Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(2)

By: Ingrid Reinke

I swallowed, took a deep breath and tried my best to melt into my keyboard. I had a pretty good shot at staying out of this particular meltdown, because I sat outside of Elaine’s direct line of sight. Plus, the lenses of her eyeglasses were so blurry and smeared with grease it frightened me that she had even driven in to the office this morning wearing them. However, immediately in Elaine's line of fire were a couple of our group’s analysts: Michelle, an extremely stupid but sweet woman who was always on the edge of getting fired; Clark, a ridiculously hot but super moody thirty-something who always seemed to be dating a different 90-pound Asian stripper; Laura, who was nauseatingly perfect—one of those super-tall, thin, perfectly-groomed women who was always in early and always left late (ugh, I hated her); and Mark, Elaine’s older, also gay, Administrative Assistant.

Mark, having full knowledge of Elaine’s tendency to spazz out, had gotten up and started walking over to her office, drawing her attention away from the rest of the office. Everyone else in the vicinity seemed to sigh in collective relief, but maintained either furiously typing, talking on the phone, or whatever tactic they preferred using to avoid Elaine. Elaine zeroed in on Mark.

“Maaaaahhhk!” she screeched, pausing from her circular march of profanity.

Mark was practically a saint. He divided his days between being at the office and performing various volunteer duties for his church. Even his precious little vacation time was dedicated to helping elderly ladies move, accompanying the congregation’s chorus on the piano, and fundraising for the various charities for which he served as a board member. Because Mark was a deeply Christian man, I had the feeling that his passion for all things religious was his way of paying some kind of penance to God for his gayness. Although he was definitely “in the closet,” there was sufficient discussion from the other employees about his sexual orientation for us all to simply accept it as fact. Most of this speculation came in response to Mark’s “roommate” of several years, Christopher, whom Mark brought to all of the office functions. Christopher was tall and devastatingly handsome, with chocolate skin and velvety brown eyes, and it was obvious to everyone that Mark doted on him. Poor Mark had worked exclusively for Elaine for twelve years already, and although he had to be in his late sixties, he didn't seem to be headed toward retirement any time soon. I always wondered how he did it—although he would probably credit prayer, my best guess was Xanax.

“Maaaaahhhk!” Elaine was still screaming. Her East Coast accent really came out when she was upset, and it became more and more pronounced as the volume of her voice increased.

Jesus, I thought to myself, he’s sitting right in front of her, is that really necessary? Seconds later, I listened to Mark trying to calm her down in his measured, soothing voice. I’m talking really slow—Mark is what I would call a classic slow-talker, which frustrated the hell out of me and (I’m guessing) 96% of other human beings. But it seemed to create the right atmosphere for Elaine, who was not only completely bat-shit, but also so hyper and erratic that the employees had made a game of arm-chair diagnosing her with various mental disorders. The most popular options at the moment were either Adult ADHD or full blown Bi-Polar Disorder.

Elaine had been with Merit for over thirty years. She started as a secretary (as our kind were called in those days), and worked her way up the corporate ladder to her leadership position. Morbidly curious as to how she had achieved such success in her career without doing any actual work or being proficient in any specific field, I had studied her business tactics and realized that Elaine was truly a master at appearing busy and productive to upper management. For example, she had different “initiatives” for our group every quarter, all of which I was in charge of coming up with. To let all of us know that these initiatives were being put in place, she would make a big fuss by having me circulate brightly colored emails with flashy graphics around the office, requesting that every employee take part in one way or another (Come up with your top 5 target accounts by Friday at noon!). The emails looked very impressive and important, with subject lines that read ALERT or URGENT and had deadlines in bold red text. The thing was, after they were sent out, she simply didn’t follow up on any of them. Of course it didn’t matter, because inevitably there would be another initiative just like it within the next couple of months. It was all for show. She knew it, and our group knew it, but everyone went along with it, doing the minimum required on each new campaign to keep Elaine happy, until the predictable happened and she would forget or simply stop responding.