Sunday, December 18, 2011

Middle-Aged Women Don't Bounce: Part 8

Ethel stared at me to see if I was serious about my parking dilemma, and when she saw my deeply reddened face, she realized I was telling the truth.

"All right," she sighed, "You'll have to go and move your car before I take you to your department," she said.  "Please hurry, though, and meet us back here."

Hometown Guy and Judith were both still shaking their heads disdainfully as I made my escape.  As I left, I heard Ethel say she was going to take Hometown Guy to his department and Judith was going to have to cool her heels and wait for me to get back.  

"Thank you," I murmured, and rushed out of the office, back to the elevator, down to the lobby and out the revolving door.  Back out on the sidewalk, I ran to the crosswalk and waited anxiously for the Walk light.  I got to my car and noticed the time was up on the meter already, but I didn't see any tickets, so I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
There I am on my Graduation Day with the Nova, two days before starting work.  Don't I look excited?

What I was terrified of next, however, was finding a place to park.  Ethel had failed to give me a pamphlet with directions, though I doubt they would have done me any good.  I was still at sea in this town, it was all unfamiliar territory. I tried my best to calm down, it wouldn't do to drive in the state I was in.  My eyes started to tear up as I cussed myself out for being such a dimwit.  Why hadn't I realized parking on the street wasn't the right thing to do?  How could I have been so naive?  I had a wild urge to simply start the car and go straight home. I thought I had done all of the 'what-ifs' scenarios the day before, but this one wasn't even on my fantasy radar.  

But no time for tears now, I had to get my bearings.  I remembered when Dad and I had left town on Saturday we had simply gone around the block to get back to the street that we had chosen as the best and safest route back home.  But wouldn't you know, the same construction that had blocked my path earlier in the morning had also sprouted up in the next few blocks, too.  I needed to make a left-hand turn and every time I tried, the roads were closed.   I ended up following a detour, and hit every red light that was ever invented. Then I got turned around in a maze of one-way streets and before I knew it I was hopelessly lost. 

I looked at my wristwatch and knew I'd already been gone far too long, fifteen minutes had passed already, but what could I do?  I drove far enough away from the downtown area that the traffic was lightening up a little, and pulled to a stop along the sidewalk.  It's a good thing I worked in the tallest building in town, or I would have never found the place again. Using the building as a beacon, I finally wended my way back to the general area on completely unfamiliar streets and kept a close look out for a parking ramp.  I found one, but the arm/gate thing at the entrance threw me.  What was I supposed to do here?  Drive in?  Pay first?  Punt, pass or kick?  I'd never been in a parking ramp in my life and didn't think now would be a good time to go exploring.

I finally found a parking lot that didn't have someone's company name complete with dire warnings posted everywhere.  There were parking lots with signs declaring I'd better not even think about leaving my car there........."PARKING FOR HARRY'S EMPLOYEES ONLY---ALL OTHER VEHICLES WILL BE TOWED AT OWNER'S EXPENSE! I drove by so many private lots I was starting to think it would be more profitable to open one of my own and forget about going back to the insurance company.

The one I finally found seemed to be a public lot and thankfully, I still had enough change on me to plug the meter for another six hours (oh, good grief, I'd been gone THAT long?) and now it was time to run.  Literally.  I was still a long, long, way from the skyscraper and I made tracks as fast as I could.  I made sure to note the street my car was now parked close to on my mad dash back.  The last thing I needed was to lose the Nova. It had less than a hundred miles on it and I hadn't even owned it a week.

As I ran through the streets, I also ended up running through some road construction sites, too.  Unfortunately, I drew a lot of attention from the crews.  Whistles, catcalls and unpleasant propositions were flung my way as I galloped on through, "Hey, baby...what's your hurry?  Where's the fire?  C'mon back over here, we don't bite.  Not hard, anyway."  I doubted any one of them could have caught me even if they tried. I knew it was harmless heckling, but they did scare me.  I had never been around that sort of thing before, either.

I ran faster.

Finally I rounded the corner and after another two-block-long dash, I was back in the revolving door and on my way up to Employment one more time.  When I finally arrived, disheveled and sweaty in Ethel's conference room, there was good ol' Judith, sitting there eyeballing me again.  She didn't say anything, but her snooty air plainly told me what she thought of me.  She quickly rose from her chair which alerted Ethel to my return.

:"All right.  You're back.  I trust you found a place to park now?  We were starting to wonder there for a bit.  If you'll follow me, we'll get you down to your department.  I'm sure they're wondering where you are." I was trying to make some repairs to my appearance as we marched to the elevator, but it was fruitless.  If first impressions make you or break you, I was in a heap o' trouble. 

