The Salesman was an older gentleman with a smoker’s cough and a bad gossip-site habit. He read Perez Hilton every day at 4 p.m., for one hour, while cackling and reading tidbits out loud over my cubicle wall. He left the office promptly at five, often with his manager, a brusque but nice woman with a penchant for pantsuits, usually off to a bar around the corner to have a cocktail and dish before getting on the BART and heading back to San Francisco’s East Bay. As bosses go, he was one of the best I’ve had: low maintenance, trusting, out of my hair. His teeth were the worst I’ve seen, jagged and brown, but he had a nice smile, a quick laugh and shared my passion for sotto voce gossip, shared in quick bursts every hour. Usually, our subject was the head of sales, a pompous jackass who spent the entire year I worked there calling me Heather. The Salesman used to joke that he came with the building, and for a while, I believed him.
The Swingers ran a marketing agency staffed entirely with attractive women under the age of 25, run out of a garage in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood across from the Anchor Steam factory. My walk to work from the bus stop smelled like warm yeast, a cloying, sweet scent that will eternally remind me of that time. For a while, it was fun—the day to day a play-acting of what real work was like. The Swingers kept things interesting. They lived together in a relationship whose boundaries were always unclear along with a woman named Gloria. One was Yao Ming tall, perpetually clad in a too-short, too-tight muscle tee and a heavy silver choker with a padlock around his neck. He was a pathological liar who claimed he built the first computer out of telephone parts, but was not nearly as smart as he seemed, just very charismatic. His partner was a short, quiet man in wire-framed glasses who carried on a relatively public relationship with the bookkeeper. We never confirmed the Swingers’ actual relationship status, but we were able to make educated guesses They went home together, sleeping with Gloria in a giant bed covered in stuffed animals, canopied with mosquito netting. Occasionally, they would make each other lattes, with a paw print swirled into the foam. Gloria breezed in and out of the office in low cut tops, giving each of the Swingers a prolonged kiss on the mouth on her way out. Once, at a company Easter brunch, she leaned over to fix her shoe, and when she straightened up, she fell out of her top, not bothering to fix it for about five uncomfortable minutes.
We spent a lot of time pretending to build Powerpoint decks and spreadsheets, but mostly emailed about lunch. The tall one claimed to have made a fortune in copper mines deep in the bowels of Arizona, and it was this fortune that was supporting the company, but each employee was laid off rapidly, until the company folded.
Following a trend that marked all of my jobs in San Francisco, I worked at a non-profit website run by a megalomaniacal editor-in-chief/CEO who was notorious for being a world class creep. After my first stint at unemployment, I found myself a member of yet another harem of attractive, smart women in their twenties who did the work that kept the lights on. Everyone was very nice, and we all had a tacit agreement to keep our heads down and do our work, but the Egomaniac made life difficult. He suffered from a severe case of founder’s syndrome, manifesting in a complete inability to cede the tiniest bit of control over anything, putting up operational roadblocks at every turn, making it impossible for anyone to do their job. He was also a lecherous old man with eyebrows like caterpillars and a fondness for off-color jokes, who once informed the almost-entirely female editorial staff that he was going to be a gynecologist for Halloween. I also answered to a smarmy marketing consultant who I met with every week in his luxury loft across from Pac Bell Park. We had a strange, stilted relationship, made more awkward one day when he asked me, out of the blue and in complete earnestness, if I had a cocaine problem. It took a lot to explain to him that my low energy tempered with brief, sparkling bursts of energy was the result of me making the best of things, and the reason I kept touching my nose was because I had just gotten it pierced. He never really trusted me after that, even though I was telling the truth.
The One That Fired Me
In New York, I accepted a job that felt wrong from the start. The company was huge, more corporate than I was used to, and necessitated the purchase of a wardrobe of sad black pants and cheap blouses, a move I deeply resented after years of working at smaller start-ups. I made the best of it, because a job is a job, and a paycheck and the promise of health insurance were two things not to be taken lightly. I toiled for three months under the tutelage of The Blonde, a tiny powerhouse with arms of ropy muscle and an aggressively bleached, taut ponytail. She didn’t like me from the start. I couldn’t figure out why, and spent my lunch breaks smoking furtive cigarettes around the corner from the office and hashing it out with one of my coworkers, a nice guy named John who took a lot of shit and looked a little bit like Fozzie the Bear. I spent most of my time trying desperately to do my job well and get on her good side, while dodging the most passive aggressive IMs I have received to date. When she walked me to a conference room three months later, and silently pushed a separation package across the table, I was shocked, but not surprised.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.