The Oral Report

Standing up in front of the class was never so much fun!

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Location: River City, United States

The rantings and ravings of a mom of three wonderful girls as she finds new love while working like a dog and shaking her fist at the system. You know. Pretty much like everybody else.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Flashback Friday!

Well, the Flashback Friday! I was working on last week...the one that I assured you would be here this week...with all new punched up funny...well, it's not. I'm still working on it. I found a little funny, but I'm not back to full strength yet. Your patience will be deeply appreciated. I'll bring a note from my mother, or something.

In the meantime, I thought I'd share one of the many anecdotes of working as the personal assistant to a multi-millionaire. I'm hoping this one is a little more grin-worthy (or at least head scratch-worthy).

I suppose I should start by saying that, several years ago, I was hired to be the executive assistant to the president of a very large firm here in River City. Within four months after I was hired, the president (who was also the sole owner) sold the company to a much bigger national conglomerate (oh, the headaches we had to endure regarding anti-trust regulations), and he planned to retire.

Needless to say, I was concerned. It was more like, "Great. I just got hired and now my job is going to be eliminated!", and, well, I was kicking my own ass for taking the position in the first place. But, what can you do at that point? Luckily (I thought at the time), my boss took me aside and offered me a position as his personal assistant to handle his personal affairs after the sale of the company. Since I had no other offers out there, and it sounded at least remotely interesting, I opted to give it a try. Heh. I say it like I had a choice.

The job was often a very surreal mixture of activities. And, though my fiance' will grit his teeth at the reference, my sister used to call me 'Elaine' to my boss' 'Mr. Pitt' in a Seinfeld reference that some may get. And, honestly, while I wasn't out shopping for socks, there were days when I was doing things like calling the manufacturer of Kashi cereal looking for a local distributor of Go Lean cereal, which, if you ask me, looks a whole lot like catfood kibble. But, hey, when you're rich you can eat hamster food if you want. And you can pay someone to find a local source for it, too.

I also helped keep his jet crew paid and on 24 hour standby, as well as maintaining records for his plane. I kept his staff at three houses (here in River City, one in Boca Raton and one in Jackson Hole, Wyoming) going. I kept his calendar and most importantly, his checkbooks. And that last part was tough, because he REALLY liked to spend money. His monthly American Express bill was more than some people make in a year.

He had asked me to keep him on a budget, so that he could, basically, live off of the interest his money was making without touching the principal. To do so meant that he had to restrict himself to the paltry sum of $125,000 per month. You wouldn't think it was the impossible dream, would you? I mean, when I think of what I could do with $125,000 each month, especially if I had everyone living on catfood cereal, sheesh... Anyway, that was, without a doubt, the most difficult aspect of my job. The end of the month would come and he'd have some trip he wanted to take or some something he had to have and he wouldn't have any money left and couldn't POSSIBLY wait a week. $125,000 A MONTH!

As usual, though, I have, too easily, found a tangent.

The story I wanted to share, today, was one from when he first sold the company. His family had owned the building that housed the business for generations. It had originally been home to an old meat packing company and had some pretty interesting features (not the least of which were the 'kill rooms' in the basement...where I never went voluntarily...just the thought of all the swine ghosts down there was enough to keep me out). The main operations (of the newly sold business) had been confined to the first floor of the two story building, and the second floor had never been used other than as a (sometime) storage area. Though it hadn't seen action in that capacity for years.

The sale of the company had not included the sale of the building, and, as he planned to do a great deal of traveling, leaving me behind to 'handle things', he decided to renovate the second floor, or at least part of it, to provide for some offices for us. I wish I had access to the before and after photos to show you, but I don't. Having worked in construction for years prior to taking that job, I had no problem keeping him apprised of the status of construction, and had actually greatly looked forward to being involved in it.

However, he, himself, had no intention of working there until the entire space was finished. It sounded like a grand plan, only I wasn't sure where SuperGirlfriend would factor into this equation. I quickly learned. I would be working in the middle of the construction zone. The crew partitioned me off with giant sheets of clear plastic. I could see and hear all the construction noise (which was great when you're on the phone, by the way), but they kept all the dust out. Ah, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Well, it was supposed to keep the dust out.

Not one time did I ever look out my plastic walls and see anything like this. Not once. I was FAR more likely to see this. Or this. Or even this.

The first day I used my "new office" was interesting. My desk, chair, a file cabinet, my computer and phone all tucked neatly inside this giant plastic ziplock baggie. I became the girl in the plastic bubble or the goldfish in the bowl or...the pumpkin in the bag. You may select your own visual here.

Just outside the standard grade plastic walls were carpenters tearing out walls and jackhammerers jackhammering floors and all of them were yelling things back and forth to each other, often in Spanish. All the while, I'm on the phone, trying to make hotel reservations (or any number of other things I had to do) when the noise level was akin to being in the stands on Superbowl Sunday. And all the desk clerk can hear is Al Michaels yelling 'TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN! TOUCHDOWN'. So, I think, "I'll just wait until they take a lunch break to make my phone calls. I'll work on something else in the meantime."

So, I pull out some bills and start working on accounts payables and, after wiping the dust off of it, I'm trying to use the calculator and it's so loud on the other side of the virtually non-existent wall that it's maddening, and I can't even concentrate on basic math. I just want to tell them all to GO HOME.

Okay, fine. FINE. I've got a letter to type. That should be something I can coast on. No. The demolition man hit something in a wall and the next thing I knew...mid-letter...a lovely sparkly fireworks show and then the power was gone. I'm in the dark in my plastic bag, and I'm starting to hyperventilate. Get me paper, Man, not plastic!

