Air Conditioning

I ought not to let this hiatus go on much longer.

Edward Hopper, Office at Night, 1940

It seems like months ago, when in fact it’s only been a few weeks. But when I interviewed for the position, one of the J’s asked me what I thought I would like most about the job. Idealizing it, I thought, and gave them a fitting answer.

“I hate sitting in front of the computer all day,” I said, “I look forward to having a job that will let me exercise my creativity and interact with people.

They nodded, telling me that’s exactly the type of position it was. After all, they were looking for a liaison of sorts, an organized and competent individual who could write the hundreds of emails it takes to get a video made and a website launched. I would spend time in front of the computer – that was inevitable – but I would be up and walking a lot too. Especially to the factory, where the windows are made, and perhaps up and down the smaller corporate building looking for my bosses, who are often away on business.

I’m not complaining. The work is challenging in a strange, good way.

“Reorganize our website,” they said.

“I don’t know anything about web design,” I said.

“Just try your best.”

Then they said, “Write a storyboard for a company products video we want to make.”

“I don’t…okay. I’ll try my best.”

“Yes, we know. That’s why we hired you.”

During the interview they had winked to let me know they acknowledged all the hard work that must have gone behind my GPA, a foggy indicator of ability to anyone who knows anything about English majors. They smiled pleasantly at all the other jobs (mostly unpaid) listed on my resume, which I had beefed up with English major embellishing skills. The day had been cold and the tiny conference room with an outstanding echo we were in was even colder. I shivered in my chair, wondering if my lips were as blue as my fingers. They took me on a tour of the factory and it too, was cold, but not quite. The machines, the people, the lights that seemed to hang so much further away than the plastic-covered florescent lights of the corporate buildings seemed warmer. People smiled at me as I walked through, perhaps because I was young, and perhaps because I smiled back. As I began my work, I realized that I preferred the factory to the corporate building.

This is not to say the corporate building is not a pleasant place to be. It is just cold. Too cold, with several of the offices kept at meat locker temperatures. I shiver at work. I sit, shiver and I type. My fingers turn blue and I find myself envying the men and women who work in the factory behind me, especially the guys in the tropical acrylic molding room. 

My bosses are kind, tall, white. Family men. J1 is fifty and frugal – a rarity for most of the white men I’ve met. He drives an old burgundy Mercedes, brings his lunch, and golfs with 25-year old golf clubs. Ten years ago, his wife couldn’t stand to watch him play with the rusting clubs anymore and bought him a new set, which he promptly returned.

“I don’t need them,” he told her.

A few years later, he lost his job and a friend of a friend, knowing J1 to be a good, Christian man, hired him for the marketing department of his company that was like Groupon. Except it wasn’t Groupon. It folded after a few months with the CEO closed the company down one night without bothering to tell any of his fifteen employees. J1 woke up the next morning unemployed. 
“Not even a phone call. Not even an email,” he said, leaning on the edge of my cubicle with his face pointed thoughtfully towards the ceiling.
“But yes,” he said, “Golf is important. I think my being hired here had something to do with my game. And my clubs.” He’s a humble player – doesn’t lie about how many strokes he take – and it helps that his clubs are old.
“When your clubs are all shiny and new but your game is terrible, then people know you’re all talk. An egomaniac. Most people don’t like to make deals with egomaniacs.”
People won’t think he’s all talk either way. J1 is blessed with an earnest face. A little too tan, but it’s from riding his bike with his dog, six miles a day rather than lounging around in his backyard with a young wife. But frugal as he is, he acknowledged that 25 years had taken a toll on his golf clubs. A month ago he went to a tournament where one swing sent his club head one way and the golf ball another. He stood sheepishly on the green, a six-foot four man in neat, pressed clothes (he takes care of his things) holding nothing but a rusty shaft with a shabby grip.

“I think I’ll get some new clubs this year,” he said.

J2 in his early thirties and elusive like men in their thirties are. He’s been at the company longer than J1 and his eyes have a mischievous twinkle. He was an English major too, a fact he mentioned during the interview, and I wondered what books he liked to read.
“They came looking for an engineer, but they got an English major instead,” he joked. He seemed to be thinking many things at once, but it was he that put me at ease. He comes to talk to me less than J1, as J1 has seemed to make the video his pet project, which works for J2, because he travels more and attends more meetings when he is around, but when I poke my head into his office he, mouth filled with sunflower seeds, always waves with giant hands for me to come in, reminiscent of my professor. He comes in early and leaves early, because he has a toddler at home. These men in their thirties with their young kids, wives that still look good and want to go out and the energy to play with their kids, smiling and crawling after them with their Blackberries so they can simultaneously read their email and take baby pictures.

J2 brought his baby daughter to work one day, an 18-month year old angel with strong legs and caramel hair, who shrieked and ran in and around the product display area – a behemoth of history and transparencies, designed by the interns before me. She stomped around and under the glossy transparencies that hang from wires like stiffened, discarded alien placentas. She grabbed at nothing, as her small fingers couldn’t possibly wrap themselves around anything as slippery as chemically strengthened glass and acrylic. I overheard a woman in the office say that she had her father’s lips and because I could not see this or any other similarity, I said the same thing.

“She does have your lips,” I said, wondering if he would think it were a compliment. Then the little girl turned her face at me and away again, in a flash. She had blue eyes, bluer even than J2 when he wears a blue shirt, and I thought to say this, but he spoke first.

“So, you have any toddlers in your family?”

I thought about my pregnant cousin and her husband, a guy freshly thirty who stands just as J2 was standing next to me now.
“Soon,” I said. “August or something. We’re an old family now.”

He picked his baby up, settling her in the crook of his arm, her rounded pink bottom like a pillow on his elbow. I put my hand up to touch her hands, but then pulled back, wondering if it was polite to touch your boss’ kid, especially when your hands are freezing. Better not burn her with the cold, I thought, and put my hands in my pocket. Walking away, J2 smiled at his baby, warm in his arms like a fresh loaf of bread.

One thought on “Air Conditioning

  1. i'm going to interpret your preference for the factory over the office as a stand-in for a proclivity toward blue collar, rather than white collar, sensibilities. and if there was a like button here, i would click it.

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