Sunday, June 06, 2010

Work it out

When I was a young impressionable kid growing up, I watched my father come down to breakfast every morning dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie. He’d sit and eat his soft boiled eggs drizzled with soya sauce, sip his black coffee while reading the newspapers and then pop into the study to fill his briefcase with important looking files and books before heading out the door.

“Where’s Papa going?” I remember asking the maid once.

“He’s going to the office!” Connie replied with all the enthusiasm of a condo security guard on a slow night.

“What for?”

She shrugged. “I think he does something important. I don’t know.”

A thought occurred to me. “What’s an office?”

“It’s a place where Sir make money so he can afford to buy your mother diamonds and feed you three!”

I, of course, found the whole idea so intriguing that I went to Mother and reported the conversation. “That’s really rich coming from someone who eats an entire loaf of bread a day!” Mother said stiffly.

But years later – right through school and then university – I dreamt of the day when I would get to work in an office and do mysterious things like my father. To me, the whole idea of working in an office was the same as growing up.

I couldn’t wait to grow up.

And then came the day when I actually walked into an office for my first day at work as a junior legal clerk. I sat at my desk staring around the tiny space. On one side was a tiny grimy window that looked out into another building. Next to it was a grubby desk on which sat a clunky pre-Apple computer with a keyboard with grey keys. A filing cabinet and a dying pot plant sat next to another wall, and overhead was a flickering fluorescent lamp.

I was profoundly moved by the moment. This was the mythical office of my childhood. This was the source of Mother’s diamonds and Connie’s daily loaf of bread. This was what it meant to be grown up.

I think the novelty lasted all of one hour. The secretary came in with a pile of dusty old files that I was actually meant to read and do something about. The phone started ringing and then my boss started screaming about something to someone and he kept using a word rhyming with ‘fire-truck’ repeatedly. The whole office, I soon realized, lived in a state of unrelenting paranoia and fear. And before long, the flickering fluorescent light lent the whole place the atmosphere of an asylum where the craziest person in the joint was the warden.

At the end of the day, I went home in a stunned daze, sat down on the sofa and called my sister. “I can’t believe this is what I’ve been working towards my whole life!”

“You always did live in La La Land!” my sister announced with all the sympathy of the school yard bully. “At least you get an office! I work in an open plan space with a bunch of Neanderthals who spend half the day telling fart jokes and the other half staring at my boobs. I hate my life!”

I’ve long since left my first office – even though, some nights, I still dream of my terrible boss screaming at me. The other two law firms I went to weren’t that much better. My third boss had an even nastier temper than the first and, by then, I realized that being a lawyer is just not like Ally McBeal or The Practice at all. There is not a trace of glamour about it. In fact, if you ask me, it’s more like being the victim on CSI.

The other day, Saffy said that if she has to work in an office for the rest of her life, she’d rather kill herself. “This whole commuting to work and staring at the stupid computer screen from 9 to 6 crap is just so incredibly inhumane!” she declared, her ample bosom heaving with force.

“You guys are weird! I love working!” Amanda piped up. “It gives me such a buzz to go into the office each day!”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re really weird, Amanda,” Saffy declared as she hoisted her handbag and headed for the door. She later sent me a text message: “I wonder what it must b like 2 live in A’s world. Earning all dat money wld give me a huge buzz too!”

I just want to go back in time and give my younger self this message: “Don't be an idiot. Being a lawyer sucks big time. Take up golf.”

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