At nineteen, I needed a summer job. One that required no skills. I scoured the employment section of the Star Ledger daily, but saw none meeting this description. I’d been avoiding temp agencies, as flux in my schedule provoked serial tizzies. But, I realized, they did have one advantage. By the time an employer discovered the breadth of my incompetence, I’d be off to my next job.
I signed up with Ultra-Temps. My first assignment was fill-in for the typist at Korrell Roofing, who’d landed herself in rehab by doing coke at work. I worried that the drug had enabled her to type at record speeds, setting the bar unnaturally high for me. Compounding this, I’d likely have to type forms — which, I suspected, exceeded my capabilities.
When I arrived the first day, there was good news and bad. The good news was, I didn’t need to grasp the complexities of roofing. The bad news was, the Korrell’s were a couple badly in need of divorce.
“Lou!” Danielle shouted to the next room. “Where the fuck did you put the Wallace invoice?”
“Will you stop bugging me with goddamn piddly shit, Danielle?” Lou yelled back. “I’m dealing with real problems here.”
“Asshole,” Danielle groaned. She collapsed into a seat on the other side of my desk. “He’s such a piece of shit. That obnoxious mouth of his. . . and trust me, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You should see how he leaves the bathroom at home. Disgusting. He gets it from his mother. . . ”
I sat dumbly, wondering how long Danielle would continue on her trajectory, and whether she’d expect me to offer a shiny jewel of wisdom when she finally stopped. This too exceeded my capabilities: I’d only dated one boy, and he’d called me –collect! — to break up on Valentine’s Day.
Derailing my thoughts, Michelle exclaimed, “June! Where are you? Are you listening to me?”
My attention snapped back to the moment. Danielle sat up straight, cleared her throat, and slid a piece of paper across the desk to me. Abruptly, she said, “This is sloppy work. All the information has to be typed exactly in the middle of the spaces.” She paused, gave me a pointed look. “Do you understand?”
I understood. I just couldn’t manage it. One week in and I’d already gone through six bottles of White-out.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll try to do better.”
“I hope so,” Danielle replied. Turning, she cupped her hands around her mouth and screamed, “Lou, would you get your shit together and deal with inventory? We need more White-out!”
Halfway into my second week, Danielle waved me into the other office and pointed to a pile of boxes. “My niece’s bridal shower is this weekend,” she said. “I need you to wrap gifts.”
I tried to swallow, but my mouth had gone dry.
I have a spatial learning disability. Despite my mother and sister’s countless tutorials over the decades, I still can’t wrap a gift, any more than I can choose the right sized lid for my coffee at 7-11 or change my vacuum cleaner bag. I always end up wrestling hacked up, crinkled sheets of wrapping paper, with limply curled ribbons taped to unlikely parts of my body.
There was no way I was going to try to wrap in front of Danielle Korrell.
“I’m sorry, Danielle, but I can’t. And that’s not my job, anyway.” I took a deep breath. Then, “I’m going back to work.”
I turned and went back to my desk. I sat down, hit two typewriter keys, and botched the rest of the line.
The next morning when I got to work, the office door was locked. I knocked lightly, then started to bang. No answer. I knew the Korrells were there; their cars were in the lot. And, having a security camera, they knew full well it was me.
I wondered how long I should keep knocking