I’d had the luxury of being a stay-at-home mom until my oldest was 18 months, the youngest just six months. And then my 1st husband, Henry, decided to go on strike. Just a one-man-strike, nothing organized, and his strike had not particular aim – attrition really. How long would they pay him before terminating his employment at Harvard Business School. He was trying to break a nasty cocaine/gambling habit, and I didn’t mind having him home – I could control the money that way, and we enjoyed our routine of coffee and the Boston Globe’s crossword puzzle every day.
But all good things must come to an end, and so I went back to work. It was the only way of ensuring that money would continue to flow into the house, to pay the rent on our four-room walkup in St. Mark’s Parish in Dorchester, the utilities on, the cats fed and the babies in diapers. Henry found a listing for a full-time food service position WITH BENEFITS. That was key. As it turned out the benefits were much to expensive for me on a $7 per hour salary, but I didn’t know that until after I had accepted the job. It was a catering position with the contracted food service vendor for Hale and Dorr, one of the largest and most highly ranked full-service law firms in New England. A real Ivy League institution.
The first weeks were heartbreaking to me. I had this horrific uniform – white blouse, nude hose, black shoes and this horrific polyester wrap/apron/dress thing. I was 22 and cute but had dropped out of college to have my daughters and here I was among peers – MANY peers – who HAD finished school, and if they weren’t earning six figures as attorneys they had other jobs that looked sexy to me at the time – receptionist, conference room manager, assistant to the Operations Manager, etc. Anything was sexier than what I did. I came in at 6:30 and got my list of morning meetings – corporate or administrative, and put together the coffee services, breakfasts, whatever, loaded everything with accoutrements onto my trusty tri-level handcart, and set the rooms up in advance. I would go the assigned conference rooms – located all over our 15 floors – via the elevator, where I trundled past those more fortunate or just fucking smarter women than me, women who didn’t make stupid decisions every two seconds. I would repeat this process for lunch, and in the meantime cleaned my own area, cleaned up after rooms were scheduled to be empty, got all of the kitchen items back to the kitchen, restocked coffee, sugar, milk and cream, bottles of soda and iced tea. I was out by 3. It was an exhausting day, generous portions of which I spent crying in the many little telephone rooms typically located opposite the hall from conference rooms – for outside counsel to go and confer with other parties in private. Henry would talk me off the ledge. And then I’d be home early and I would play with my babies.
But back to The Apron. I put it on, loop over head, smoothed the ‘bodice’ over my blouse and then had to reach around to my lower back to secure the ties. There wasn’t much holding it together. The uniform – like the one above except forest green – was my greatest source of horror. Even with the $0.25 an hour raise I got after my first week (apparently just for not quitting), that uniform hurt to put on. I had to work very closely with the two women in charge of running the conference room schedule – new “pop-up” orders came in all day, & I would be paged to their office for the delivery assignment. They were both blonde and attractive, a few years older than me. They were also catty and looked me up and down and clearly mocked me. It was palpable. They made me cry. I would walk away from them, tearing up, shuffling down the hall, the friction from the movement of my polyester uniform announcing my approach – the approach of the sad young catering girl – and making my thighs sound anything but their size 00.
FLIK – the company I was employed by – had accounts with businesses all over Boston. Verizon was also a client. Verizon has many Boston locations, and one day decided that they just HAD to have lunch delivered by FLIK at one of their locations that did not have an onsite cafeteria/catering services. Why another Verizon office couldn’t have managed it I’ll never know. And really, they couldn’t have sprung for takeout? WTF? All I know if that I was forced to take my handcart, full of Verizon’s lunch, all the way to the end of State St., navigate my way across Purchase St. to their building on the water, beside the Marriott Longwharf Hotel on the water. The streets are poorly maintained, the cart was entirely contrary the entire way there, and the wind was relentlessly blowing my sarong-style uniform all over creation. I made my awkward way into Verizon, dumped their lunch and hurried back to 60 State. Somehow the cart was more disagreeable with nothing on it, the wind kept up its assault on my decency and by the time I got back to the building I felt like I’d been somehow…compromised.
Of course I came right back to a popup – full lunch setup for 12 in the Smith Room, a large conference room with a water view right off of the reception desk on 31. I liked the Smith Room, maybe because the Smiths are my favorite band. Alas, the room is named for a partner of the firm, not the long-defunct quartet. But never mind that. I reloaded the cart, took the elevator to 31 and said hello to Nancy, the receptionist, on my way into the Smith Room. She called after me but I said I was running late but would stop by when I was through.
In the Smith Room, the meeting was in recess, just two young female litigators and a Partner, one I liked very much, and who I would later manage to screw up everything related to his meeting. He was always magnanimous about my failings, and of the hundreds of attorneys at the firm, it always confused me that his dice would be the only ones to roll snake eyes with me. But maybe the encounter in the Smith Room that day explains it…
The marble credenza was large, and I cleared it of the remnants of breakfast, putting the carafes and coffee cups and everything else on the second shelf of the cart. Then I started to arrange the lunch setup, walking up and down the length of the credenza, laying out the food, the silverware, drinks, new coffee setup, condiments, paper items, etc. At some point I noticed the two women whispering and giggling. I turned and looked at them. They looked back at me, still giggling. I went back to what I was doing. But now they were laughing hysterically. I turned and looked at them again. The Partner got up and approached me and I quickly went back to what I was doing. I sensed him behind me – DIRECTLY behind me. And even when I moved, he would move with me. I got distracted, he was nice, so I knew he wasn’t being a weirdo, but something wasn’t right.
Then I started to turn red. I felt it before I even knew what was going on, a small breeze where it didn’t belong. I rushed through the rest of my job and tried to pull my exterior into my interior as much as I could. I probably even flexed my poor butt cheeks. I scrambled out of the room, feeling apologetic and horrified but not so confused that it didn’t occur to me that the Partner was a true gentleman.
Nancy was standing up at the reception desk, when she saw me she put her hand over her mouth. There was a security guard with her, but I knew him, and I was never particularly bashful when I was in my own element, when I expected it. Nancy asked me to turn around, raising her hand and twirling her pointer in a circle. I did. Slowly. I knew what was coming.
“Oh Jill.” Nancy was approaching retirement and was sweet and motherly to everybody – everyone at the firm loved her, just as, when I later became Head Receptionist, and out of that god forsaken uniform, everybody loved me. “Come here honey.”
Jason, the security guard, was cracking up – I didn’t blame him. Nancy untied and put my sarong back in order while I calculated how many people might have seen me, who had been on the elevator rides up. I must have walked all the way from Verizon with my skinny bare white ass, obscured not at all by the nude pantyhose I was wearing, exposed to the world. Or at least to the State St. crowd, those in my building, from the lobby up to our offices 30 flights up. WTF? There wasn’t ONE person who could have told me? It took a grown man who was probably thinking ohgodsexualharassmentsuit to at least try and shield me from the embarrassment? Really?
Nancy finished fixing me up. I was traumatized for the rest of the day, I figured it would be the highlight of water cooler talk for the next 24 hours, unless that attorney who inexplicably had a mortal terror of stairwells finally took a tumble on the set linking 26 and 27. The next day I told my boss I would not be making any additional out-of-office catering runs. She must have heard about the incident – she didn’t protest or ask questions. And then I had told myself if could be worse and moved on.
Well, as long as the folks at Verizon’s waterfront location enjoyed their lunch, I suppose it was a good day.