Wednesday, November 2, 2011
But Jessie couldn’t sleep. She tossed and turned and imagined herself sitting behind a desk. She would be dressed in a stunning outfit, answering ringing phones with a smile on her face. A million thoughts scurried through her mind. She knew that completing the course would present many obstacles. She worried she might not qualify as an applicant due to her lack of education. If she was accepted it would have to be an evening class. Would she be able to manage working all day and attending school at night? She wanted this so badly she would just have to do it. She also wondered where such classes were held, how long each class was, how long a course was, and how much it would cost.
When a nearby church bell struck two o’clock, Jessie sat up and slipped out of bed. She would have some hot chocolate. Maybe that would help her sleep.
Sipping the hot drink at the kitchen table, she reached for yesterday’s newspaper and turned to the classifieds. She was surprised at the number of ads for secretaries, administrative assistants and executive assistants. She wondered what the difference was between an executive assistant and an administrative assistant. She studied the requirements for each job listed: tying correspondence, typing financial statements, organizing meetings, scheduling appointments, booking flight and hotel accommodations, filing and answering calls.
When she turned the page she saw a number of ads for private colleges. Some offered courses in drawing and painting, some in car mechanics, hairdressing, foot care and massage. There were also some that offered secretarial courses. Jessie’s eyes widened when she saw the price … a thousand dollars for a three month course, not exactly cheap. Somewhat disheartened she closed the paper, finished her hot chocolate and went back to bed.
The next day at work she made some mental calculations. Half of her wages went to rent, a portion went to bills, another portion to groceries and toiletries. That left precious little to spend on personal items or necessities for the apartment. How could she possibly save up a thousand dollars for a course?
At three o’clock, Betty indicated with a drinking gesture that it was time for a break.
“You look tired,” she commented as soon as she and Jessie sat down at one of the cafeteria tables. “Are you feeling okay?”
“Fine,” Jessie shrugged. “Just a little tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I kept thinking about taking that course, the secretarial course, and…”
“What is it suddenly with you wanting to be an assistant?” Betty demanded in an annoyed tone. “You’re a press operator. You have been for five years. You’ve always been happy with your work. At least I’ve never heard you complain. But now suddenly you got it in your head that you want to be an assistant. What’s wrong with being a press operator?”
At first Jessie said nothing, she just stared at her coffee, but then slowly she started formulating her thoughts. “I’m tired of being in a steamy room all day Betty. I’m tired of being hot and sweaty, doing the same thing day after day after day. I’m tired of watching my life go by. I’ve been here five years and I’m doing today what I was doing on my first day. I’m tired of people looking down on me and they do you know. I met a guy the other day and we hit it off, right up to the point where he asked me what I did for a living, and then suddenly he changed. You know why he changed? I do, I wasn’t good enough for him. And this isn’t the first time it’s happened. There have been others I’ve gone out with, but who dumped me as soon as they found out I work in a laundry.”
“That’s stupid,” Betty spat. “Anyone who rates you by what you do, or how much money you have, isn’t worthy of you.”
“Well, that may be true, but that’s not even why I want to take the course. I want to do it for me, because I want something better for myself.”
“And a secretarial course is the answer? You think you can be an assistant?”
Jessie stayed silent for a moment. If Betty didn’t believe in her, what chance did she have with strangers? But she wanted to try. She had to try. If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, but she had to try.
When Jessie looked up Jenny Sullivan was standing next to her.
“Mr. Muller would like to see you in his office.”
A sense of panic flooded through Jessie. In all the years she had worked for the laundry service she had never been asked to go to the boss’ office. Whatever Mr. Muller had to say was relayed to the staff through memos Jenny pinned on the notice board in the cafeteria. There was only one occasion when Mr. Muller wanted to see an employee in person … to fire that employee.
But why he would want to fire her? Jessie had no idea. She was never late, she was dependable and she was good at her job.
She cast a worried glance at Betty, who looked just as worried.
Trembling Jessie got off her chair and followed Jenny up the stairs to the first floor where the offices were located.
“Wait here,” Jenny instructed when they arrived at her office. “Have a seat please.”
Jenny stepped into the adjoining office and closed the door. Jessie sat down and looked around her. So this was Jenny’s office. Somehow she had pictured it a little bit more glamorous. It had cream coloured walls, dark brown furniture and a threadbare brown carpet. The only things that livened up the place a bit were two green potted plants on the windowsill, a pink teddy bear next to Jenny’s computer and a red picture frame on the desk. But the office was bright with sunshine and Jessie thought how wonderful it must be to have natural light all day; to see the sun and the sky, the rain and the snow. In the laundry in the basement they worked with harsh white tube lights and had no idea what the weather was like.
“Jessie, Mr. Muller will see you now.”
The door of the adjoining office had opened and Jenny motioned Jessie to step inside.
Jessie didn’t want to go in. She had the feeling that no good would come of this meeting.
Keeping her eyes downcast, Jessie couldn’t help but notice the changes as she entered Mr. Muller’s office. The dull brown carpet changed to a plush cream one, and when she looked up she found herself surrounded by luxury. She knew enough about wood to recognize that the numerous bookcases, credenza and huge desk were oak. She didn’t have to touch the three piece lounge suite to know that it was made from the softest leather, and she didn’t need to examine the decanter and glasses on the credenza to know they were crystal. There was a big difference between this office and Jenny’s but in comparison to the laundry area downstairs this place was a palace.
“Jessie,” Harry Muller said rising from the high backed chair behind his desk, “please come in and have a seat.”
Wringing her hands Jessie perched on the indicated chair and waited for what was coming. She didn’t have to wait long.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news for you Jessie,” Harry Muller came straight to the point.
Yep, I’m fired, Jessie thought. She only half heard how her boss praised her work, thanked her for five years of loyal service, but explained that machines were taking over manual labor. Her mind was in such turmoil she only heard the end of his speech, “So I’m afraid I’m gonna have to let you go. I’m really sorry Jessie. It speaks for itself that I will give you an excellent reference and a month’s salary in advance.”Jessie nodded, thanked her boss and left the office. As she descended the stairs reality slowly settled in. She was unemployed. She didn’t have a job anymore. She wouldn’t be coming back here on Monday. What was she going to do? What was going to happen to her? She wouldn’t have an income anymore. How was she going to pay the rent? How was she going to pay for groceries? Hang on, don’t panic, she told herself, Mr. Muller had stated that she would get a month’s wages in advance. Surely she could find another job within a month. Yes she could do that. Things would be all right. She might even find a better job. Who wanted to work in a steamy laundry anyway?