Maybe I should be a receptionist

She had four different bottles of perfume in her purse. She used to do her makeup at her desk first thing in the morning even though she was pretty enough without it. First, she’d pull her long dark hair into a ponytail. She bubbled. She was recovering from a bout of lung disease and had given up smoking a few months earlier, but can’t you just see her sitting cross-legged at the end of the bar, a glass in front of her and a cigarette in her hand?

She was, what, maybe five years older than me? She hadn’t been to college but was thinking about starting. She was an excellent receptionist and everyone – lawyers, paralegals, clients – liked her, even me. She wasn’t my first girl crush, or my last. I never admitted anything to myself, just kept an admiring eye on her and took a lot of mental notes.

I worked hard that summer, the one after my sophomore year. I earned the money to buy my first car. I had just moved in with Geoff, into his crummy college apartment, and I was thrilled. I cleaned up that slovenly law office. I set to work in May determined to earn enough to buy myself a car by August.

I used to get to work before anyone else. I’d wait outside, reading, until the office opened at 7:30. Subtracting time for lunch, I worked ten-hour days, five days a week. I received time and a half for overtime. I milked every minute out of each day. I started out organizing and relocating all the files that lined halls, which made a good impression. I made a lot of progress in the first few weeks. I wanted everyone to know that I was doing a good job, and it worked.

By the third or fourth week, I slowed down. I bided my time, I chatted with my receptionist. She had a lot of first dates, and she did hang out at the bar. She was interesting. Sometimes she let me fill in at the phones for her while she went to lunch. I wish I could tell you that I did as good a job as her, but I didn’t. I was shy and uncomfortable. I didn’t bubble. I still wore the wrong clothes, had the wrong hair.

Nevertheless, I stuck it out. I worked my ten-hour days until August when the office manager told me that they couldn’t afford my overtime anymore. By then the office was immaculate. I was fine with it – I had $3,000 in the bank and a waiting boyfriend. I cut back to four days a week and bought an ‘83 Toyota Tercel with a manual transmission, which I learned to drive in one day.

The last few weeks, I put some money in the bank for gas and insurance payments. I bought some cute outfits and took some long lunches. A few of the lawyers asked me to stay, to not go back to school, but I refused. I liked my receptionist and as much as I wanted to be like her, I didn’t want to end up like her with a dead-end job and no degree. Do you know what I mean?

27 thoughts on “Maybe I should be a receptionist

  1. I’ve been there. I was a receptionist, a legal secretary, a paralegal, an EVENING legal secretary (I showed up after my law school classes when the other secretaries were about to leave), and now a lawyer. I actually liked the evening job the most, because it was in a large firm and I got to work for EVERYBODY. Which, for an introvert, seems weird, but I learned a ton from all of the different types of lawyers there.

  2. This was, above all else, really a great character sketch. Instead of being left thinking about not wanting to just be a receptionist, I was thinking that I would be friends with the woman you describe here. Very well done!

  3. I have been in that dead-end job a number of times, and it’s good to get out if you can and it’s not your thing. I’m glad I did.

  4. Um, yes. I know what you mean. I have been at that dead-end job, and always have been terrible at it.
    I loved the way you told this story, by the way. You worked hard – you demonstrate that – yet remain unattached, and you show this very skillfully.

  5. I completely know what you mean. I had a slew of dead end jobs and no degree. Temp jobs – the worst. I hated being a receptionist/office manager/office anything. I didn’t bubble either. (Love that term) And I’ve never been happy in a confined space. Have you seen the movie “Office Space”? It’s so spot on and I’m the Ron Livingston character for sure. My husband and I joke that I have more college credits than he does (He’s an Architect) because I went to college three different times, but never got the degree. I majored in Theater, Music and Photography. I think it was the Non-Lucrative Plan I was on! LOL Loved this post Christi.

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