Her hair was the color of copper and she had a face full of freckles. At first sight, you’d imagine that her name was Colleen, and you’d be right. How could you not look at that face and think anything but … Irish?
She was probably in her mid-40s and quite attractive. And smart. She was a Vice President at Citibank so that also gave her some clout. More than all that, Colleen was a really nice person and we had a great relationship.
A great working relationship … as she was my boss. As in, I worked for her.
Irene and I each had a desk outside Colleen’s office and Dan, the other VP’s, office. Irene worked for Dan and I worked for Colleen as word processing temps, as opposed to being secretaries.
I make the distinction because I had somewhat of an attitude about not being a male secretary. I was a pro about all things electronic, computerized or networked. And while others may work by the clock, I only do that if my pay is governed by the hour. I normally work by this criteria:
- Did I get enough done today?
- Do I have time to do more?
If it moved or lit up, I needed to know how that happened.
Irene and I were somewhat birds of a feather in terms of word processing skills. She could type faster but I could make the revisions faster. I had only been there about four months, and Irene had been assigned about a week before me, and we had developed a friendly but competitive relationship.
When I arrived upstairs, she apparently knew a little about me by reputation, because I was the guy on the first floor who used to say to our cadre of temps, “Bring me something that you think will take a couple of hours to revise and I’ll send it back to you complete in a half-hour.” It’s not that I was fast. I just taught myself how to use the tools that I had to their fullest. I couldn’t do that now that I was on the 23rd floor working for a VP.
That “half-hour” line was developed as a defense mechanism for people who thought I was a secretary. One old-time banker had asked me if I took steno or shorthand and when I said no, it was as if he suddenly smelled something unpleasant. Apparently, I was no good to anyone in that department and I imagined that my time there would be short-lived. I had to do something to elevate myself in his mind, so I came up with the line.
Don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against secretaries. It’s an unbelievably complex job and the ones I know are incredible multi-taskers. The poise, intelligence, and grace under fire takes a very special kind of person to do that. I admire the hell out of lumberjacks too (did that one summer) but it’s not a skillset I have now or care to pursue.
I’m mostly interested in computing.
So much so that one time, when the temp agency sent me to a new job, I arrived and didn’t see a computer. I asked where the computer was and the reply came that it was in the closet. They only brought it out if they really needed it. I told them that there must be a mistake because my agency would have never sent me to a place just to sit and answer phones all day. I told him I would call my agency and get a replacement because I had no intention of sitting there all day without having a computer.
But I digress. Irene was a beautiful person too, inside and out. With a long, meticulously braided jet-black ponytail and a clear cocoa colored complexion, she had two sweet little girls (as the plethora of pictures on her desk reminded us every day) and lived with her mother in Queens (part of NYC). Dan was always on the road somewhere so no one was hovering over her shoulder and we had sufficient time to learn from each other, as we were both insanely curious. Colleen wasn’t a micromanager and quickly discovered that whatever she needed was done correctly and either on or before schedule. That left me with free time to teach myself more.
Such was the environment that paid the bills and satisfied but one part of my emotional life. The other part was acting, directing and writing (fiction, blogging, playwriting, screenwriting, etc.). Not famous, but a journeyman, just like 85% of the other showbiz professionals who made a living at something else while waiting for their next acting gig.
One day my friend Matthew said to me, “Why don’t you look into temping?” But I shrugged and said, “I act, write and direct.”
“Well, I act and temp,” was the reply, “but it’s the closest thing we have to Free Money. Exceptional word processing temps are in demand and you basically set your own schedule. If you need to take an hour for an audition, you just tell them you have to leave for a while. If you need to take a day off for a commercial shoot or a soap extra, you just tell them and you’ll still have a job when you get back.”