Memoir Monday is a weekly series that features snippets of my pregnancy memoir in progress. To see entries from previous weeks, click on the tag “Memoir Monday” at the bottom of this post. — Katie
Though journalism is written in my DNA, I fell into the field haphazardly.
I got fired from my first professional job out of college. I was an “editor” at a pharmaceutical journal, which sounded downright glamorous to a 23-year-old. My office was in a tall, important building near the Ritzy communities of Northern Indianapolis. I interviewed well and was fairly certain my bosses had made a mistake hiring me for such a high title. Editor. I even got to write a little editor’s note at the beginning of each bi-monthly edition.
At the risk of sabotaging future resumes, I will admit that I did very little editing. It was a sales job, plain and simple. The free journals were supplemented by advertising. The official sales team could sell more advertising space based on the type of pharmaceutical articles being written. I should explain here that I didn’t make commission off my sales. I simply set up the sales team to make commission and took home my paycheck that added up to somewhere in the mid-20K’s.
I suppose this is the stark reality of media in general, but I was disheartened at how my days as “editor” were spent cold calling scientists and trying to convince them to write (for free) for us. When it finally came time for me to do some “editing,” I was awash in terminology and concepts I did not understand. I fixed an occasional comma, shortened gigantic paragraphs and crossed my fingers that these people knew what they were talking about.
My bosses were really no help. Two guys from across the pond who headed up the American versions of the British originals. They operated the office like a bunch of fraternity boys, with high expectations and little guidance for their team of young professionals. We were given a very modest food allowance for business trips and expected to fly out on Sunday afternoons. There was no official vacation policy, but I was told I would likely get four or five days after I’d worked there for six months. This was an entry-level job for most of my colleagues and though we consistently complained to each other, we all lacked the experience and confidence to do anything about it.
There was an office rumor that we were going to be given an upcoming federal holiday off work.
“Okay, well that’s in like three days. Has anyone asked them?” I wondered.
Everyone shook their heads violently. No one wanted to ask and taint the possible perk with an expectation of it.
“Last year Liam just called us Sunday night and told us not to come in Monday morning.”
I left work that Friday night and headed out of town to visit Brian for the weekend. As I drove I started to get really angry at the fact that I didn’t know if I needed to drive back to my apartment on Sunday or Monday. I realized that there were miners working in deathly caverns and children working their fingers to the bone at a sewing machine in Asia somewhere. There were plenty of other workers with bigger problems. But damn. I was annoyed.
With no word from either boss by Sunday afternoon, I said good-bye to Brian and headed back to my apartment in Shelbyville to get ready for my work week. I had just taken a shower when I heard my cell phone ringing. It was about 8 p.m. It was Liam.
“Hey Katie. Just wanted you to know not to come in tomorrow. We want you guys to have the day off.”
“You’re very welcome. See you Tuesday.”
I had mixed emotions. My body automatically broke into a little dance and fist pump upon hearing that I didn’t have to go to that dreadful place in the morning. Yet I was appalled at the way simple things like time off were held in front of our noses like a steaming Shepard’s Pie just out of reach.
I also attended a lot of trade shows, which was a portion of the job that I actually enjoyed. I was the smiling face of the journal. The person who put some personality in the pages of an all-business journal. This part of the job took me to New York, New Jersey and Florida for conferences. Our team always stayed in the nicest hotels as a trade for advertising for the conference we were attending. The best trips were the ones that our bosses didn’t feel like going to. We picked quaint places to eat, sat by the pool in the evenings and generally enjoyed the trip much more. When our bosses decided the location was nice enough to leave the office, they insisted on making us miserable the entire time.
One week in early May, everyone in the office flew to California for a trade show, except two administrative assistants, my bosses and me. I was told that someone needed to stay in the office to make phone calls and editorial decisions while the others were away. A full week in the office with my bosses breathing down my neck and putting whoopee cushions on my chair when they got bored. Greeeat.
I determined to not let it get me down. As I drove west on I-74 toward Indianapolis on Monday morning, I noticed how beautiful it really was outside. Spring had sprung late and it was one of the first sunny, pleasant days of the year. I wished I had gotten up earlier to go for a run. I calculated in my head if it would still be light enough outside to work out when I got home that night. My calculation all depended on what work was waiting for me. I sighed, knowing that my bosses would probably make me stay late just because they really had no one else to torture that week.
