I am feeling nostalgic today. I was trying to write my application letter to the University of Liverpool for a full scholarship this morning, and Nina Simone hypnotized me in to experimenting with hot curling irons and red lipstick (“Do what you gotta do” is an all time favorite and makes me think of all my exes for very different reasons). I am sitting on stage at a large conference in Johannesburg waiting for The Guru to give me a sign that I should flip to the next page of the presentation. I am a bit worried that I look like a strung out harlot from the Jazz age. My short feathered plum chiffon dress and black patent gladiator pumps aren’t helping. I am tempted to stop the sound guy during his next round and asking for a scotch on the rocks and an ashtray to complete the look. Oh well. I threw on a small black box jacket at the last moment to try and gain a degree of respectability, and am now struggling under the bright stage lights. I hit the enter button and the screen flashes to a graph showing success through Guru implementation. I am kinda proud of my slick timing today.
The hall is full. As usual there are groups of younger people who have little interested in what The Guru is dictating on stage. There are the text-ers (tap-taping on their cell phones), the earphone guys (little black wires jammed in to their ears playing news, podcasts, music, whatever), the doodlers (drawing pictures on the expensive Four Seasons note pads instead of filling them with notes) and the sleepers (I am one of those whenever BB is doing the honors on stage). Most of the older audience is wide awake either nodding or holding their hands up trying to get some kind of clarification regarding the enlightened rhetoric that is filling the hall with more and more confusion.
The Guru ignores everyone, and he started talking more to himself than the audience. I see he is getting irritable and restless. This means it’s almost time for a nicotine break. I check the overview to see where one might be squeezed in without disrupting the flow of the presentation. I signal to Guru that we’ve got another five slides, and then we can have a break. He stops and says “I need to smoke. Break!” and marches out of the room. Damn. There is a shift in the room as the older gang rush out to ask their pending questions and the younger group realize that they no longer need to pretend not to be doing what they are doing.
My right leg has fallen asleep so it’s a pain to hobble off stage after the Guru. One of my functions is to be a door man - I get to buffer who does or does not get to speak with him. The rule is NEVER LEAVE THE GURU ALONE! Last time it happened he spoke with a unauthorized Journalist and I’m still cleaning up the mess. I have to fight through the throng of guys in suits to get to the front of the crowd. There Guru sits with his pipe in hand, stroking some ladies hair as he addressed the crowd about his favorite shampoo brand. It is definitely cringe worthy. The poor lady has the facial expression of a mouse caught by a playful cat; don’t move and you might survive this. In this PC climate women no longer know how to react to this kind of crap.
I wedge myself between them and ask for a cappuccino for myself and a latte for the Guru. I turn my back to the group and start an intimate conversation as I move us to another section of the terrace, trying to make it as unappealing as possible for people to join us. Slowly the group starts to break off. A few stragglers stay and keep looking over at us. I give them a “no chance in hell” look that I learnt from BB. I fish out a cigarette from my handbag and light up, inhaling deeply. Guru looks at me and says “I hate women smoking. Don’t do it”. I laugh until I realize he’s serious. “And your hair looks like shit”. He adds for good measure. How this man ever gets laid is a mystery to me… I smile and say “Well, maybe we should quit together”. He looks at me like I just spat in his face. I guess that is a no then.
It’s rainy despite being the beginning of August. I am still grounded and miserable. I get random texts from the Guru, BB and Sandy, all saying “Oh you are missing out!” and “Wish you were here!” (the last being Sandy). My depression is tempered with dark, moist chocolate cake with a coconut glazing from the local baker (bought by the half-dozen and inhaled rather than eaten). I’ve got this months issue of People style in front of me, and I’m admiring celebrities who can wear shorts. Especially the short-short variety. Personally I’m happier in a floor length maxi-dress. Especially the one I am wearing today from Warehouse. Strapless black jersey, with an embellished bodice. Beautiful and forgiving. If my ankles swell from too much binge drinking the night before; no one knows. If I don’t shave my legs; who can tell? If I have just eaten 6 pieces of cake in 15 minutes; it’ll be a good long while before I reach maximum width capacity on this dress!
I hear my mobile ring in my bag but make no move to get it. BB and I got Iphones last year from T-mobile just to discover, ironically, that we have no coverage in the office. The phone rings, but the minute you answer it it gets disconnected. Five minutes later skype flashes a new message on my screen. It’s Dad.
“Why are you not picking up your phone?”
“I’m in the office.”
“I called you on your mobile.”
“I know. I am in the office.”
