My first shock is on day two, when I bring in my paperwork for direct deposit and am told that there is no direct deposit. Instead, I will receive weekly paychecks hand-signed by the publisher.
“That looks like it came from the check machine that we had at my first job out of college,” my mom says.
It’s 2013. The computers run Windows XP and Outlook Express 6. As a marketing assistant, I use Microsoft Paint for photo editing. My boss has Photoshop but doesn’t know how to use it. I have to teach the secretary in our department how to create an Excel spreadsheet and how to copy and paste.
The office was built in the 1960s or 1970s or some other period of time when people imagined a magnificent future for newspapers in a world centered on auto transport. I try taking walks on lunch breaks, but there are no sidewalks and people driving by in cars yell at me.
There are problems with the roof, and during storms everyone runs to grab trashcans and place them under the leaks. I get migraines from the mold and the chemicals used to clean the printing presses. When a young woman in the sales department is diagnosed with a brain tumor, everyone blames the building.
The cleaning crew’s contract states that they’ll only vacuum the floors and empty the trash, so the stairs and desks and blinds are coated with a layer of dust. At first, I bring in my own Swiffer dusters and Clorox wipes every week, but after a few months I stop bothering. I’ll be leaving soon anyway.
Other people leave first. Sometimes, there is no search to replace them, other times, their position is split up between two part-timers. I wonder about the new editorial assistant who is pregnant and won’t be able to qualify for health benefits. I suspect that my job will cease to exist after I quit.
There’s a group of three elderly men who come in each day to purchase the paper as soon as it comes out in the morning. They could save at least $100 a year by getting a home subscription, but they like to chat with the women at the front counter and watch the presses run.
One of the men, the one in a neck brace who smells like urine and cigar smoke, doesn’t come in for days. The secretary calls his mobile home park and finds out that he fell and is in the hospital. His trailer, which was filled with with empty Coke bottles, has been condemned. She goes to visit him and brings a copy of the paper and offers to help him clean out his home.
It doesn’t take long before I get over the urge to save the company from itself. My boss thinks it’s a good idea to send out a mass email with the subject line: “Don’t Miss This Great Opportunity,” and I say, “Okay.” My other boss decides that launching a daily deals site is the answer to the paper’s cash flow problems. I refrain from saying anything about the decline of Groupon.
Things get worse. I desperately need the printers to turn around a job and they tell me that their bills haven’t been paid. Soon after, the board votes to impose pay cuts on all full-time employees. Around this time, my boss decides that the paper should throw a luau-themed party and allows me to charge all the decorations (plastic leis, cardboard hibiscuses) to the company credit card.
I collect copies of the local alt-weekly and make a detailed spreadsheet listing all of the ads inside it each week. I type up the grocery store’s specials (honey maple ham, oreo cheesecake) and handwrite the invitations to a press operator’s retirement party. My boss asks me to call Patch.com from my cell phone and find out what they’re charging for ads.
The sales department resembles an underfunded public high school—fluorescent overhead lights prone to electrical fires, speckled ceiling tiles, indestructible metal desks, an infestation of ants in the kitchen. The off-white industrial-grade wallpaper is smudged and stained. I bring in a potted plant to liven up my desk, then let it die because I’m going to leave soon anyway.
I apply for jobs outside my hometown and don’t hear back. I give notice anyway, once I’ve saved up enough money to get by for a few months. During my final two weeks, the price of coffee from the communal Keurig machine goes up from 50 cents to a dollar.
Several people stop me in the halls, tell me that I’m doing the right thing, and ask me to take them with me when I go.
April Moran is a fake name for a real person.