“Run like a bunny.” But I didn’t know what bunnies ran like. I was from NY and had only every seen chocolate ones. If she had said run like a squirrel I might not have been sacked.

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It was a whole summer of dog day afternoon killer heat in NYC, the sort when you can see it , in a certain light, come off in waves from the pavement. That if you dropped your shopping from Associated, and it had eggs in it, they might just fry lightly ( over easy) on the side walk.
I can recall my mother in her suit and sneakers. It was the look back then, suit to show you were professional, sneakers to show you walked faster than tourists or people who didn’t have jobs to run to. Shoulder pads to, I dunno what they were for, I guess to make us look like footballers, athletic. Or Joan Crawford. It was a look that said getthefuggouddamyway, I got a briefcase, I gotta life, I got letters to type and phone calls to answer and I am going to do this faster than you. And L’Eggs pantyhose to make you sweat in places you never knew you could sweat from. They came in egg shaped containers, so they if you were a little kinky, you could be forgiven for thinking they were edible chocolate pantyhose. Actually can you imagine anything less sexy? Or impractical? It was a terrible ensemble, and every woman with an office job back then wore some version of it.
My mother and I both had temp jobs through an agency that hired temps. Her one sounded kind of fun. She had to answer phones for a porno mag called Jugs. She had to answer the phone “Jugs!” every time. My mother is from Liverpool but trained herself out of her accent to sound all RP, so she said it in a very posh English accent. “Jugs. How may I help you?” She told me a lot of the callers, poor things, seemed to have breathing difficulties. Perhaps asthma, from all the pollution hanging heavy in a cloud over the frying city, but never raining and putting us all out of our suited, L’eggs misery. Sometimes she would give then the name of our family doctor. Very good with chesty problems, she said. “And you know Michele, sometimes they would just laugh when I said that. Or hang up. Most peculiar.
My job was in an office owned by two men, both called Mr. Jones. Neither were ever there. So I would answer the phone and say “Mr. Jones office.” And the caller would ask to speak to Mr. Jones. And I would say, “Which one?” and they would say, the older one, or the younger one, never anything more descriptive, like the fat one in head to toe polyester, or the one with the disco haircut and too much chest hair. And I’d say just one moment, please. And I would look around the tiny office, and wait thirty seconds, and say, “I’m ever so sorry, Mr Jones has popped out to a meeting. May I take a message?” and the person would sigh and say “Oh OK, I’ll speak to the other Jones.” And I’d do the pause and say, sorry, he doesn’t seem to be here either.” And then they would leave a message, or say oh forfucksake and slam the phone down. And I would say to myself, for there was no one else to talk to, “No need to be rude.” and then either get out my nail file (I’d seen it in movies, it’s what bored secretaries do) or practice my typing. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy brown dog.” or asdf;lkj. I didn’t even know what the Joneses did, so I could not keep up with them, if they even existed. It seemed to a front for something else. There were two sets of lavatory keys. Both toilets were awful, but one had doors on the stalls. And toilet paper. So I used that one, even though that one was for the Mr. Joneses. I rang the agency and said you know, there is nothing to do here, there isn’t even anyone here, ever, and they said oh, that’s OK, because we have a vacancy right here in the temp office. Can you do switchboard?
And I said “Can I do switchboard??? Of course, even blindfolded.”
I’d never been near a switchboard in my life.
She said, “No need to do it blindfolded. Just get over here first thing tomorrow morning and I’ll show you the system.”
The next morning I put on my suit and my L’eggs and sneakers and ran to the subway, ran from the subway stop in midtown to the office, ran to the elevator. The woman said, oh, good, here you are, on time. We get hundreds of calls a minute. The main thing to do is be really nice and just get rid of them. She showed me, pressing all sorts of buttons very quickly, saying hello, number one temps, or whatever they were called, and “certainly,” and it was all a bit of a blur. She left me to it and as soon as the first person rang, I disconnected them. Then the second. In fact within the first five minutes I had hung up on everyone. The admin lady came back and said “whatthefuckiswrong with you?” and I said, “But you said, just get rid of them” And she said “oh fuckjesuschristwhataretard” and said, “I meant, get them hooked up to the person they need to speak to or take a message.”
She looked me up and down. She said, “OK, you don’t do switchboard. You do errands. Take this franking machine to the post office, fast fast fast. Get a hundred bucks put on it and run back, fast. Run. Run like a bunny.”
“”Run like a bunny? Like, hop? Surely that would be slower?”
She swore a whole bunch so I took the franking machine which weighed a ton, ran out of the office, and just out of badness, when I got to the street, I hopped, I hopped like the bunnies I’d seen in cartoons. Then I walked the rest of the way in my more natural tortoise gait. When I got back, hours later, I was fired.
My mother and I agreed to meet on the steps of the big library in midtown, with the lions. It’s in all the movies. We saw each other, even though we looked like everyone else in suits and sneakers and L’eggs. And I told her I was fired and she said she had been fired too. Maybe for the unsolicited medical advice, she was not sure. We treated ourselves to Orange Julius, a foamy orange drink which was like a cold orange cappuccino. It was, I recall, disgusting. But cold. On the F train home, I mused, “I think we are too artistic and sensitive for the working world.” She nodded. We’ve both been pretty poor ever since.

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