Dad offered me a job briefly after my Undergrad degree. He runs his own IT company that sells and customizes packages for large corporations. His partner and now wife, Kate, runs it with him. Needless to say she is a perfect embodiment of Cinderellas evil step-mom. They even share the same hairstylist and love for purple. I somehow, out of desperation, took him up on his offer and joined 20 other has-beens in the soulless quest for quick money and unfounded promotions. After a year of ‘freelancing’ (as in they didn’t pay me unless I pulled in contracts. But they didn’t train me either. I had no idea what we were selling, or what kind of companies we were selling it to), I faded my self out, taking the next job that was offered to me. I sometimes wonder if Dad gets that I quit. He always seems surprised to hear that I am at the office, yet he never bumps in to me by the coffee machine.
“Have you talked to your sister recently?”
“No. Not for a couple of weeks. Why?”
“I don’t want to get involved if you girls are fighting.”
“We are not fighting. Where did you get that from??”
“I’m not going to tattletale.”
“Why? What did she say?”
“Is she ok?”
My sister, Lisa, was the perfect cheerleader. Blond, straight hair, big blue eyes and a tiny pert bum that wobbled just in the right way. She was also a straight A student, very popular, and the apple of dear old dad’s eye. After graduating top of her class, she decided to take a year off to travel, joined a cult and never looked back. Now she lives on a commune out in the middle of the desert, and showers once a month. I’ve been out to visit her a couple of times. Lisa is always surrounded by a flock of kids, though she seems rather confused which two are hers. When I ask about them, she kinda waves a slack hand towards the general thong and says “they appear… and disappear…” Deep, meaningful stoner talk. Only really good hash can get you that kind of dazed conviction of the merits associated with lazier-faire parenting. Lisa’s journey is about spiritual enlightenment, and she likes to shun me for wasting money on things like the new Michael Kors leopard print handbag, and the vintage Yves Saint Laurent paper dress I nabbed off of Ebay a week earlier. Yet, amusingly, she can not live without her blackberry and her 3G. “I’m not a bum!” She’ll cry! “I need to update my Facebook status regularly!”
“How are the kids?”
“Ken and I don’t have kids??”
Dad is on his 6th marriage. His illegitimate offspring seem to crawl out of the woodwork. It was a major “issue” when my Mom was married to him. She’s never been a big one for surprises, and I can remember more than one occasion where she chased some poor girl with a baby wagon down the street waving a broom. Dad’s grandkids are numerous, and I no longer keep count. Mom was his first wife. They lasted for 16 years, and had four kids; my older brother Tony, my sister Lisa, myself, and my younger brother Aaron. We are the only legitimate heirs to the Johnson empire.
“How’s Tony? Did you get a chance to see him when you were in the Keys?”
“He’s fine. He’s been looking for a job.”
“Still with Manny?”
“Still with Manny.”
I haven’t been in touch with my big brother Tony for several years. I never got the impression that he liked me. My first memory of him was him poking me in my crib with a stick. Later he just ignored me. He’s a big, quiet guy. You never know what’s going on in his head. Sometimes I’d ask him a question and he’d just stare back at me like I’d spoken to him in Chinese or some other language he couldn’t understand. A while back he got together with this older lady, Manny. She’s 60. He’s 36. She thinks we are all crazy and prefers it if we don’t interfere. I never got that. How is calling your brother to ask “how you doing?” interfering? Dad is the only one who’s still in touch.
“Good. Still sleeping on our couch.”
“What a looser.”
“I’m just saying.”
Aaron is the baby. Actually, to be more accurate, he’s my baby. Not like my kid. But he’s my boy. I was seven when he was born and from the moment I saw him I decided he was mine. My sister was 13, so more interested in guys than babies, so I had no interruptions when I’d dress him up in dolly clothes and take him for walks in my red crushed velvet baby-doll pram. I used to wish he’d never grow up. He was a perfect little cup cake. To this day, every time I open the door, and he’s there with his back pack, covered in grime, all I want to do is make him a sandwich.
“I have to go, Dad.”
“I’ll see you later.”
I switch my status to ‘invisible’, and get back to my magazine. I have no plans to see my dad anytime soon so I am not sure what he meant. Maybe he’ll be wandering around his office this afternoon hoping to see me by the coffee machine.
BB is passive aggressive. So am I. Sometimes we just stare at each other. Other times the office is filled with a tense silence for days in a row. Usually stand-off’s are solved during special lunches, when I am invited upstairs to eat with BB and her live-in boyfriend, Ruddie. We will sit in silence, moving food around the plate, trying to think of pleasant things to say. Usually Ruddie will be the one who will bring up the subject BB and I are both trying to avoid.
Ruddie is the kind guy I thought was only seen in 80iese coming of age films. He is about a head taller than me, and the color of a tangerine (Body Shop Fake-it spray on tanner). He’s got peppered dark hair slicked back in to a tight pony-tail, and wears white t-shirts with pastel sport coats (always with the sleeves rolled up). Ruddie isn’t young. But he’s younger than BB, which is a great source of pride for both of them. BB pats him on the ass and calls him her toy-boy. He kisses her wetly and calls her Sugar Mamma. Ruddie doesn’t do much. Supposedly he has a successful e-business selling celebrity signatures. This means he’s home 24/7.
