“It could have been much worse, and you know it,” I sneered at myself while crouching on the toilet in the very last bathroom stall. I was having trouble breathing normally because I was squatting with my feet on the edge of the toilet lid so that Janice from Accounting would not know I was there.
I had 15 minutes to get myself together before meeting with my boss to discuss the email I accidentally sent to him.
“Jesus. How long does it take to wash your hands,” I screamed at Janice in my head. My right leg was cramping, and she was still scrubbing away and checking her hair in the mirror. I bowed my head to pray for strength to maintain my balance on the toilet and noticed that the hem of my skirt was floating in the toilet bowl, like a urine-soaked Ophelia.
“Why didn’t I flush the toilet before I stood on the seat? No wonder I am about to get fired.” At least there were only 12 minutes left until the meeting, but now I had to dry my skirt under the hand blower. I had to wear the wool skirt on the day I ended up perched on the toilet. What I wouldn’t have done to be wearing quick-dry polyester.
With one minute to go, I stood outside Dr. Briton’s door thinking about my excuse. My mind was blanker than my future, so I just smoothed down the front of my sweater, ignored the faint stench of urine emanating from my skirt, and knocked on his door.
He finished whatever sentence he was writing about statistical regression analysis and swiveled his chair around. He stood and gestured for me to join him in what I referred to as the “lounge” area of his office. I dutifully took a seat on the blue chenille loveseat and stared at his three framed Harvard degrees.
“I think we should talk about this email,” he started.
“I didn’t mean to send that to you. I apologize.” To my horror, Dr. Briton produced a copy of my email. I noticed that certain portions of it were highlighted in yellow and tabbed. Damn academics—none of them could read a single word without tabbing it like it was a Heidegger text.
“How long have you been my administrative assistant?”
“I started in July, so it’s been four months.” This was going well. I knew all the answers to his questions.
“Judging by your email, it appears you have some grievances.” He put on his reading glasses and scanned his highlights of my mis-fired email.
“I could see how you got that impression.” I offered.
“You wrote here, ‘I’m so bored. I feel about as useful as the extra thumb that inbred people in the Appalachians have.’” He stared at me.
I held up my hands and wriggled my thumbs.
He was not amused. Not many tenured professors enjoy the liberal employment of jazz hands.
“If you are that bored, Ms. Tate, we can get you more work to do.”
“I would appreciate that very much. It’s been an honor to send faxes detailing your speaking fees to Yale and Stanford. I guess I was just hoping for a little more to do.”
“Well, I would say that you could help Margaret out, but I am not sure you would be a good fit.”
Jesus. He read the whole thing? I was hoping he would stop after the first few paragraphs, especially when he was clearly not the intended recipient. In the fifth paragraph, I mentioned my feelings about the Co-Chair of the department, Dr. Margaret Roth. My boss’ wife.
“I am sure we could work it out,” I mumbled feebly.
Dr. Briton read aloud my choice words for his Beloved: “And Dr. Roth thinks I am a mentally deficient monkey. She made me track down the origin of a $4.25 fee on her personal credit card. Her personal card!”
It’s true that I hated Dr. Roth because she treated me like a personal assistant and not the professional administrative assistant that I was. And, frankly, I was concerned about her dysfunctional obsession with credit card fees. I longed to remind her that I earned a Master’s degree at the esteemed university that now saw fit to hire me as an “Admin Level 1.”
“I apologize for those remarks. I will find a better way to vent my petty annoyances.” Was he going to fire me or not? I thanked God I hadn’t said anything about the scions of Dr. Briton and Dr. Roth, who were known best for their overbites and unfortunate inability to tame their cowlicks.
“We can find you more work to do, but you need to be more careful with email.” Dr. Briton said.
It sounded like he was done talking to me.
Our meeting over, I turned to leave, my spirits buoyed because my fledging career as a university admin still had a heartbeat.
On the way back to my desk, I passed Janice from Accounting. “Do you smell something? Is the bathroom broken again?” She said, engaging me in co-worker banter.
Turning the damp part of my skirt towards the wall, I looked Janice in the eye and said, “I don’t smell a thing.”