I got to the office about 20 minutes early and to my surprise, my bosses were already in Liam’s office. I had counted on at least an hour or two without them – which was the norm on a Monday morning. I pasted a giant smile on my face and waved as I walked past the glass door of Liam’s office to my desk.
“Kinda quiet in here this morning, huh?” I managed.
They just shook their heads.
“When you get settled in, can you come meet with us for a few?” Liam asked.
I decided I’d take advantage of settling in. I put on chapstick and bronzer before stashing my purse in the file drawer. I fired up my computer and deleted PR-pitch emails. I used the restroom. I talked up the front desk admin about her puppy and how house training was going with the cute little guy. Then I grabbed a notepad off my desk and headed in to my pre-9 a.m. Monday morning meeting.
I tried to be cheery.
“Hey guys. What’s up?”
Jack shut the door.
“We had a long talk this weekend and have decided that we are going to let you go.” Liam said.
I was still getting warmed up in the meeting setting and heard the sentence a full ten seconds after it was spoken.
“What? You mean you’re firing me?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. We just want to go a different direction with the position.”
“So… you want me to do different things? Change my tasks?”
Liam and Jack exchanged glances, like they weren’t sure what to say next.
Jack decided to give it a shot.
“We are eliminating your job. I am going to take it over for awhile.”
I was confused.
“So you ARE firing me?”
“Yes, I guess that’s what we are saying,” Jack finally confirmed.
“You couldn’t have fired me on Friday afternoon? I mean it took me 45 minutes to get here this morning. I came back early from visiting Brian last night. And it’s gorgeous outside today – have you seen it?”
Now the boys seemed confused. Surely they had waited to bin me until the office was nearly empty to prevent themselves from looking too bad when I dropped to my knees, sobbing, pleading to keep my low-paying, shit job. Instead I was telling them they should have just done it sooner.
“We will pay you until the end of this week. I will be happy to give you a good reference,” Liam said. He said a few more things about taking some copies of the journal for my portfolio and handing in my office key. There may have been more tidbits I missed after I got up and walked to the window, with my back to the frat boys. Man, it really was a gorgeous day. I turned around, walked out of Liam’s office while he was in mid-sentence and headed to my desk.
As I was collecting my small amount of personal items, Jack brought me a brown box. I rolled my eyes. How cliché was this? He set it on the side of my desk and stood there, watching me pack everything up. I’m not sure if he thought I was going to start stealing staplers or smashing computer screens, but I deliberately slowed down my process. I sat in my chair and flipped through a few trade show pamphlets before trashing them. I put on chap stick again. I gazed out the window and sighed.
I could see that my slow speed was aggravating Jack. I remembered the whole federal-holiday debacle and decided to torture him for just a few minutes more. Then I was going to rush home, throw on my leggings and go for a nice untimed, unlimited run.
I didn’t know what my next career move would be. I just knew I had been given back that beautiful May day.
I threw my purse over my shoulder and grabbed the box. It was about half full with things I probably could have just put in a plastic bag and avoided looking like I had just been fired…err, let go.
I popped in to the office of the admin I hadn’t greeted yet, announced that I’d been fired and left her open-mouthed as I walked toward the front door. I gave the same message to the new puppy-owner at the front desk. She looked like she might be a little angry, until she saw Jack lingering in the hall. She gave me a torn stare that I translated to mean, “They are jerks for firing you. But I don’t want to get fired too.”
I struggled to pull down on the handle of the office suite door. Jack came running down the hallway.
“Don’t leave yet! You need to give us your key.”
My key. Great. It was buried somewhere in the depths of my purse. I thought of just telling him that I had made three copies so they were going to have to change the locks anyway. But then if something were to come up missing from now until the lock change, I knew I’d be to blame. I lifted the box to the top of the front desk counter and rifled through my purse for the loose key. Had I known I would be fired that day, I would have made a point to be more organized.
Poor puppy girl. She looked incredibly uncomfortable as I set my checkbook, car keys, Kleenex and a tampon on her workspace. My hand touched something metal in the seam of my shoulder bag. I flashed it triumphantly.
It was a button that said “And I’m Polish too.” It had been a gift. I set it next to my sunglasses on the high-top desk.
At this point my purse was nearly empty, so I just turned it over and started shaking it until three pens, a box of Tic Tacs and my office key hit the floor. Recognizing the green rubber around the head of the key, Jack snatched it off the ground and pocketed it. I shoveled my other dropped belongings into my bag then cleared off the counter. I took a mint from the tray meant for visitors. I took another mint.
