The Marketing Director
I have three degrees. I work for $10 an hour. I’ve had no raise for two years. I’m supposed to say I feel lucky to have a job in this economy.
I am the Marketing Director. This is the title they gave me when I was hired, without defining exactly what I would do. They gave me my own desk in the office/kitchen between the water cooler and the microwave. Sometimes, I come to work and people are eating at my desk like it is a table. Sometimes, I have to turn my keyboard upside down and bang it on my desk to get rid of the dried up grains of rice that have dropped into it.
I have two bosses: Jack and Sheila. They both have diplomas from the University of Phoenix-Online on their walls. I hear people whispering that Jack and Sheila are having an affair. This is because of a receipt someone in accounting saw for a single hotel room when they both went to a business convention. I don’t know if this is true. It would be against corporate policy. Sometimes, I see them leaving to go to lunch at almost the same time, one just a few minutes before the other. Sometimes, when I’m out driving late at night because I can’t sleep, I’ll drive by the office and see both of their cars still parked in the lot.
I have two garbage cans in my office. One is medium-sized and one is small. The small one is for things I need to throw away—gum wrappers, bent staples, dried-up highlighters; and the medium-sized one is for the globs of shredded paper that come from the shredder. Part of my job as Marketing Director is shredding documents. One day, rather than crossing the room to use the large garbage with the swinging lid that is meant for food, Jack puts his plastic fork and empty Lean Cuisine box into my medium-sized garbage can. Then everyone thinks it’s ok to do this every day. They fill it to overflowing. Cream sauce and bits of broccoli drip and drop onto my purse. This means I now have to use my small garbage can for the shredded paper, which fills it quickly, which means I have to make a lot of trips out to the dumpster behind the building. Sheila tells me not to worry, to just throw all the paper on the floor from now on and the Mexican cleaning ladies will take care of it. She is serious.
On birthdays, Kristee, who works at the front desk, sends group emails with the subject line HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOU NAUGHTY MONKEY!!!!!!!!! Always so many exclamation points. When you open the email, there’s an animated picture of a monkey making an obscene gesture with a banana. When it’s my birthday, no one sends anything. Because I’m five hours short of being a full-time employee, I reason, or maybe they don’t know it’s my birthday. Also, I’m fourteen years older than most of the people who work here. They let me know that when they hired me. They joked no one could accuse them of age discrimination now. Then they told me they were joking, and told me they hoped I liked jokes. I’m forty. Maybe Kristee thinks I’d appreciate something more traditional than an email– like a group-signed card—but that doesn’t come either.
When we need to redecorate our lobby, Jack recalls seeing on my resume that I was an interior designer. I was. A good one. Before the bottom fell out of the housing market and everyone got foreclosed on and no one cared if their rental house looked nice and the design firm I worked for went bankrupt. Jack asked if I could help with the lobby design, “During my working hours.” Which was to say he wouldn’t be paying me more for this service.
I select tasteful art, blue-gray paint the color of a mountain lake, and a tufted cream leather couch with pillows in shades of sky. Everyone says how beautiful and professional it looks. They don’t say this to me but to Kristee at the front desk and I can hear them from my desk in the office/kitchen. “I know, right?” she answers.
Two months later, they’ve pushed the tufted cream leather couch into an empty office they sometimes rent to freelancers. The sky-colored pillows are misshapen or ripped from being swung by their corners in impromptu pillow fights. They move a ping pong table into the lobby, positioned at a diagonal because it barely fits. Now, when you walk into our lobby, it seems to say, Welcome to our ping pong table(!) But everyone loves it and there’s always a bracketed tournament going on at lunch, and people are eating around the ping pong table instead of my desk. No one has hit their sales goals, but they’re all getting really good at ping pong. Jack has also started parking his bike in the lobby, its tires marking rows of black x’s along the wall.
Before I was a marketing director and after I was an interior designer, I was the assistant to a brilliant writer. He won the Story Prize and the O. Henry Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. He trusted me with his first drafts. I booked his speaking engagements. Often, he would come up to the little fifth story downtown office we shared holding two cups of coffee. He knew I liked toffee nut flavoring. He knew my favorite color was kelly green. He used to sniff the top of my head and tell me my hair smelled nice in a way that was so gentlemanly I wondered why we didn’t all go around sniffing each other’s hair as a greeting. He would write until he couldn’t write anymore, then we would have long, simple conversations while we watched rain falling outside the big window, or leaves, or people walking their dogs. Then he hung himself while on vacation in Colorado, and his wife, who’d never much liked the life of a writer’s wife, fired me and accepted all his posthumous awards herself.
But no one here would know this about me. No one cares I speak fluent French, or am actually really good at marketing. No one realizes when I’m out four days with pneumonia, and when I come back all the pens are missing from my desk.
Sheila’s birthday is in July. Kristee asks if I can pitch in five dollars for the cake, which I do. Then asks if I can go to the store and get some paper plates because we’re running low. When I return, all that is left of cake is crumbs stuck to a rectangle of icing. Kristee says, “Turns out we had enough plates after all.” She says they saved me a piece but it accidentally got hit with silly string. The whole blue-gray-as-a-mountain-lake lobby is covered in silly string. Techno music pulses out the sound system. Sheila hikes up her skirt and climbs on the ping pong table to dance. Everyone claps. Jack throws back his head, howls, and pounds his fists against his chest. Sheila’s hair is tangled with silly string.
I go to my office/kitchen. I put on my headphones and find The New Yorker podcast where George Saunders reads one of my dead writer’s stories. I turn the volume as loud as it will go. I compile a list of names and addresses I take from internet phonebooks. I put them in a spreadsheet to forward to corporate. We will try to sell these people something, or sell their names to someone else. I do this because I am the Marketing Director. Before I clock out, I will email Jack and Sheila. I will tell them I know, we all know.