Dead End Job: A Louisa Hallstrom Novel(5)

By: Ingrid Reinke

At twenty-eight, being Louisa Hallstrom the Exceedingly Unmotivated Administrative Assistant was not part of the “five-year plan” I devised after graduating from a small and very expensive private college which I attended on an academic scholarship a few years back. I doubted that becoming an Exceedingly Unmotivated Administrative Assistant was really in anyone’s five-year plan, but with the economy being what it was, I was trying to be grateful that I even had a job. The only reason I had been hired at Merit was because a friend of a friend gave me a reference a year ago when I was sitting at home, on unemployment, steadily eating away at a Costco-sized block of cheese and watching What Not to Wear reruns. While being stuck at Merit was better than that, it paled in comparison to what I’d had before.

A few years back, during the housing bubble, I had been working as a junior broker at a large investment firm in California. I had busted my ass to get all of the appropriate licenses, pass all of the right tests, and to not to make any trading errors on the five or six hours of sleep I got nightly before showing up to work at 6:00 AM every day. At that point I was making over $80,000 a year, living one block off of the ocean in Orange County, and was engaged. When the dust finally settled my firm had been eaten up by a mega-bank and I found myself unemployed. Within a month of losing my job, my selfish prick of an ex-fiancé had cheated on me in the bed we shared with an unattractive girl with a lisp. Thankfully, I had not yet sent out the invitations, but everything else for the wedding had either been fully paid-for or carried a big deposit—from my own account—including the dress. Because cheating fell on the list of things I would absolutely not tolerate (along with stinky people, pee on toilet seats, country music), I immediately flew my mother down to California, cleaned out the house of every stick of furniture, and shoved it into a U-Haul for the twenty-hour drive from hell up the coast to Seattle, where I was born and raised. All I had left from that time in my life was a bunch of furniture that the ex and I had purchased together for our home, thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes that were two sizes too small for me, and my dog Winston. I took the job at Merit immediately upon receiving an offer, not because it would further my career, but for the simple reason that I desperately needed the decent salary and good benefits.

Things were especially bad lately because we were at the tail-end of the biggest merger in Merit’s eighty-five-year history. Over the last several quarters, the company's share price had sharply tanked, and the overall concern in the firm was either a nasty bankruptcy where we would certainly be forced to lay off many of our employees, or a hostile takeover by a different competitor with the same (or worse) result. Because I worked in the legal department, everyone in my group had been on edge for the past six months, frantically checking and double-checking that all of the agreements, disclosures, financial statements and shareholder information was listed correctly, conducting due diligence on all information that would, or ever could, be public, and generally freaking the fuck out.

I left the office quietly and walked the four blocks down to the H&M on Sixth Avenue and Pine Street. I found and purchased a black lined wool dress without trying it on, size ten. Because the dress only cost me fifteen dollars, I also picked up a new gold pleather clutch and some gold hoop earrings that were guaranteed to turn my earlobes green within thirty minutes. I was definitely not above giving myself green earlobes in exchange for three dollar earrings. Nice work, I thought to myself. I was in and out in less than ten minutes, and the total for the purchase was less than thirty dollars.

Today’s shopping expedition was serving a very specific purpose—I had a date that night. I had a profile up on a few dating sites and had been on several awkward dates with various types of men. Unfortunately for me, none of them had come even close to the fantastic first date that is required to create a relationship. I had had a few flings, and even dated an ex of mine for a month or two when I had gotten back from California, but so far nothing had stuck. I was hoping that tonight’s date would be somewhat decent. If not, at least I would get a meal and a couple of glasses of wine out of it.

When I got back to the office about thirty-five minutes later, everything seemed to still be under control. My co-workers were quietly typing at their desks, and the office would have been calm if Elaine wasn’t on the phone, her office door wide open, yakking voluminously to someone about remodeling a bathroom. Everyone at the office knew that Elaine’s only daughter was due to give birth to her first child in two months in Manhattan, and besides the merger, this was Elaine’s main source of stress. Being a total control freak, Elaine was putting up the money for her daughter's expensive downtown apartment, and now, apparently, for an extensive re-model, including all new furniture, every piece of which Elaine was painstakingly hand-picking.