The Records Department was on the second floor.  We were led in by Ethel who turned us over to Martha, a thin middle-aged lady with a look of business written all over her.  Introductions were made and Judith and I were taken on a tour of the department.  The first thing that caught my eye were the files.  Row after row of paper files, thousands upon countless thousands of them, each containing the insurance policies and vital information of every member insured by All Casualty Mutual.  There was one wing of the huge department devoted to member files bearing the surnames A-K and another wing on the other side of the building devoted to L-Z.  The sheer volume of folders was stunning.  Picture the largest library you've ever seen and multiply it by fifty.  This was a big haystack in which to lose a needle.

Every piece of paper correspondence that came into the insurance company eventually made its way down to Records.  Each piece had to be filed in it's owner's folder.  And it was all of our jobs to keep the folders current with all their forms and retrieve them for any other department needing to access the information inside.  It was not unusual for over five feet of correspondence to be sent down to records in any given day and when times were good and certain types of insurance products were selling briskly, that number could double easily. 

Since it was such a big department, at the time, if I remember correctly, there were over sixty employees working there, all women.  In the very back of the room sat the manager of the department and on either side of her were her assistants. The powers that be were all in the back of the room and the worker bees sat in front of their superiors with their backs to them.  After the supervisors and managers,  there were rows of older ladies known as 'Markers' whose job was mysterious to me.  I still don't really know what their duties constituted, but they were seated all day long.  After the markers came the file clerks whose job it was to pull files out of those vast stacks for other departments and send them up in the in-house mail system.  Then, when the files came back, they could file them back away when they were done.  They sat in the middle rows and most of them were young.

There were more file clerks, phone clerks and other assorted workers in order of job levels all the way to the aisle in the front of the room where an archaic teletype thing sat, noisily spewing out requisitions for folders ceaselessly on little three-part carbon order forms.  The form had the name of the member, the policy number, the date and who the file was to be sent to.  

It would take me far too long to explain the workings of the job I was hired for and I don't wish to bore anyone any more than I already have, so suffice it to say, we handled paper.  Lots and LOTS of paper.

Martha was a very strict supervisor and not well-liked by many of the girls who worked for her.  She gave Judith and I the grand tour through the files and then introduced us to each and every one of the 'girls' in the department.  I found it a trifle ironic I was simply going from a 'Dolly's Girl' in high school to a 'Records Girl' in the workaday world in such a short time, but there it was.  I couldn't remember any of the 'girls' names for the life of me, either.  It was all so overwhelming.

Finally, Martha took us to a desk and sat us down to learn the complex-looking code used for filing in the company,  Soundex.

Soundex is a phonetic algorithm for indexing names by sound. The goal is for homophones to be encoded to the same representation so that they can be matched despite minor differences in spelling.  (Got that?)

 This is the same type of filing system the DMV uses for driver's licenses.  I could win bar bets if I were the drinking/betting kind and tell anyone what the first four digits of their driver's licenses are just as long as I know how they spell their last name. If your last name happens to be Smith,  you're an S530.  If your surname is Johnson, well, then you are a J525.  Kadiddlehopper would be K341.
If you would like, me, Karen, to index your name by sound, please send me your requests.  (Just kidding.)

I love words and word games, so learning Soundex was actually very easy and enjoyable.  We were given sheets of sample surnames to encode and left to our own devices until lunch.  At least this I could handle. My fears subsided a little bit.

Lunch would prove to be a yet another problem, though. Martha came up to Judith and I at noon and said, "All right, we'll go to lunch now.  Bring your money or if you have something from home, bring that, too.  On your first day I will take you up to the lunchroom to acquaint you with the procedure."

We followed Martha through our department to the elevator and waited with the other employees to board when the door opened.  Once we arrived on the sixth floor, we were in an area with smaller, restaurant type tables flanking a main kitchen and a counter where we were told to pick up a tray and slide it down the metal rails as we made our food selections.  I chanced a remark to Judith  as to how finally, something felt familiar.  I was happy to see how much this resembled the high school cafeteria back home.   Judith said something under her breath that I couldn't quite catch.  I asked her to repeat it, but she just shook her head and rolled her eyes again. She had the eye-rolling thing down to a science.  It's a wonder she didn't get dizzy.

After we had selected our food and Martha led us to the cashier, she told us to feel free to select a table among all the other dining employees. Lunch breaks company-wide were at slightly staggered intervals so there would be room to feed the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked there.

Martha didn't sit with us, but pointed out the trash receptacles and the clock on the wall.  "Lunch breaks are fifty minutes.  Make sure you are back in the office with at least ten minutes to spare.  Enjoy your lunch."  And with that, she disappeared.

I sat down to the sandwich and apple I had selected from the counter and, trying to be conversational, asked Judith if she was hungry.  She didn't say anything, so I said, "Oh, I'm so glad the day is half over.  It doesn't seem like just a week ago, I was still in high school.  Did you graduate last weekend, too?"

Still no reply.  Judith was busy looking for something in her purse when I tried for the third time.  "Gosh, I'm so nervous. But I think I'm getting the hang of the filing system, thank goodness.  After the parking mistake, I was ready to go back to the farm."

