Secretary

Let me tell you about corporate power.

Our company is the perfect specimen of the multinational conglomerate, so diverse in its operations, so vast in its holdings that, in our competitors’ commercials, they simply refer to us as Brand X. My boss, Mr. Gamete, is in acquisitions and development. There is a constant barrage of business people entering the office with the intent of selling out or buying in, depending on the depth of their pockets.

I am his administrative worker. Last year I was his receptionist. I am part pit bull, all temp, though for two years he has offered me a full-time position, which I refuse on account of my commitment phobias and social anxiety.
This suits Gamete, who himself, I’ve leaked through gossip, is something of a xenophobe.

In the early part of my tenure at Brand X, I had to learn to think in 30-second intervals, because Gamete’s phone never ceased ringing. My thoughts were reduced to haiku.

Four years of toiling
In university for
What? Short skirts and heels.

Things are different now.

I’ve learned to program the “hunting” mechanism of our phone system: if one line doesn’t pick up, the call is passed along until it’s picked up on another line. With my ringer off, I watch the lights on my phone twinkle in an infinite loop of unanswered calls.

Doughy, dome-like to his temples which are bedaubed in gray, Gamete projects a sense of being unformed despite his bulging pinstripes, like a soft-boiled egg jiggling in its shell. His aversion to social encounters could be interpreted as mysterious if one is sufficiently bored.

Gamete once accepted meetings as if begrudgingly acceding to some order of biological imperative. He dreaded the sight of his desk calendar, which he saw as compilation of ill omens, a stone in his belly.

When there was a cancellation he was palpably relieved and the redness in his cheeks drained until they were the color of marble. At one point I learned to sublimate my own social qualms by doing double duty allaying his. In the Freudian model of this office, I am the superego.

Then, as the seasons changed, so did the length of my skirts. At 27, I am too long out of college to pretend I still dress for myself. However, I surely don’t dress for Gamete, or his ilk. One day, as if in a fit of forced jocularity, he suggested I get a glass desk so he could see my “gams.”

We made some changes.

Deducing that Gamete may be feeling particularly vulnerable of late (“He’s put on some weight and seems self-conscious about a rash taking a slow tour of his forehead,” I now confide to inquirers), I’ve taken to admitting no one into his office, appointment or otherwise ? not even his fretting wife or mother.

And at Brand X, business continues as usual.

Though he cannot openly condone this new policy, I feel he secretly depends on it, relieved, really, to forgo the hoi polloi clamoring at his door.

For most of last week I secretly called myself St. Peter, crossing names in my book but allowing none past the Pearly Gates into Gamete’s office. However, I’ve since learned of Anubis – the jackal-headed ancient Egyptian god who admitted the dead into the underworld by weighing their hearts against a feather.

So far, no takers.

Yesterday, I made a man sit three hours, only to watch him leave in a huff after intentionally elbowing a pile of fishing magazines to the floor. He was a slope-shouldered runt, a scavenger, not fit, in my opinion, to see Gamete, I told him.

Today, a lantern-jawed courier succumbed to forging Gamete’s signature on his receipt after I’d kept him cooling on the couch long enough to charge rent.

The schmuck couldn’t keep his eyes off me ? they darted, ferret-like, as if stealing paragraphs over the shoulder of someone reading a newspaper ? or blinded by the glint of a glass desk. The courier became so annoying, I very nearly introduced him to Gamete to be done with it all. Fortunately, he received a page. The messenger was spared.

When this whole thing started, jamming the lock with a hairpin and all, I decided to de-activate the screensaver on my computer. Finally, the masthead of the news website that is my start-page has begun to leave a ghostly tattoo of itself, burned into the screen. I showed Vera next door this trick so we could track the headlines for mention of Brand X.

Vera had replaced another girl who was referred to as “Le Scandal” (the French article added for no reason other than it seemed to amplify her scandalousness to the water-cooler gang) who was not only sleeping with her boss, but was a man.

Vera weighed hardly more than a fashion magazine. Her latest diet craze consisted solely of sucking on damp paper towels. When she came to master Outlook, the once-ubiquitous bodice-ripper disappeared from her desk as she now seemed to bide her time making amateur forays into erotic literature with multiple e-mail correspondents.

“What’s another word for. . .” Vera had come over from next door to ask, a preface to a suggestive pantomime that could also have been interpreted as “grandfather clock” were we playing charades.

A synonym not forthcoming, my eyes lighted on the log-in box on my permanent news screen, which read “Member name,” then upon a headline about the vice president.

“Cheney.”

Vera mouthed the name salaciously as she foraged my desk drawers for gum.

Vera is not my friend, though sometimes I will rescue her from her own idiocy ? sherbet-colored lipstick, sending nude photos of herself to prison inmates (“But he’s sooo cute and innocent-looking,” she protested). I had to quit having girlfriends on account of the fact that I’m too competitive and have a tendency to sleep with their boyfriends.

“So are you going to let him out or what?” Vera asked, tossing a thumb over her shoulder toward Gamete’s office.

“No. He’s a prick. You?”

She snapped her gum.

“I think mine’s dead,” she finally offered.

“We at Brand X prefer the term promoted,” I mustered in an advertorial tone.

We hushed as a lanky copyboy jaunted through the lobby, caught a glimpse of himself in the glass and steel of the office and mumbled that he must shave, though his whiskers could hardly shame a peach.

“What about that one,” Vera whispered as her eyes trailed the young man until he was out of sight. “He could be a cutie, if he got that crap out of his hair.”

And business continued as usual at Brand X.