Victoria’s Dirty Secret

by

03/15/2002

881 7th Ave, New York, NY, 10019

Neighborhood: Midtown

I was temping. My ‘agent’, as I liked to think of him, was overweight and short, with a firm handshake and a friendly manner. He called me “Bud” a lot. Although he was very enthusiastic every time we spoke on the phone, he seemed incapable of placing me in a job that paid more than ten dollars an hour. I’m sure it was because my PowerPoint test scores displayed nothing beyond my ability to use the mouse, but I liked to think that he just wasn’t working hard enough for me. I wanted to say, “Hey, if I don’t eat, you don’t eat, so let’s try and get things cooking.”

Instead I said, “Yeah, I’d love to work at the Victoria’s Secret corporate headquarters.”

The corporate headquarters are located on Seventh Avenue, just next to a Hooter’s restaurant. The front lobby is covered in some kind of golden wood, probably lacquered, and artful black and white photographs of full-chested women in lacy things. My first afternoon I was put at a desk and told to just kind of keep a watch over things. The woman I was covering was not pretty but dressed like she was. Her napster file was filled with Macy Gray and Jamiroquai songs. Next to me sat a permanent temp who was waiting to be offered a full time position. She’d been ‘helping out’ for three months, and seemed to be at odds with most of the women in the department.

There was nothing to do. I looked at things on the Internet and went through a pile of magazines that were going to be thrown out, snagging an older issue of “Wallpaper”. The department picked me as the go-to guy when it came time to run downstairs to McDonald’s for sundaes. Free sundae for the go-to boy. Someone gave me a matchbook sized box of Victoria’s Secret brand chewing gum and asked if I wanted to come back the next day, and I did.

In the morning I arrived and nodded at the receptionist as if we were old friends, but she perfunctorily made me sign in and did not return my gaze. Carrie, my “boss”, was organizing a charity event. She was a real self-motivated mover, and I envisioned a nice corner office for her in the years to come. My job was to prepare the complimentary gift bags for the charity event, each of which would contain items from the newly developed Victoria’s Secret Beauty line of liquid lotions and smelling powders. One lotion and one perfume, or, one lotion and one cold cream per bag.

There were hundreds of bags to fill so I was put in a lower-level conference room where I spread the bags all along the table and the floor. There was still not enough room for them all, but I got working. In typical temp fashion, I was left alone to work for hours, but still felt uncomfortable asking for some simple diversion, like the use of a Walkman. Silence reigned and my pattern took hold: big lotion, little perfume; big lotion, big perfume; little lotion, big perfume; little lotion, medium cold cream. The energy of my morning coffee seemed far away and inaccessible.

After three hours of this, two different men walked into the room with notepads in hand, took one look at the outstretched bags, and walked away. A few minutes later Carrie came down with the office manager, both of them in a mild panic. It would seem the conference room was reserved for a noon meeting and we were in the way. The office manager had flattened cardboard boxes pressed against her side. “My name is Rosie Martinez, heh, in case you didn’t know,” she said, with a hint of fury in her voice, and then turned away from me to talk to Carrie. My name, incidentally, was Dirt.

Carrie walked to the far end of the room and started gathering up the gift bags. Rosie stood in front of me with a tape gun in hand. “Um,” she looked at me quizzically, “do you know how to put boxes together?” Rosie was not asking me this question because she did not know how. As an office manager I am fully assured that her deft use of the tape gun was widely known. She was not asking me this question because she was seeking a task befitting my skills. She was asking me this question because she thought that I was a complete fucking moron. Perhaps. I was, after all, allowing Victoria’s Secret Beauty to give me ten dollars minus taxes for every precious hour of my short youth. At this rate, I would be able to afford my monthly college loan payment in never.

“Yes,” I assured her, “I know how.” I took the tape gun from her thrust hand and began to show her how well I knew. This too is a sign of the temp who has been struggling against an uninterested job market for many months. Why on earth was I so interested in showing Rosie that I knew how to put together cardboard boxes? How much more interesting it would have been to see what her reaction was to the answer “No, what are you talking about?” Yet, there I stood, waiting for Rosie’s nod of approval, as if to say: Oh, do you ever!

My afternoon was the same, except I was put into a much smaller conference room overlooking Central Park, and my bag packing continued apace. A young man introduced himself to me because he recognized me from Michigan. We got along fine, and for a moment we shared the mutual space of Midwest expatriates on a high up floor in a very tall building, overlooking Central Park and reminiscing about a dorm or the student union. Then he went back to his work and I never saw him again.

