.

Well, I got a lot of the names and titles and responsibilities wrong, said Carlotta. She said it nicely, but still, bearing in mind that I almost literally could not care less, I was still surprised to hear that I’d screwed up so badly.

So I took another look at the company directory, the computerized list I’d referenced in updating our list of who’s who. Many of the executives in charge had been shuffled a few months ago — they get switched around like kids playing hopscotch, all the time, which is why we have to update the list every few months. 

But the company directory — the screen all employees reference when we’re looking each other up — hadn't been updated. And that's why the list I'd made and sent out had been all wrong. So I had to send an e-mail to the person who manages that list, and tell him to, you know, manage that list. When he finally manages that list, then I’ll have to recreate our updated list all over again.

If that all sounds ridiculous, welcome to office work.

I wrote a somewhat sarcastic memo to everyone I'd sent the list to yesterday, telling them to disregard it, with the tagline, “If we can’t trust the computer, what can we trust?”

So I was already in a bad mood, and as soon as I hit ‘send’, I noticed that everyone was complaining about the stink — the odor of burning rubber and/or toxic chemicals was in the air, and it was vile.

I called the security office to report the smoke, and ten minutes later, they sent up just one doofus-looking guard, who sniffed around for a minute and said, “They’re probably just tarring the roof. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

‘Probably’ means he was guessing. He didn’t know that they were tarring the roof, but he was ready to assume it was nothing, and leave us breathing what smelled like death. 

“Oh, you wouldn’t worry about it?” I said too loudly. “Well, I’m worried, and my next call will be to 9-1-1.” 

From the fire a couple of months ago, and some e-mails afterward, it's 'understood' that calling 9-1-1 is frowned on — it could shut down the store’s cash registers for an hour or two. So I didn’t call 9-1-1, but I called Babs. She’d handled the November fire fairly well, and I thought she’d give a damn more than the fat gray-haired security guard. Babs was out, though, so I left a frustrated message on her voice mail.

Not wanting to do nothing or wait too long, I took the stairs up to the roof, to see if maybe they were tarring it. “Authorized personnel only,” said the sign on the door, but I authorized myself, same as I have several days when I wanted some sunshine. Nope, there was no tarring going on, just the ordinary mess of old mannequins and rotting sales displays that are always stacked up there in the open air, waiting for a strong gust of wind to blow them over the edge and onto the pedestrians nine floors below. 

I'd decided to call 9-1-1, so I rattled down the stairs and back to my office, but it looked like something was finally being done, so I didn't dial. Several of the company’s building maintenance staff were there, and one of them was measuring the air with a hand-held air measurement device. One of the temps had vomited at his desk and left to get some air outside. Everyone else was standing around. Nobody was working.

Lottie asked where I’d been and I said, “Up on the roof, and they’re not tarring it.”

“Oh, the roof sounds good, though — I could use the air,” she said, so up we went. In the sunshine, we looked over the edge to the streets below. We talked for a while as the wind tussled her hair and dress, but I couldn’t hear much of what she was saying, so loud was my imagination.

When we came downstairs again, the stench had faded and the ‘experts’ had left. The temp who’d puked was back at his desk, but he looked not so hot. Carlotta sat down and started working again, but I just stood there with a hell of a headache. I’ve rarely gotten headaches since a few years back, when I stopped giving a damn about most things, so I’m blaming the pain in my brain on whatever was in the air.

Which means, my job had poisoned me. And that pissed me off. And then came the worst moment of my day, and Carlotta’s.

She got up to take a photocopy, and one of the temps (a different one) was using the copier. They said a few words about whatever, while she waited. Then the dumbass temp said to Lottie, “That’s a very nice dress,” emphasizing very and quivering his eyebrows. Of course, she told him off furiously, and loudly, but when she returned to her desk she covered up with an un-sexy sweater, buttoned to her chin.

She hadn’t slapped the lout, but I wanted to. I feel sorry for Carlotta, of course — she should be able to come to work and not be leered at. But I also feel sorry for me. I'd been enjoying the jiggle. I’m sure every man on the eighth floor had enjoyed it, but because one fool had big eyes and a bigger mouth, the cleavage got wrapped away.

So I was in a certified sour mood when some senior executive from toddlers’ clothes handed me a huge stack of rush-rush work, and said, “I cleared this in advance with Darla and Babs.” Grrrr. Neither of them had said anything to me. Darla had taken the day off, as management types do whenever they damn well please, and Babs was still nowhere to be found. I semi-politely told the suit that I’d do what I could do.

The work he’d given me was tall enough it would take the whole day, and the day was already half gone, so I enlisted Carlotta’s help. I also apologized to her, for what the dumbass temp had said. “Are you going to file a complaint?” I asked, but she shook her head no. 

“Politics,” she said. “If I complain, I’ll just be 'the girl who complains'.”

“Well,” I said, “can I complain?” She shrugged.

Anyway, I figured the work would go quicker with Lottie’s help — in her damned sweater. But it didn’t take two minutes to see that the paperwork had been filled out all wrong, all through the stack, and that we couldn’t process any of it without an hour’s worth of clarification from that senior executive — who’d vanished. And my head was still pounding with the toxic-induced headache.

So I called the executive who’d given me the stack of work, left a blunt but businesslike message on his voice mail, telling him he’d have to come back and fill in all the blanks on all the forms before we could do the work. And that’s when I noticed that the toxic stink was coming back.

At that point, I knew my day was over. I am paid to put up with a certain amount of crap, but my limits had been exceeded. I called Security again, and way too briefly said, “Fumes, eighth floor, again. Maybe this time send someone who gives a damn, not the grandpa guard.”

Then I left my desk, and walked over to the other side of the building, where the stink wasn’t as noticeable. I barged into an office empty since the last round of layoffs, and logged onto the company’s e-mail system.

To the senior executive who’d turned in his ‘urgent’ work all wrong, I listed his four most obvious errors, and repeated my phone message that his work wouldn’t be done, wouldn’t even be started, until he came by to straighten his mess, but added, no hurry, because for today I’d be gone.

To Darla, my missing boss, I sent an email complaining about the temp who’d harassed Carlotta. “He’s certainly not the kind of help we need,” I concluded gallantly, but not quite selflessly.

My third and final e-mail was to everyone — Security, Building Maintenance, Babs, Darla, all my co-workers, and all the temps: “Huge headache from the fumes. I’ll be back if there’s air to breathe tomorrow.”

Then I picked up the phone at this unoccupied desk, dialed '9' for an outside line, and called 9-1-1.

I could feel my headache dissipating as the elevator opened onto the main floor, and I walked past the shoppers and out onto the sidewalk. Quitting time came about three hours early today, and it felt good. I’m not sure I’ll have a job tomorrow, and honestly … it wouldn’t be too depressing if I didn’t.

From Pathetic Life #8
Thursday, January 19, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

Pathetic Life 

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