I don't remember who suggested this job to my mother. One of her gossipping girlfriends, I suspect. Thrilled at the idea of having me out of her basement, she filled out the application herself and handed it in the same day. She even went to my interview for me. I did not understand why on earth they would hire a 27-year-old video-game-addicted man after only meeting his mother, but I know better now.
On the first day, I found Mom had laid out a collared shirt and tan-coloured slacks for me to wear. The pants were too short, and the shirt was missing the bottom button, but she just tucked it in and stepped back to sigh with pride.
"My Jason, the big career tycoon. You look so handsome," she cooed.
I ran my fingers through my hair (which she had just finished combing). I hadn't felt this much discomfort since my last extreme wedgie... the day of my high school graduation.
My mother drove me to an intimidatingly tall office building and performed a bad imitation of parallel parking. She handed me a brown paper bag with my lunch inside. "Have a good day Jason. I'll pick you up at four."
I got out of the car and waited until she had turned the corner before tossing my lunch bag into a trash can. A homeless man picked it out and started eating my sandwich. I watched him for a moment, considering the idea of hopping on the next bus. But instead I took a deep breath and turned to face my first hurdle straight on: a revolving door. A woman escaped its clutches, giving me an odd look as she passed. I watched it spin, eventually come to a stop. I checked my watch. 8:49.
I approached the door cautiously, so as not to provoke it. I stepped into the triangular nook between the glass doors, aware that once I pushed forward I would be trapped. I just stood there for a second, glad that no one else needed to get through. I gave it the smallest of pushes, so small that it didn't move. I pushed again, taking a baby step forward. My nook closed in a pie-shaped column, and a wave of claustrophobia stopped my breath in its tracks. I closed my eyes and opened them, pushing a little faster. I could do this.
Pleased with my progress, I smiled and kept pushing and walking. I smoothly exited the door, only to find myself back outside. I must have missed a step. Flushing with embarrassment, I stepped back in and pushed more confidently this time. Without warning, the door came up behind me and shoved me forward, I tried to catch myself by grabbing the handle of the door in front of me, but I only pushed it further, which pushed the one behind me. I tripped and flailed and tumbled out of the door, landing on my backside, and scrambled to stand and regain my dignity. A receptionist behind the desk delicately hid a giggle behind her hand.
Having nothing to lose, I approached her and asked her where I was supposed to go. She pointed me to an elevator. Great. Another small space.
I pushed the button and watched the number above the door count down from eleven to one. I waited as an old lady got off, then stepped inside, rushed by the doors which had begun to close on their own, threatening to crush me between them. For a moment, I forgot which floor the receptionist had recommended. Then I remembered. I pressed the button marked thirteen and held on to the stainless steel rod behind me as the whole box bounced and lifted off.
I held my breath unconsciously as soft music played in the background. When the elevator stopped with a ding, the doors finally opened, and I screamed and came very close to wetting my pants. Right in the doorway stood a cloaked figure with what I realized was a rubber mask. Carnivorous white teeth dangled from a wide open mouth with red paint dribbling from the sides. The nose was long and sharp, skin marked with pocks and warts. A hand reached up and pulled off the mask and hood.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I thought you were my boss!" The woman smiled and shook out her mousy brown bob.
"Beth!" Another woman called between fits of laughter. "Oh I'm so sorry!" She laughed again as she approached. Beth got out of her way. "You must think we're monsters."
This woman had platinum blonde hair that had been dyed so many times it looked like it might fall out. She smiled, flashing over-whitened teeth against lips that were too pink and skin that was too tanned. She wore slacks and a blazer, but apparently there was no blouse or anything underneath. "Hi, I'm Janice. You must be the new guy. Jason, right?"
I nodded dumbly, and stepped out of the elevator before it could close again. In fact, I decided to take the stairs from now on.
"Welcome to the Corporate Correspondence Organization." She tugged on her blazer, intending to look sharper, but instead it just showed off more of her chest. "This organization takes all the 1-800 calls on the backs of consumer products. Basically, your job is to answer the phone if you want to. I'll show you to your desk."
She turned to lead the way. I followed meekly, taking in my surroundings. The photocopier was by the elevator, the coffee maker and water cooler in the far corner. In the centre was a block of cubicles, partitioned by plain, blue walls that came up to my shoulders.
People popped their heads over the walls, grinning and waving at me.
A fourty-year-old man with more bald spot than hair stood in my path. I stopped, confused as he took a low bow, then started to dance a jig.
"That's Arnold. His religion dictates that he greets strangers with a high-stepping dance." Janice informed me.
Beth, who had removed her black cloak, smiled at me and apologized again as we passed her desk.
An older dark-skinned man whom Janice identified as Old Abe tipped his hat to me.
A slight girl with long black hair watched me from over the wall of her office, expressionless. "Say 'hi' to Courtney." Janice commented. "She won't talk back though. She's a bit shy. In fact, she only talks to people over the phone."
We finally stopped in front of a clean cubicle with a desk, chair, computer and phone.
The phone was ringing. I looked at Janice, alarmed. She smiled. "Answer it."
"What do I say?" I hated answering the phone.
"Whatever you want."
I picked up the receiver and held it to my ear.
The ringing didn't stop.
"Oh, you have to press two." Janice explained, and pushed the button.
I swallowed as the ringing stopped, and the caller spoke. "Hello?"
"Hello?" I echoed.
"Do you like coffee?" It sounded like a woman's voice. Soft and sweet.
"Um... yes." Why was the caller asking me questions?
"What do you like in your coffee? Cream? Sugar?"
"Um, sugar, I guess."
"Welcome to the Monday Exaggeration Department, by the way. Beware of Olivia Martin." She hung up. Seconds later, Arnold placed a cup of coffee on my desk.
I looked at Janice. "Courtney?"
She nodded and winked.
"So do you have any questions? It's really straightforward. In fact, there isn't much to understand. At all."
"What did she say the name of this department was? Monday Exaggeration?"
Janice grinned. "It's the MX Department. No one has ever told us what MX stands for, so we make up our own names. I call it 'Meaningless Existence', Arnold came up with 'Munching Excrement'."
"Murder Exhibition!" Beth called out from across the room.
Janice, seeing that her work was pretty much done, turned to leave.
"Wait, who's Olivia Martin?"
"Speak of the devil and she shall appear!" Cried an annoyingly enthusiastic voice from behind me. I turned around to see a rather large woman with unnaturally red hair and eyebrows that had been tweezed away to leave thin little worm-like threads behind. Olivia giggled her signature bubbling giggle that makes you think (and hope) she's going to explode - starting low, ending tinny and high, then sucking in a squeaky breath.
She came right up to me and grabbed a fistful of my cheek. "Welcome here Jordan!" She practically shouted.
I couldn't correct her. I had lost all feeling in my face.
"So glad to have you here! I see you have settled in nicely! How wonderful! Well, I'll let you all get back to work! Chop chop!" She clapped her hands twice and laughed. "Gold stars for everyone!" she sang as she left the room.
"So, got any nice nicknames for her?" I asked when I was sure she was gone.
"Oblivia!" someone called out.
Old Abe patted my back. "Oh we have nicknames for her, alright."