COMMIE GIRL: THESE DAYS, EVEN A BAD JOB—THAT IS, BOSS—IS HARD TO FINDBy Rebecca Schoenkopf
I once had a work-study job (meaning the feds provided my paycheck) assisting the assistant to an NYU vice president. The vice president, “Tamara,” ran in exalted circles (Studs Terkel and E.L. Doctorow were both in her Rolodex) but was odious to underlings. She had once fired her entire staff twice in a single day; every woman in that office cried once a week (I only cried once, after being sent to hand-deliver 200 party invitations in a snowstorm, because campus mail wouldn’t have gotten those precious invites to their recipients until the wholly unacceptable next day); and I was asked to hide under the desk should Tamara walk into the office, because she’d decided I should assist her assistant from a different building, since even though she had a bigger staff than the university president, it “looked bad” for her budget to have two work-study students (again, paid by the feds) wandering the Bobst Library’s hushed and important 12th floor.
In the year I was there, our office successfully garnered an AmeriCorps grant; it was Tamara’s main bragging topic for a really long time, and I collated the hell out of that 100-page application, seemingly a hundred copies of it, spread in chunks over every surface of our small copy room, and “Barb,” whom I assisted and who had done all the lifting on the application (except for the collating), said to Tamara with an ingratiating smile when all was done and we had succeeded in our AmeriCorps-grant quest, “Well, Tamara! We did it!” and then Tamara looked at her coldly, her lips forming a perfect sneer, and then turned around without a word and walked out of the room. Barb cried that day too. Barb was a great boss, because A) she liked me, and B) she taught me to always leave a paper trail to cover my ass. Having me hide under the desk, though, seems sort of deeply offensive and nuts.
Yesterday was my last day at a job that was really nowhere near as bad, but it was definitely the worst since that mid-’90s trip to the NYU Terrordome. And good lord, I was so grateful to have it. For the past few months, I’d been doing temp work proofreading (or “Q.A.,” for “Quality Assurance,” in the lingo) for a hip Beach Cities ad agency. Everyone there was genuinely nice, and smart and capable, and I genuinely liked going in to work with them. Minus my weekly column for FourStory, it was the first work I’d had in more than a year and a half. And sweet Jesus, I promise I’ve been looking.
I worked on one project only, over and over again: proofreading 38 minutely differing versions of the same insurance company brochure, broken up into regions and then different classes of prospective customers in those regions. Each of the 38 had different typos, none of which I was allowed to fix, because the 26- (24?) year-old in charge of Client Services for the account would overrule any change, because that was how the client had sent it.
I was not the boss, though I would occasionally (every day) find someone new to whom to modestly explain that I was once the editor of an actual newspaper, and boy times sure are tough and I sure am grateful to have this temp Q.A. work, and they would look at me blankly, wondering why the temp had inserted herself into their conversation again. But I knew I was not the boss, and that decisions weren’t mine to make, and so after the first day, when it was explained to me that such verbiage as “You could save from up to 2-10%,” while unfortunate (and they knew it was unfortunate), was unfortunately exactly what the client wanted, I no longer tried to rewrite the copy. I got it! Not the boss! And I would smile ingratiatingly.
But then there would be actually clear mistakes—mistakes, not just terrible and clumsy copywriting!—like claiming that $145 and $80 produced an average of $145. Or when one of the 38 minutely differing versions left the word “payment” out of the legal disclaimer, so it read “Membership requires the separate of dues and an annual fee,” but still they would not let me add the word back in. These were mistakes that the insurance company would surely be glad to have pointed out to them, so we could fix them! I would yowl in protest, grumbling and yowling all over my desk, pained look on my sad little face, and by the end nobody liked me at all. “It’s been through legal,” the designer sitting next to me would tell me, tamping down his impatience. “You need to not take this personally.”