I once had a job working for an employment agency. I was young and desperate. My boss was a sleazy guy who liked young girls. He’d call us into his office one at a time to inquire about our love lives. Think of me as your father, he’d say, as he probed for details with a sick curiosity that would make the National Inquirer proud.
Every day I rose from my bed, put on a dress and rode the bus downtown. I pushed against a revolving golden door, walked through a lobby, got in an elevator and pressed the button for the fifth floor. We all stood together in long awkward moments of silence and waiting. When the elevator door opened, I got out, walked to my little cubicle, hung up my coat, and began my day making cold calls. It was my job to find new businesses to hire our applicants.
When lunch came, I got up, put on my coat, stepped into the elevator, pushed the button for the first floor, waited again, and got out. I walked through the lobby to the golden revolving door, then stepped outside into measured minutes of freedom. I took a deep breath of fresh air and felt sunlight on my face, like a prisoner doing time in the yard. I ate a thirty minute lunch, left a tip on the counter and headed outside. After lunch, you guessed it. I pushed against the golden revolving door, walked through the lobby, got into the elevator, pressed the button for the fifth floor, waited, got out of the elevator, walked to my cubicle, took off my coat, picked up the phone and made phone calls.
Sometimes this routine was broken by an orange light flashing on my phone. That meant the manager had dreamed up some excuse to call me into his office, so he could slime me with questions about my non-existent love life. His cubicle was set higher than ours, in case we missed the fact that he was God. He made afternoon rounds of all the young women he’d placed in his barnyard cubicles, strutting through the aisles, like a rooster surveying hens.
Sometimes an actual human being came in to fill out an application, which was a delightful distraction, but short lived.
At five o’clock, I rose from my desk, grabbed my coat and stepped into the elevator. I pressed the button for the first floor, and listened to the elevator squeak and groan as it carried us slowly down. The heavy silver doors opened. I’d walk across the lobby, out the golden revolving door and into the street.
This went on for three entire months, until one day something inside me broke. I picked up the phone to call employers, but had nothing to say. The elevator door was all I could think of. It was large, coffin like, silver and waiting. I saw my whole life being played out like a rat in a maze and wanted to vomit. I knew in that moment that I could never go up and down in that box again. After the rooster-warden made his rounds, I decided to make some very different kind of phone calls. I took out the yellow card files that held the jobs and the white files that held the names of each applicant, and called them one at time. I have the perfect job for you, but don’t tell them the agency sent you, or you’ll be charged a fee. Just go over and introduce yourself and tell them what you’re good at. Oh, and whatever you do, no matter how desperate you are, don’t ever ever come to this agency to find work. You will not be happy with the result.
It was Friday. I collected my paycheck, told the manager I was leaving to start a brothel and walked out the door. I walked straight ahead to the elevator, then made a sharp right turn and took the stairs.