May 21, 1999
More Scenes From My Week


Monday Afternoon

The HR Director stops by my desk in the middle of the afternoon. "When you've got a minute, I'd like to have a chat with you in my office," she says.

Uh oh.

Being invited to "chat" in someone's office is almost never a good thing. At least, that has been my experience. In high school it usually meant my GPA was "at risk." At the tuna label factory ... the phone company ... the doomed newspaper ... the knife factory ... it usually meant my next paycheck was "at risk."

Here it probably means nothing more ominous than being drafted to organize the company picnic. But still. I am instantly transformed from the breezily competent/confident SuperReceptionist I was, just moments before, into a quivering pile of terrified intimidated goo. I can't help it. I am conditioned -- by forty years' worth of squirming on the edge of an uncomfortable chair while avoiding eye contact with Authority -- to expect the worst when issued such an "invitation."

Heart in my throat, I ask Andrea to cover the front desk for me. And then I take the long, long walk down the hallway, into that eerily formal No-Receptionist's-Land we call *Corporate.*  And I knock on the HR Director's door.


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More Monday Afternoon

David is at home today. I get a busy signal when I try to call: that means he is probably on the computer, tying up the phone line. So I fire off an e-mail instead.

Subj: Tried To Call But Got No Answer
Date: 5/17/99 1:36:54 PM Pacific Daylight Time
From: tpolen@somewhere.com
To: draftervoi@AOL.COM

"They're offering me the Exec SecraTerri position.

I have until Thursday to decide.

Acck. Call me."


And then I sit and wait.

Five minutes later he calls, and we conduct a hushed, sneaky conversation. I fill him in on the details of my meeting with the HR Director. It's true: Catherine, the perky Exec Sec to the president of the company, is abandoning ship after only three months ... and my name has been mentioned as a possible replacement. If I'm interested.

"Am I interested?" I say. I'm asking myself as much as I'm asking David.

"I'd say you're very interested," David replies.

We agree to discuss it that night over dinner. Hopefully I will have more information to bring home by then -- money, job description, hours -- and we can make a more informed decision at that point. I hang up the phone, still quivering.



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Tuesday Afternoon

There is an e-mail from the HR Director waiting for me when I come back from lunch. "You are scheduled to meet with Franz tomorrow at 2:00," it reads. The Big Interview.

Gulp.

Ironically, I am having one of my best SuperReceptionist days ever. I've been juggling multiple incoming phone calls and solving misplaced fax mysteries and soothing jangled clients with aplomb, all morning long. For all my griping, I really do love the front desk. And I'm very very good at what I do. There is something to be said for a low-challenge/high-competence position ... especially for someone like me, who has only recently begun to realize that feeling good at work is OK.

Do I want to give that up so soon?

Catherine -- looking decidedly haggard these days -- comes back from lunch right after I do. She stops by my desk. "You're thinking about taking the job?" she asks, and I nod. For the moment it's supposed to be kept extremely hush-hush. She smiles, not unkindly, and shakes her head a little. "I think you'd probably be fine," she says. "I just couldn't stand that feeling of never getting anything DONE."

I'm dying to ask her a bazillion questions. How late does she have to stay on Fridays? Does she ever work weekends? Can I have her laptop if she's not gonna use it? But this isn't the time or the place. Maybe we can have coffee later today? Or tomorrow? She says yes, that would be nice. And then she slumps off down the hallway toward *Corporate.*




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More Tuesday Afternoon

David picks me up after work, and I tell him about tomorrow's interview with the company president. "How do you feel about that?" he asks.

"I would probably 'feel' a lot better about it if I had something to wear," I say.

Sigh.

I hate clothes shopping. I mean, I hate it with a PASSION. Apparently I am missing yet another one of those key *chick chromosomes* ... this time, it's the chromosome that makes an afternoon at the mall seem like fun.  Having a root canal performed by a blind dental student on crack would be more "fun" for me, frankly, than standing in a fitting room trying on clothes.  But I know I would feel better about interviewing tomorrow if I have something new to wear. And already I'm imagining myself dressing the part of the Exec Sec. The little flowery dresses and thrift store jackets are fine for the front desk, maybe ... but if I'm going to be moving to *Corporate,* I'm going to have to start paying more attention -- and more money -- on what I'm wearing.