When my packing was finally finished I returned to Carrie’s desk, where I’d been the day before, and the bitter, long-term temp talked to me about her struggles in the department. “Oh, you’ve got it easy,” she hissed, “they seem to like you. But you don’t know what it’s like, especially with Queen Bitch around,” and she thumbed towards a darkened corner office. “She’s not in this week, but, woooo!” I nodded and then looked at my hands. Nice hands, I thought, okay. She started again, rummaging in her bag. “Oh! I forgot to tell you! My friend wrote a book, and I helped her edit it. It’s just on sale!” This was actually interesting news, and as the woman searched for the book I thought differently of her. Indeed, we all have our lives to lead outside of the office, and the secret passions that drive those secret lives are personal and fascinating. Was her friend a famous novelist? What kind of input did she give to the burgeoning talent? Her search was over, her meaty hand removed the tome from her bag, and it was a GRE study guide.

On Monday I was asked if I’d like to return to Victoria’s Secret. It was better than sitting around my apartment, farting into my couch cushions and dreaming of a roommate who actually paid rent, so I agreed. This time I would be working under Richard, in the supplies division for the Victoria’s Secret Beauty chain stores. Richard was a nice enough man, if you consider that he worked for the supplies division for the Victoria’s Secret Beauty chain stores. Another long-term temp, Chante, worked as his assistant. She would do most of the day-to-day overseeing of my work with Brooke Fox, a cross-eyed albino folk singer who would be temping beside me. We sat at two empty desks that were joined in the middle. Our job for the next two weeks would be to call each and every Victoria’s Secret Beauty store in the country and insure that they’d received each and every piece of the Christmas holiday window decorations, from the brass colored angel wings to the tx-740 light bulbs and rs-9 screw mounting plates. We had a Xeroxed list of the stores, and a 9-point font printout, five pages long, of each item in the decoration package.

I’m not sure Richard liked me too much, because he often caught me looking at the Internet, and once while I was in the middle of editing my resume. He gave me a talking to, and Chante, who was more like a confidante than an overseer, told us that Richard thought we had too much free time. Brooke Fox was no help, she was constantly seeking new work, or reorganizing her entire organizational system. The phone calls continued from starting time to quitting time. Store 1209 had the brass angel wings and the leather bustier, but was missing one package of light bulbs and also the star for the tree.

Oh wait, no, they had the star, what they were really missing was the metal wall fixture from which to hang the lace Christmas stockings. Store 2292 didn’t have a single item on the list. Part of the job included tracking shipments on UPS dot com. Things were coming from England and in the morning we had to call our London distributor before they closed the offices for the day. They were tired from their day at the office, and I was tired from the prospect of the day ahead.

After the first two days Chante came over to our desk and noticed the difference between Brooke’s meticulously clean work area and my mess of highlighted, disordered papers. “Look at you,” she said, “you are a mess.”

“No,” I told her, trying to keep a straight face, “I am an artist.”

This was a bad joke, and I didn’t expect a laugh, but I got something far worse. Conviviality. “Oh, me too!” Chante exclaimed. “Yeah, I’m like that too. I’m totally a creative person.”

Richard left on a business trip and Chante became our boss. During a lull in our store check ups she handed me two, black, three-ring binders. “These are my files, I need to re-label them. I want you to do it, because I know you are a creative person. Just do whatever you want, because no one is going to use these except me. Really, get creative.” The binders were listed “Fiscal Reports: 2000-2001” and “Travel Receipts, Itineraries: 2000-2001.”

The two weeks flew by without incident, except one day when I forgot to wear a belt. Chante offered to try and find another position for me if I wanted to stay on, and said that any time I needed work I should just call her and she’d find me something to do. I wished Brooke the best of luck with her music career and promised to visit her website, brookefox.com, and then I reported to Rosie Martinez’s office to have my timecard signed.

Rosie sat at her desk with an unfortunate, office manager smile on her face. She raised a long nailed finger at me to indicate she was using her Wendy’s drivethru headset for an important phone call. I took a chair by the door and when she finished she beckoned me over and began filling in the necessary blanks.

“Now, you’ve worked in a couple of our departments, haven’t you?” she asked.

“Yes, yes I have.” I said.

“Well, and of all the things you’ve gotten to do here, which did you enjoy the most?”

It is a question I have not answered to this day.

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