“So,” he says during todays lunch. “You’re still not driving.” It’s not a question. It’s a statement. I guess this is what’s been irking BB over the past week. “No. ” I concur. “I am not driving yet.” BB stands up and puts on the coffee machine for some afternoon joe. She avoids looking directly at me. I lied when I interviewed for this job. I needed a driving license and I told her that I was on the verge of getting one. I wasn’t even close. I’d had 3 lessons when I was 18, but quit after the driving instructor yelled at me for not stopping for an old lady on a zebra crossing. I’ve been doing lessons off and on for the past year, but still no license. “That’s a shame.” Ruddie laments. “We expected you to be able to drive by now.” I had had a small victory the day before when I passed my theory test, but I did not want to talk about it to these guys. “Me too” I agree. BB is very busy arranging, and then rearranging two cups on the counter. I guess I’ll have to make my own coffee later. “Real shame.” Ruddie continues.
I start clearing the plates as he talks about past disappointments, and the dire need for people to be able to drive in this day and age, and how unreasonable it is for BB to have to run all the errants for the office. It’s a 10 minute tirade, which isn’t really his to give. BB stays silent. I wipe the table down after filling the dishwasher and move towards the stairs. “Lots of work to do” I state. “Thanks for lunch. It was delicious…”. I catch BB moving back to the kitchen table out of the corner of my eye. She’s shaking her head, while smiling. I have to smile too at the irony of having all my feedback given by someone less qualified than me, and a hell of a lot dumber. I feel like yelling “Why don’t you fire me!”. But I already know they won’t fire me. And I probably won’t quit. Not yet anyways.
I open up my laptop and see the orange Skype box flashing a new message. I click on it and see a message from the Guru. “I am all alone.” It says, with an emoti-con of a sad face. “I need a pretty girl to talk to. Do you still love me?” The Guru is travelling through India for the month of July with his technical assistant. BB had cancelled my ticket at the last minute saying that I was needed at home. “Where’s the pretty girl you took with you?” I ask. “She’s getting me coffee”. I am so happy it’s not me. I post him a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip from my desktop. I have a folder full of things I come across to help me entertain him. It will buy me a couple of minutes. “60 seconds later. “It’s not funny. Why are you not here?”. “I would be” I type back. “You didn’t need me. So I am here, being sad!” Of course it’s not true. But big ego’s need to be reminded that life is dismal and empty without them. I add a rain cloud. Where’s Sandy with his damn coffee.
The office is always cold. I had been working at GURU LTD for about a month. Outside is hot as hell today. I see kids cycling by in shorts and tanktops, chugging Red Bull and blasting Katy Perry on their ipods. I have a hotwater bottle nestled on my lap, and am wearing a fleece poncho over my silk print slip-dress. I have also put my emergency socks on (they live in my top drawer in case of toe-freeze).
I hear the desk chair upstairs scrape against the tiled floor, and the scuffling of slippered feet move towards the kitchen. Mr. Guru is in town, and I met him for the first time yesterday. I quickly close my Facebook page and open a random e-mail as I hear lurching steps come down the stairs. BB has also stopped for a moment, straining her neck like a gazelle catching the scent of a predator on the savanna. I have to smile when she quickly clicks her mouse button as well, coughs lightly and starts to shuffle through the pile of admin on her desk.
Mr. Guru walks in casually puffing on his pipe. He’s wearing an old stained off-white undershirt and matching Y-fronts. I shudder as he puts a hand on BB’s shoulder and starts squeezing it absentmindedly. He has come downstairs to share a great though with us regarding the promotion of his new book. It is a great honor that he should take the time to help us with this type of triviality. But being less brilliant than him, we of course, need all the help we can get. Mr. Guru is looking at me. I look back, forgetting to smile (damb!).
“You are big”. He says scratching his grizzled thigh. “You are the biggest person I have ever seen”. He taps out the burnt tobacco from his pipe on the edge of BB’s desk, leaving a pile of ash. “Thank you.” I mumble. I’ve never been good at receiving compliments. Clearly I’m as useless at receiving insults. I am not freakishly large. I am a head shorter than the Guru, and despite being curvy, I am not disproportionately big. BB laughs like it’s the best joke of all time. “It wasn’t a compliment!” she states, reaching towards Mr. Guru’s hand. No shit. He flicks her hand away, clearly annoyed at the interruption.