“Well. This couldn’t have gone better,” I said as I reached again for the door.
This time the nearly weeping admin rushed around the counter to help me. She had reached her neutrality breaking point. Against her better judgment she planted a big hug on me and told me to keep in touch. I promised I would, knowing I wouldn’t.
I was a little disappointed at the lack of people who saw me walking the hallway, in the elevator and parking lot with my brown box. Where were the sympathetic stares?
This feeling melted as soon as I started driving out of the parking lot. With rush hour dying down, I could be home in 20 minutes. That would be 9:30.
I called Brian. He was shocked and asked me what I had done to get fired.
“I don’t know. Not sold enough articles?”
“But I thought you were an editor?”
“Don’t get me started on that. I’m going to go home, run and then figure this thing out.”
I called the page designer on her cell phone in California. She had been a little surprised that she was sent to the current conference. She was usually the one who stayed behind and held down the fort.
“Are you serious?!”
“Are you okay??”
“Yeah. Actually. Strangely delirious.”
“Okay girl. I’ll call you later.”
Once I got home I made good on my run promise. I jogged, walked and sat on a few patches of grass. I don’t know how far I went or how many calories I burned, but I’d never felt healthier.
After a long shower and an egg and cheese burrito I debated what my next move should be. I could look around online for jobs. I had found this last one on Careerbuilder. Maybe I’d try Monster this time.
I was out of coffee so a quick trip to the convenience store was necessary before embarking on the second job search of my career.
At the gas station, I grabbed an Indianapolis Star and noticed a more amateur-looking newspaper displayed next to it. The Shelbyville News (look up motto). I had bought a copy or two of the local daily when I first moved to the area and was looking for items for my apartment. Since I viewed my tenure in Shelbyville as temporary at best, I hadn’t bothered to read up on my new community. Today was as good as any to start.
“Hello. How are you today?” the clerk asked dryly.
I startled him.
He handed me my change, coffee and newspapers and told me to have a nice day.
I entered my apartment and it was filled with sunlight. Every framed photo, every piece of unfolded laundry, every speck of dust completely illuminated.
I spent the first part of the afternoon combing the job classifieds in both papers. There were several administrative assistant positions open in the area. Lots of restaurant managers. The Shelbyville News had a lot of factory positions in several of its auto specialty pieces companies.
I knew nothing of auto specialty pieces but had once taken a job in the plumbing department of a large home improvement store because it was a job. My managers tried to constrain me to the miscellaneous pipe piece aisle, where I spent my six-hour shifts putting loose fittings back in the correct wire baskets. I could tell the difference between copper pipes and plastic PVC but beyond that simple distinction, I was stumped.
The problem with this setup was that I was an easy target for customers needing assistance.
“Excuse me, miss? Which size screw do I need for this toilet?”
“Hmmm… that’s a very good question. Have you read the box to see what it says?”
“Um. No. Figured it would just be easier to ask you. I can ask someone else.”
“No, no, no. I can help. Of course I can help. Now which aisle was this toilet in?”
“I don’t know. Whatever aisle the other toilets are in?”
“Yes, yes. Okay. Let’s see if we can find that for you.”
I lasted longer at that job than expected. But after three months of staring at plastic pipe fittings and giving customers horrible home improvement advice, I saw the writing on the shower door.
I was debating if I really wanted to squeeze by on my disarming smile and deflecting charm once again for a few months to make a few bucks — when I saw it. Under my right thumb in a 4 x 6 box flush right on the bottom of the page.
The Shelbyville News seeks an education and government reporter. This full-time position comes with health benefits, 401K plan and paid time off. Please mail resume to…
A reporter! Just like Lois Lane. Except instead of covering super villains and being saved from falling to my death daily, I’d be burning hours at school board meetings and city hall discussions about the Christmas parade.
I didn’t have a printer at home. So I’d need to run to the library to print out my resume and then could take it directly to the post office. The editor could feasibly be looking at my credentials by tomorrow afternoon.
I had already shot off an email to my former boss demanding that I be paid for an additional week since I was never given any vacation, sick or personal time. He hadn’t responded yet but I mentioned filing a grievance with the state labor department if he didn’t agree. I was pretty sure I’d still be on payroll for two weeks.