My last job in Buffalo was as an order taker at Coit Cleaners on Genesee Street. No, it’s not on my resume. No, it was not life changing. No, it did not help me improve my skill set. No. No, no, no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no,no. I got paid around minimum wage, but got $.25 every time I called a previous customer and convinced them to have us in for a free estimate for carpet cleaning. And every time we made an appointment for someone who made an incoming call, we got $.10. When the phone rang, we all competed to pick up the phone. Can you imagine fighting three or four other poor Buffalonians for a dime every few minutes? It was pathetic. It was demeaning.
We sat in what had been an upstairs apartment converted to a shabbily appointed office. Thin brown rug, tiny coffee room, fake wooden paneling adorned ex-bedrooms which now served as offices for the girls doing accounting. Whomever was the Manager at the time (there were four during my 1.5 year-long stay) got what I imagine was once the master bedroom. I think they only hired women who had equine features so as to alleviate any possibility of office romance. Mission accomplished, horse-face. I was the only man who worked there. Nice job, fat-ass.
One of the offices served as the gathering place for the men who went out and either did estimates or cleaned the carpets themselves. In the Coit hierarchy, these fellows were the top. We had a CB radio in our office with which we gals would either inform the outside sales fleet of cancelled appointments or ask them if they could take an additional stop. This was hard work they were doing, admittedly. One kid named Todd lost 50 pounds after his first month cleaning carpets.
And downstairs, in the front office, the only office with a window bigger than a TV tray, was Joe Doro.
Joe was big and blonde, with big eyes and an average stature, but once he started talking, you knew you were in a room with an A. He’d get in your face about the smallest perception of laziness or not going all out. Then the spittle would form at the side of his thin-lipped maw as he gently admonished, then violently admonished you. I got that treatment once, but those poor managers got Joe’s speechifying on a daily basis. What was to be done?
One time a dude called to make an appointment for his house’s carpets to be cleaned. He was Mathew Barnaby of the Buffalo Sabres. It was the closest I’ve ever been to celebrity. After I earned my dime, I asked him which game it was where he scored a goal and skated right to the camera on the side of the rink to give his little grin. “That was Los Angeles”. “That was cool, man. We’ll see you Friday.”
I smoked then. All of us did. Going downstairs to the alley to grab a smoke was coordinated ahead of time among us rats. If someone was gone too long, we would let them know or let them not know by sniping behind their backs about it. I don’t remember loving smoking as much as I did when I was driving home from that job every day. This one withered husk who called herself “Debbie” talked like Lily Tomlin’s “One ringy-dingy” operator. Maybe you’re too young to remember that.
“Jeesh, Gil, you’re late. I gotta go smoke my brains out…” she would say. Just imagine this voice about 100 times a day. Sometimes when I was late from coming back for lunch or a smoke break, she’d start sniping at me to others, thinking I couldn’t hear her. “I guess we’ll have to wait for the dummy to get back to do that…” while I stealthily made my way up the stairs to my cubicle. Those moments were awesome. This little old lady with shit stains on her dentures calling me names because she thought it was finally safe to do so. It was great.
I recall all of us burning out pretty quickly, and I recall us getting a free lunch one time. Across the street at some shitty greasy spoon. We all thought Joe was magnanimous, but we had a strict 30 minute limit, and a strict $20 limit as well. Then there was the Christmas party. At a bingo hall. So many cheap suits with cowboy boots for accents. I remember all us order drones huddling in fear as Joe and the technicians (!) drank copious amounts of beer (Joe wasn’t gonna pay for mixed drinks – are you fucking kidding me?) and began to devolve into the testosterone-filled, uneducated scumbags that they were. One of them, Roger, was dating Cheryl, our ‘supervisor’ and their constant on-again off-again violence-infused love drama permeated the office. I think they fought at the party.
I loved Saturdays, though, because I could sit and listen to the radio while nothing happened for about 6 hours. I would test my garbage can/wadded paper skills from various points in the office. No one was there but myself or whomever had that shift. I liked it but it was lonely.
When I look back on my “career” and my life in general, it strikes me as off how many times I have eschewed the traditional male roles and adapted the traditional female ones. I make lunch for the kids and drive them to and from school. I worked in an office at Coit, where the traditional role was being out and about, hauling that hose, working on that rug. And cleaning carpets wasn’t easy, either. Rim shot.
I was in theater and chorus. Never played sports. Have no proclivity for small-talk but befriend women very easily. For a while, anyhow. I feel that I’m predisposed toward female roles, but I have no idea why. The lowest point was working at Coit, I think. I had no friends.
I’m looking for a job now, but it seems like my accrued experience is worthless. I feel like an old man. I wish I had a job to alleviate this boredom. It’s intellectual boredom.