My First Stab At Employment

Yes: I’ve decided to return with another memoir excerpt to cue your interest in the narrative. I was able to find a short scene I could transcribe here. Will see if there are other scenes I could excerpt. For now I’m taking it week-by-week with the excerpts. I expect to do book signings more towards February and March and into the spring. Check the speaking engagements forum for details.

Here: the detour gets even more surreal. A scene from my first job in 1990. At a time when no one else with schizophrenia dared consider trying to find work.  Was I out of my league? I jumped out of the frying pan of a dismal mental health system into the fire of a typical job expected of a female: secretary.

____________________________________

Over the summer, Mr. Rock sent me on two interviews: the first one at American Express, where the woman reported to him that I had a “tense demeanor,” and the second at Crowley & Watkins, where I received a job offer. On my own, I interviewed at Simon & Schuster for an editorial assistant spot but it didn’t pan out.

Only three interviews and I got a job. I decided to take the sure thing instead of waiting to see if I’d get a publishing gig. I signed on at the insurance brokerage.

My boss, Brittany Moss, was the director of the telemarketing division, and I was to be her administrative assistant. She was forty years old and looked much younger. She wore tortoiseshell eyeglasses, had a wavy bob, and smoothed on sangria lipstick. Brittany was an anomaly at Crowley: a corporate superstar without balls.

My job consisted of typing up correspondence, formatting new client proposals, sending out direct mail letters, generating sales reports, and processing expense accounts. It was demanding work, and I often clocked in overtime.

As I settled into my routine, I observed the other women in the office. Dahlia, the receptionist, wore miniskirts. I wouldn’t ever do that. My justifiable excuse for buying sharp suits was to fit in with the corporate culture.

Before, I hid behind the Siouxsie mask; now I wore a different one, equally false. I presented this beautiful figure—what Italians call la bella figura: the stylized theatrics of putting on your socially acceptable face. If I wanted to succeed, I’d have to “act as if” I’d already arrived, even if I was just starting out.

It all came down to the clothes and the presentation. Yet I felt that demeanor is not just how a person looks; it is how he or she composes himself or herself in response to the trials of life. I hid my dirty laundry, determined that no one find out.

When Brittany saw me come back from lunch with yet another Casual Corner shopping bag, she laughed. “You have more clothes than I do, and I make triple the money.”

She was impressed and gave me new responsibilities. I was to call up the companies we had obtained from lists and ask for the correct names and titles of their risk managers so we could generate leads.

“Hello, I’d like to send a letter to the person who buys your insurance. Could you give me the correct spelling of his name and his title?” I dialed down the list. I spoke in an upbeat voice, and I got hundreds of names. It took me an hour or two every day.

It was hellish work. It was pushing myself further than I wanted to go right then, but it was my job, so I rose to the challenge. Ultimately, I was successful.

“You have a talent for this,” Brittany took me aside. “I’d like to develop a career plan for you. How about we talk about this over dinner? I’ll take you to Dish of Salt.”

It was nouvelle Chinese, located right across the street. It’d be good to get a free meal because I worked overtime and otherwise wouldn’t eat until late. She slipped into her DKNY jacket, and I zipped up my new coat as we headed out into the October night.

We shared shrimp and beef dishes as piano music wafted through the restaurant. Rude-faced waiters silently brought and cleared the plates. We dared to order thick, rich hazelnut fudge cake for a tempting dessert. We talked in the warmth of the restaurant as the rain poured down outside.

“I’d like you to do telemarketing,” she asserted. “I’ll give you your own leads, and you’ll get a bonus based on how many sales appointments you set up.”

The thought of calling up strangers and trying to convince them to meet with my boss left me cold. I twisted the napkin in my lap and twisted it again. “I’d like that.” I pretended to be interested because I wanted to keep my job.

My mouth felt like wool. I tried to speak. “When do you…want me…to start?”

“I’ll hand over the phone lists tomorrow.”

Brittany finished her last bit of cake and smoothed her lips with a napkin. She took a compact out of her purse and reapplied her lipstick. It was Lancôme.

I wished I had the confidence to do this kind of touch-up in public. I was too self-conscious to look at myself in a mirror when other people were looking. I felt twisted inside, like the napkin I compulsively twisted. I worried she’d find out I was nervous, so I forced myself to stop.

 

Left of the Dial Amazon Page

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Author: Chris Bruni

Christina Bruni is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Left of the Dial. She owns a resume writing and career help business. She contributed a chapter "Recovery is Within Reach" to Benessere Psicologico: Contemporary Thought on Italian American Mental Health. As well as an author and activist, Bruni is an artist and a fitness buff.

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