The Great Breakthrough

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“He made an effort to hold down a regular job, but he was a terrible employee and didn’t seem to be suited for anything practical…”
I Celebrate Myself: The Somewhat Private Life of Allen Ginsberg by Bill Morgan

I once had an extraordinary job, extraordinary in that little to nothing was expected of me and the job stayed that way for five years. Later it changed slightly, and then continued for another three years. I was the receptionist—for a family-owned company that employed about three hundred people in various locations nationwide—with no one to receive. Once in a while the phone rang, but most calls went through an automated system. Once in a while a salesperson or visitor came to the door, but little happened.
I sat in a hole in the corner on the cold ground floor. Most of the action took place on the second. I had minimal interaction with the other employees and for those first five years, I probably went upstairs about five times. It was bliss.
So little happened at this dreary job that I was able to research and write a book, and it was done openly—no one paid attention to me or what I did—and I blessed them for it. I was paid so little attention to that one Christmas Eve the entire company went home and I was the only one left there. Mine was the sole car in the parking lot. All the other employees fled hours before. I didn’t mind because I always had plenty of work to do—my own work of writing. When I tired of writing, I had stacks of books to read, and it was as quiet in my own little corner as a library.
I liked my coworkers. They were people raising families and paying mortgages. Their children were their top priority, naturally, and because I had no children, there was no competition between us, but also little common interest, as my interests lay in other things.
Managers ran in and out of the building—not past my desk in the hole, but from a staircase on the side. Some left for the day no later than 2:30, yes, 2:30 in the afternoon.
The CEO showed up less than five times a year. Some employees didn’t even know what the CEO looked like.
After the five years something happened, no one bothered to explain and it didn’t matter to me, but the old CEO was replaced by a new CEO, his cousin. The former CEO appeared to be a mild-mannered, low-keyed type. The new CEO was a small man with a large Napoleonic complex: foul-mouthed, dirty-minded, rude, loud, and obnoxious. He brought with him his spoiled little dog.
If the dog rolled over to have his tummy scratched, the almost entire female staff obliged him.
“Whoa! Do me, baby! I wanna be on my back with women scratching my belly!” Nappy the new CEO said whatever he felt like saying. He was the biggest shareholder with no opposition and people were intimidated by him.
His voice bellowed across the office, “Bea,” he yelled to a long term, hard-working, middle-aged manager, “Get over here and let’s get it on!” What could she do but slap on a tight grin? She couldn’t go to HR and complain, that was another of Nappy’s cousins. Soon, Bea, the
most trusted of managers was promoted to VP, and then she lost her job. Why? Things like that were neither commented on nor explained. However, the heads began to roll.
Nappy smoked cigars and set up a bar and drank in his office, or wherever he felt like drinking, smoking, swearing. On his office wall hung a phallic-like dog toy with an obscene slogan taped below it so no one could mistake what the thing was.
The writing was on the wall in many ways and all was changed now that Nappy was at the helm, and I knew I wouldn’t survive. But again I lucked out for a few more years and remained mostly secluded and undisturbed. He wasn’t there most of the time, but then the changes grew bigger and bigger, and the office was completely gutted and renovated. I was moved out of the hole to the glass fish bowl, front and center, an enormous custom-made desk that cost $25,000 and looked like a silver-and-black flying saucer. I was now the office centerpiece.
I showed a photo of that desk to a columnist at a national magazine and he said, “Not since I worked at the White House have I seen such an elaborate reception area.” Overkill, as nothing about Nappy or his ways were subtle.
The company manufactured for more than a century a certain highly specialized, shall we say, women’s athletic wear. I don’t know how they stayed in business for so long but after the mild-mannered CEO left, an article in The Wall Street Journal called the company “long-ailing.” Apparently, it had been doing poorly for years.
A former brother-in-law of Nappy explained him to me this way: Years ago and long before he was CEO, the company sold leftover stock at their quiet suburban location once a year at very discounted prices. Well-mannered suburban mothers and little girls flocked to buy the
leftovers. For this event Nappy always packed his biggest firearm in the waistband in the back of his pants. Overkill, of course, the only surprise being he didn’t pack the gun in the front of his pants.
After eight years of having the family tell me how much they loved me and that I was the best receptionist the company ever had, having never once been reprimanded for anything, and surviving morning hugs and kisses on the cheek from Nappy, one Friday at 3:00 I got sacked with “your position has been eliminated.” I was intended to be escorted out the door by one of the 2:30 managers. Three years before, I packed my essentials in a quick getaway bag in my desk —and the other personal junk I had I threw in the garbage—so I was pretty much ready to go. I gave the manager a bit of lip and walked out the door alone. I didn’t mind losing my mindless job—seeing the heads roll caused tension in this game of office Russian roulette and the atmosphere was no longer pleasant—however, I was insulted by the callous way they did it. I walked past Nappy who stood in a side door outside with another cousin consigliere, dull, fat, and cowardly, and two vapid girlfriends. I didn’t look at them or say anything. They had been drinking sangria all afternoon.
I’ll never get another job like that again. Who ever heard of such a gig? But the position seemed predestined: a time to sit down and write. And there is The Great Breakthrough, as Ginsberg discussed with his therapist Dr. Philip Hacks, “I really would like to stop working forever—and do nothing but write poetry and have leisure to spend the days outdoors…” The doctor’s reply, “Well, why don’t you?”
Ginsberg sometimes took office jobs so he could use the office machines, which is completely understandable. I miss the copier.

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Author: GK Stritch

GK Stritch is a contributor to Beatdom and the author of CBGB Was My High School. The book is available at the St. Mark's Bookshop, New York City, and amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.

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