None of that takes into account the crashes either. Plastic walls are not terribly resistant to falling ladders, broom handles, or even drywall finishers when they trip on something, while on their stilts, and fall on your desk. Which is a little like that scene in ANIMAL HOUSE where the kid is looking at a Playboy magazine, and a girl dressed as a bunny is catapaulted through his bedroom window. "Thank you!," he intones as he looks skyward. Only in this situation, the drywall guy was not some Patrick Swayze type, and let's assume he falls in the middle of some project you're trying to work on and hits your soft drink spilling it all over your keyboard and papers, raising a dusty mushroom cloud that has temporarily blinded you and you weren't fantasizing about ANY of it. Yeah, more like that.

This kind of thing went on DAILY for about six months. The noise got better over the course of the project. Though, once the auditory assault abated, the olfactory assault wasn't far behind. I was forced to endure all kinds of toxic fumes from wood stain to paint to carpet glue to the aroma of food as the the Mexican laborers literally had a tortilla maker and a hot pad set up right outside my bubble/bowl and cooked their lunch there every day.

My over-sized baggie was relocated three times over the course of the renovation work. Every time it was an ordeal. Electrical outlets had to be specially strung for me. Lighting was never right. Getting the plastic walls anchored. My boss would check in with me, every day or two, to make sure I hadn't suffocated, and that he had enough money for that Grecian urn he'd seen, or the hair implants he'd been coveting, but he never stopped in to see me. We had a runner who would shuttle checks (that needed his signature) and other paperwork back and forth.

There were aspects of the job, at least at that point, that were the stuff of dreams. I mean, hey, never seeing your boss for months is pretty sweet. The dust (which was only ever moderately delayed, as opposed to stopped, in it's pursuit of my desk, my chair, my file cabinet, my floor, the inside AND outside of my plastic bag, my phone, my calculator and every piece of paper on my desk) and the unbearable noise and the overwhelming smells were difficult to withstand. I suppose that's the way with most jobs. Good parts and bad. Just that this was a rather unusual job and the highs and lows were rather unusual as well.

The offices were fabulous once they were completed, with granite window sills and lavish wood work and seriously upscale furnishings like crotch wood conference tables and projection televisions in the conference room and remote control window blinds, a custom made granite table for the kitchen area along with a sub-zero fridge and...oh, I could just go on and on. It was fabulous. And it was mine. All mine. The entire thing was made for just the two of us. And he was gone most of the time. (My boss was...probably still is...a snowbird, preferring to be at his Boca home from October through March. Our construction schedule had started in June, and so he had already flown south when the work was complete.)

It was an experience, though. And it came with all kinds of great ready made gags/jokes for being...wrapped in plastic, or in an oxygen tent, or ready for safe sex.



Blogger ashe said...

sign me up! my job sucks, it's a lot like your post, only with more mexicans.....and unlike you're story, it has no happy ending. the dust and the noise and the mexicans just keep going day after day after day. kinda like groundhog day........

7/01/2006 2:16 AM  
Blogger ashe said...

i can't believe i spelled your "you're". what a shlamiel!

7/01/2006 2:17 AM  
Blogger Opus P. Penguin said...

I don't think I want to know what crotch wood is. I have my suspicions, but I don't think it's anything anyone would want made into furniture... ;)

For a few years, I was personal assistant/office manager to a husband and wife team who ran both an executive recruitment agency (being phased out) and a holistic healing products company (being phased in). Meanwhile, the wife was studying to be a rabbi. She was nice, but he was a total schmuck. I helped him launch his product, including developing marketing materials, prototypes, scrambled to package and send out the prototypes to hospitals, helped compile research data and helped write and edit the training materials that went along with the thing. The culmination of this was that he wrote a book (cowritten by a famous holistic doctor) describing his whole philosophy, how he got started, the importance of healing environments in hospital settings, etc. In the intro, he credited everyone in the world - the assistant who had the job before me, his guru, his kaballah instructor, his men's group, his shrink, even his two cats - but not me.

The only good part of the job was that they lived on a mountain overlooking a reservoir, they let me write whenever I didn't have any work, and I got a ton of material for my own book (names changed to protect the innocent or myself from those who could sue me)

7/02/2006 11:31 AM  
Blogger SuperFiancee said...

Ashe -

Thanks for stopping by. I realize some of what I've shared sounds like a great job. And, in fact, the money wasn't terrible either. He also had a tendency to be rather generous from time to time (picking me up gifts from his travels and gifting me a day at his favorite local spa on Secretary's Day were just a few of the perks). But, when he reamed me out because I couldn't get a flight for his girlfriend from Florida back to Kentucky, the day AFTER 9/11...a day when there was NO AIR TRAVEL ANYWHERE PRIVATE PLAN OR NOT, and the day when he insisted I call American Express and have them change their billing cycle because he wanted to push it further in the month so that he would have access to his money faster, and the day when he asked me, after working with him for three years "if I understood English", when he'd given me yet another impossible task, was part of the downside to that interesting job.

Opus -

Crotch wood can be any type of wood and refers to the cut. Where a tree "v"'s is the crotch of the tree and the graining in that part of the tree is really exotic looking. If Blogger had cooperated, I had intended to include a picture. Alas, Blogger has not let me put up too many pics lately. Though, a table made out of some other kind of "crotch wood" sounds interesting. Not that I'd like to have a piece in my own home, but would love to volunteer a few specimens.

Your previous boss sounds like he had the same problem mine did. A complete lack of appreciation for the miracles we pulled off regularly. Unfortunate. But there are a great many of them out there.

7/02/2006 4:42 PM  

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