After a pause he asks me to stand up. I should have refused, but like some dumb goat I stand. “I bet I can’t wrap my arms around you.” He takes a step towards me. I take a step back. “Common! We are like a family. If you want to succeed here you have to get used to hugging”. BB says it like it’s a joke. “Anyways Mr. G’s right. You are huge. It’s not like you’ll get crushed”. So I pause, trying to think how I get out of this diplomatically. I can’t think of anything besides smacking Mr. Guru as he approaches. My hand richochettes as it connects with tissue, making a resounding slap. Unfortunately this doesn’t deter him and before I know it he’s gripping me tightly around the waist, while laughing. “Look - you aren’t as big as I thought!” He smells like unwashed gym socks. I pry his arms loose and leave the room. “I need coffee.” I say, avoiding eye contact. “Me too!” BB echoes as she follows me out.
Upstairs she takes two cups and fills them with coffee and milk. She adds three sweeteners to her own. “Mr. G likes hugs” she states. “You will get used to it”. I don’t meet her eyes. “We are paid to make him happy. He doesn’t ask for anything unreasonable”. Another pause. BB hesitates. “Alright. You never have to do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Mr. G works really hard and he likes physical contact to help him recharge. I wouldn’t get upset about it!!” She moves back towards the stairs. “Anyways, I know for a fact that he wouldn’t sleep with you, if that’s what you are worried about”.
I stop where I am standing. I’m a bit insulted. What does she mean? Mr. Guru meets the perfect stereotype of man who hits on me on a daily basis; old, out of shape, balding and married. Maybe I am overreacting. My Mom always tells me I am cold. Ken says I’m impossible to read. Friends claim I am distant. I don’t like hugs. But maybe I should. Is it really wrong to hug a co-worker? I am feeling more silly by the minute. If I can try and be a bit sweeter maybe I can finally start the illusive career I’ve been dreaming of since graduating from University. Five jobs in two years worked against me on the job market.
“Coffee’s getting cold!” I hear from downstairs. “I’ll be right there…” I reply. BB was right. It wasn’t a big deal…
I think drawing is a perfect reflection of mood; every posting will have an accompanying self-portrait to help portray me during this crazy story :-). This is portrait 1.
Today I got up earlier than normal and started the day in the usual way; figuring out what to wear while drip-drying off in the hovel I call my “apartment” (actually hallway would be a better way of describing it. To support the age old generalization I simply do not have anything to wear despite having 3 large closets, a chest of drawers and several shelves brimming over with clothing and shoes. If it was a Friday (my day off) I would probably go for my gray slouch t-shirt, some skinny jeans and my newest pair of beaded sandals (I can just imagine someone gasping at how 2009 I still dress - sorry guys. I am no fashionista). But it isn’t. It’s Tuesday, and worse still, Smelly old goat is in town so I must try and find a perfect balance between feminine pretty (otherwise he’ll make me go home and change) and school teacher prim (otherwise I’ll have his hands on me all day). It is a totally impossible balance to find; unattractively pretty (pretty unattractive is unfortunately never an option).
I started working for the smelly old goat (Mr. Guru) exactly a year and a half ago. I had quit my previous job after a disastrous love affair with my ex-manager (such a bad idea!), living in a rundown flat in the middle of the red-light district, starting an MBA and looking for a part time job that didn’t involve taking my clothes off for money. Did I mention I was also about to get married? I saw a posting for a position as an office manager for some unknown company in the middle of nowhere. Perfect. Lots of time for online shopping, a bit of filling and maybe occasionally making a cup of tea or two. Right up my alley. After several minutes googling Mr. Guru, I adjusted my motivation letter and pressed send without a moment of hesitation. I had eloquently written; “I am a driven professional about to start my MBA. I aspire to be in a learning work environment where I can grow as a person. And I am not pretty enough to be a treat. HIRE ME!” So they did.
When I say they I really mean she - Big Boss. Mr. Guru is too busy thinking, smoking and playing table-tennis to have energy to deal with trivial things like hiring people. That’s left to his personal assistant. Approaching 60, she is fiercely competitive when it comes to guys. It is almost comical (except when you are in the line of fire). BB is the gate keeper. Nothing gets done without her approval. I have learnt this the hard way. Be sweet, be silent and never look better than her summarize the three basic rules of survival.
I’m still riffling though my closet. Everything is black. Finally I opt for a matronly cotton long sleeved sweater dress. It skims just above the knee, and hangs in such a way that you might wonder if I have curves but probably you will not be able to determine where they are. It’s warm outside so I hesitate before pulling on a dark pair of opaque leggings and some shiny patent Betty Page peep toes. I look in the mirror wondering if I can get away with this. I, quite frankly, look like a black Donut Fatboy bean bag on stilts. Maybe lipstick will help? I hear my phone tweet an alarm… Big sigh. I practice the stewardess smile - then adjust to a bigger smile. It’s time to go…