I might even have to wear shoes.

Acck.


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Tuesday Evening

A couple of hours later we're sitting at Taco Bell, at the South Shore Mall. I'm too nervous to eat ... so of course I'm launching into my second Baja Gordita.

There is a new suit in a shopping bag on the seat beside me: jacket and slacks, charcoal gray, marked down from sixty bucks. It isn't exactly High *Corporate* Fashion, but it will do.

I still don't have any details about the job opening, at least as far as money is concerned: the HR Director left the office that afternoon without leaving me the information I'd requested. So David and I fumble our way through a list of "What If's."  What if the hours suck ... but the money is really great?  What if Franz turns out to be impossible to work for ... but the money is really great?  What if I take the job and I hate it ... but the money is really great?

The fact is that there is no way we can make a decision until we know what kind of money we're looking at. Frustrated, confused, stuffed full of fast food, we come home and go to bed, where I spend my second night in a row pretending to sleep.




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Wednesday Morning

My boss is extremely not-happy. I have been invited into his office this morning to "chat."

"I hear that you've been offered the Exec Sec position when Catherine leaves next month," he says.

I squirm on the edge of my uncomfortable chair ... but I don't avoid eye contact. Instead, I pluck nervously at the hem of my new suit jacket. "I've been asked to interview with Franz today," I tell him honestly. "But I haven't made any decision yet."

He is, he says, "concerned" that this might not be a good career move for me, and for the company as a whole. "It's not that I don't think you're capable of handling the job," he says. "But Franz can be very ... difficult to work for. And I'm concerned that this might be a little too much too soon for you."

I appreciate his candor. I suspect he may be right. He has worked with Franz for a lot longer than I have, and he's got a better idea of what goes on in *Corporate* than I do.

I also suspect that he's reluctant to let go of a really really great receptionist. Now they're gonna have to run that newspaper ad, all over again.

"I'll let you know what happens," I tell him.



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Wednesday Afternoon

In the car, David makes a declaration.

"I want you to know," he says, "that I am committed to spending the rest of my life with you. You are it for me. And no matter what you decide, I support you a thousand percent."

I smile ... and burst into tears.

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Thursday Morning 2:17 a.m.

I have reached a decision. I'm not going to take the job.

The interview with Franz went just fine. I know that the job duties for this position, as outlined, are well within the scope of my abilities. This is a great opportunity. But -- like my boss said -- this is just "too much too soon." For the sake of my health, and my blood pressure, and my sanity ... I'm going to stay at my low-stress/high-competence receptionist job, a little while longer.

I am so relieved, now that the decision has been made -- what a load off! -- that I nearly wake David to tell him. But he is snoring so peacefully on the pillow beside me that I don't have the heart to disturb him. So instead I allow myself to drift back into a shallow twilight sleep, where I dream about little flowery dresses and ringing telephones ...




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3:17 a.m.

I have reached a decision. I am going to take the job.

Yes, it's going to be hugely stressful at first, moving from my nice safe position at the bottom of the totem pole to someplace closer to the top. I still don't know exactly how much money is involved. But when the hell am I ever going to get another opportunity like this? I've been a receptionist for twenty years. I never finished college. I'm being handed an opportunity on a golden platter here. 

What kind of idiot would turn it down??

I am so excited, now that the decision has been made -- what a thrilling development! -- that I nearly wake David to tell him. But he is snoring so peacefully on the pillow beside me that I don't have the heart to disturb him. So instead I allow myself to drift back into another shallow twilight sleep, where I dream about Palm Pilots and charcoal gray pantsuits ...




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Thursday
8:17 a.m.

I intercom the HR Director the instant I land in the office. "I need another day to make my decision," I tell her.

Fine. "We haven't had a chance to discuss money yet, anyway," she says -- [no shit] -- but I absolutely positively must make a decision one way or the other within the next 24 hours. After that, they plan to begin interviewing outside of the company.

Panic = mounting.

"I'll have my answer for you tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.," I tell her.






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