Thursday, June 9, 2011
Chapter 2 - HELP WANTED: Tales of a Free Spirit Professional
Faye was right. The something great turned out to be just that – at least for awhile. I was going to work at The Madsen Group, a hot new onsulting firm with a concentration in Financial Services.
“What kind of company is that?” my friend in California asked when I told her.
“Dunno. But they have beer night on Thursdays.”
The pay was good and I could tell people about it without reference to war. I was the Executive Assistant to Scott Rivkin, a short, rail-thin man whose waist was smaller than mine.
“They tell me I should have someone organize me,” he sighed, his head barely clearing the pile of papers on his desk. “I guess you’ll do.”
Scott was in his forties, single and in desperate need of a good haircut. He had unruly, dark hair that, with the proper hair product, might have had some hope, but Scott wasn’t into the kind of stuff. His frameless, square glasses were something out of a bad 80’s geek movie and his suits were always navy.
The office was being renovated when I started and my desk was down the hall from Scott’s office. There was a reception area just beyond my desk separated by large, wooden doors. We had two receptionists out front and they had to buzz you through to get to the actual offices.
I was in the “hello cube” – though, I didn’t have a cube; just a desk. Sitting just inside those doors, every time someone entered, I felt compelled to say, “Hello!” At first, I didn’t mind it because it was a nice way of getting to know people. But, after awhile, getting any work done became difficult.
My desk became the stomping ground for anyone who was bored or passing by and felt like making some completely uninteresting conversation. I quickly tired of being the hello cube girl and when the renovation was finally complete, I insisted on being moved elsewhere.
Elsewhere turned out to be hell. Tim Sherman, the CEO needed to have “Scotty” as he liked to call him, close by at all times. The new layout had Scott’s office sitting about twenty feet from Tim’s. Their assistants sat in an open are in-between.
It was in this bullpen like setting where I met Gina – Tim’s assistant. Gina was there since the beginning and loved to remind people of that every chance she got. She was from Iowa and lived in New Jersey with her landscaper husband.
Gina was good at what she did and I’d hoped to learn a lot from her. She was the quintessential secretary. She knew everything about Tim. His wife. His kids. EVERYthing. She took her job very seriously and I was impressed by the level of respect she had.
At first, I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to know everything about Scott, so that he couldn’t do a thing without my help. I wanted to be the smart, efficient gatekeeper she was, coolly maneuvering people away from my boss’ office until he was ready to see them.
Unfortunately, there some major problems with my plan. Gina was a bitch and Scott was a control freak.
“Don’t pick up Tim’s phone,” she snapped at me one afternoon when she was tied up with another call and the other line was ringing off the hook.
I thought I was doing her a favor as I envisioned the two of us working as a team. But Gina liked to keep things under close watch. I later realized it was severe insecurity on her part, but at the time, I was afraid of her and spent a lot of time tiptoeing around her.
Aesthetically, I had no desire to be like her. She was nice looking woman with dark blonde hair that was always styled perfectly in a neat bob. She wore perfectly matched suits in various colors which always made me wonder if she shopped at Dress Barn. And the white sneakers for commuting and ornate pins made her seem much older than her early thirties.
She and Scott got along well mostly because he was her boss’ whipping boy and their commiseration on being treated like crap made for a strong bond.
Scott was a miserable person. Period. He had no life. This I learned very quickly when, about month into my new job, I greeted him with a cheery, “How was your weekend?”
He stopped, slumping his shoulders even more than usual and let out a long, dramatic sigh. “It was,” he said, staring into space.
It took me about six months to stop asking as I finally realized that he’d never have a good weekend.
Life in the corporate world was a mix of monotony and challenge. Scott wasn’t the most respectful boss in the world as his waves of dismissal when I walked into a meeting to pass him a note sometimes sent me to the bathroom to have a little cry. Gina was mean and if she was in a bad mood it was best to keep my head down and stay out of the way.
I’d made some friends with the other assistants which made my time there bearable and sometimes fun. The perks were the best part of all. There were many partners in the firm and Scott was one of them. He was a founding partner and as his assistant, I was in charge of things like the company Holiday Party and annual Partner Off-sites in places like Paris and Jamaica.
My expense account was ridiculous. I took cars everywhere, ordered breakfast, lunch and dinner on the company and even got to buy a few things for myself when shopping for Scott. It wasn’t right, but everybody did it, so why shouldn’t I?
One night, I was having too much fun at my friend’s apartment to go home and walk my dog. Instead, I sent a car for him.