"The know what?  Shut up!  Do you ever just shut up?  God, you're pathetic.  Just do me a favor, ok?  Don't talk to me," she snapped. 

At first I thought she was kidding, but when she backed her insult up with another one of her icy glares, I suddenly lost what little appetite I had.  This on top of the morning's fiasco was almost too much.   I would have no friend in this petulant sock puppet  There was nothing else to do for the incredibly long fifty minutes but try to eat my meal.  As soon as Judith ate hers, she was up and gone.  I stayed at the table by myself.  There was no point in going anywhere.  I felt so small and stupid and completely out of place.   I wanted so badly once more to just go home and another wave of longing and self-pity swept over me when I thought of what I'd gotten myself into.  I'd have to do this all again tomorrow and the next day and the next, with no end in sight.

The big clock on the cafeteria wall finally moved closer to quarter to one, so I made my way back to the office alone.  I boarded the elevator, riding down from the sixth to the second floor with many other well-dressed professional people who also didn't have anything to say to each other.  As the door opened and closed on each floor, more got on and some got off, and it was a like a bad dream.  Everything was so foreign, every face was a stranger.

As I rounded the corner to our department, I needed to find a restroom.  I had ten minutes until it was time to go back to encoding homophones.  I came down the hallway which abruptly came into my department and noticed some of the other girls who worked in the department  were standing around talking quietly.  They were on the same lunch break I was, but they all knew each other.  Aha, so conversations did occur in this asylum, I thought.

When they saw me, they stopped talking and stared.  I smiled shyly, and glancing briefly at the restroom door I was about to enter, quickly swung it open and stepped in.  That was when I heard the laughter.  I thought how nice it was to hear that sound until I noticed something was decidedly wrong with the bathroom I just entered.  I'd never seen toilets like those before.  Oh, not again....  Would there be no end to my bad luck?  I had just walked into the men's room.  And the entire department had just seen me do it, since everyone's desks faced the bathroom doors.

I was mortified.  I stood there in the empty men's room in dumb disbelief.  What could I do to save face?  Nothing but open the door and walk three feet to the correct gender facilities and hope that someday I could live this down.  I tried to handle myself the way Dad did after the hecklers taunted him.  I didn't have much dignity left though; this job was turning out to be the biggest nightmare of my life.

When finally 4:20 rolled around, Martha said I could go home.  I picked up my purse and headed out into the sunshine again.  I was stunned to see how much of the day I had missed.  It was odd to think of being cooped up in a building all day long when I was so used to being outside.  And I was also amazed at how tired I was, too.  I hadn't done anything physical (well, except for the marathon I had run earlier in the day) but I felt bruised and sore at heart.

There was a throng of people coming out of the building and I had been told to enter and exit from now on by a back door, so we had to go through an alley of sorts.  It was windy and dank and not at all pleasant.  The crowd thinned out the farther we all walked as people headed to the closer, more senior personnel lots.  By the time I got to my remote site, I was the only one.  At least my Nova was still waiting for me.

I opened the door, climbed in, locked the door, and had a good, cleansing cry.

Then after the sobs subsided, I blew my nose and tried to find my way home.

I did not want to come back. 




Alison said...

I wouldn't want to go back to that either, especially to that "petulant sock puppet." LOL I'm glad you had Carl to go back to every day.

Anonymous said...

You are amazing to get through that hell of a day.

FlowerLady said...

That day of yours was 'horrible'.

HolleyGarden said...

Gosh, I've been "Christmas-ing" and have gotten behind in my blog reading. I've just finished reading all 8 parts. What a terrible place to start work! I can't believe Judith and her rudeness! What a sad person she must be. I would have thought they could have explained a bit better where to park on the first day. But, I suppose, people forget all the things people don't know on their first day of work. You are such a sweet person, I know you'll end up making friends and bringing cheer to this cold place.

Randy Emmitt said...


Did you graduate from a nunnery? Ha, that outfit and so much enthusiasm! I had an old 76 Nova at one point, it was pretty old by the time I got it, Ford shocks in the back and each week it need transmission fliud if you wanted to put it into drive. I posted a photo of Christmas lights on my page I'm sure you'll know the answer to what it is!

Toni - Signature Gardens said...

Okay. I'm addicted to your story now. Can't wait for #9! It's got to get better from here on out, right? I don't think it could get much worse. Bless your heart!! I hope that reliving these memories for you is cathartic and you are looking back with a sense of humor (as you seem to be) and it is not just bringing back the pain of that time. Although, as I think about it, these posts all started with a pain, right (of the tailbone kind)? I'm so glad you were able to get back to the farm eventually and build the beautiful gardens you now have. Judith has no idea what she missed out on!

Rosemary said...

I have been enthralled with your saga... What a way to start a job. So hope your booboo is healing.