workzine

Holly Day, 1/16/2011

Current Occupation: Freelance writer

Former Occupation: Secretary

Contact Information: Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis,Minnesota. Her poetry and fiction has recently appeared in Hawai’i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream. Her book publications include Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.

###

Summer, 1990

One day, my boss, Thom, called me into his office one day to tell me that while they couldn’t fire me, they were thinking of cutting my hours by half, since I was getting everything done so quickly. I seriously considered it, especially since I was somehow getting enough money from selling poetry by then that the loss in secretary wages wouldn’t affect me that much.

“Of course, that’ll mean you won’t have health insurance anymore,” Thom added, obviously seeing that the threat of reduced work hours hadn’t scared me. “You’ll be a part-time employee, and won’t be entitled to any benefits.”

That was an actual threat, because I was pretty dependant on my five-dollar-prescription plan, which saved me nearly $25 dollars a month on birth control alone.

“I can’t really afford to lose my insurance,” I said after a few moments.

He shrugged. “Well, that’s what we’ll have to do if you can’t make your work stretch out for the whole day,” he said triumphantly. “I’d hate to have to bump you down to part-time, but I can’t justify having you sit at your desk doing your homework all day long.”

When I got back to my desk, I was furious. I desperately wished I could go back to the meeting and tell my boss I didn’t care if they bumped me to part-time, because I could totally afford it, I was a big-shot writer, even if no one outside my little circle of invisible mail-friends knew it. I knew the moment had passed, though, and decided to maximize the limited amount of time I probably had left at the company.

Before I left, I wanted to get at least one decent chapbook out of the company photocopier. For about a week, I carefully cut pictures out of the magazines from the lobby and filed them. Everything I thought was cool or weird-looking went into the file. Whenever anyone walked by my office, I just looked like I was just reading magazines quietly to myself, which was what all the other office workers did in their free time. I ordered a nice set of drafting blades and some gluesticks from the office supply catalog, and use the fine blades to do even weirder things to the pictures I had cut out. I carefully cut eyes out of faces, gang symbols into hands, and tribal tattoos on models.

When I’d gotten enough pictures together, I practiced laying out book pages on sheets of copy paper folded into quarters, which seemed a nice, reasonable size for a chapbook. After I’d gone through all of my previously published poetry and picked out the best pieces, I glued the mangled pictures all over the margins of the pages until all the blank sections completely covered in images. When the pages were finished, I practiced laying them against one another one more time to make sure I wouldn’t end up with a blank page in the middle of the book, or anything upside down. I had gotten enough technical-error-riddled contributor copies of magazines over the years that I was determined not to make any stupid mistakes myself.

Every morning, I’d sneak one double-sided page of the chapbook in with my morning photocopying. I’d wait until no one else was in the photocopy room, then run as many photocopies as I could of the illicit sheet until someone else came into the room, at which time I’d resume copying my daily paperwork. I mastered the art of boring small talk, to the point where people began to duck out of the copy room when they saw me coming to avoid being sucked into a long-winded discussion about my cats, or all the cute things I’d seen the birds outside my office window doing that morning, or how the coffee in the lobby might smell like it was burning, but it still tasted really great. As soon as I was alone again, I’d resume making chapbook pages.

I ended up making nearly 400 copies of a 24-page chapbook, titled “Post Nuclear Psalms,” over a two-week period. Making the cover was the hardest part of the photocopying process. I wanted to have a colored cover, so it wouldn’t look like it was just another shitty photocopy project, so I special-ordered a couple of reams of bright yellow cardstock on the pretense that we needed warning flyers for the discontinued forklifts in the warehouse. It was the exact color of police barricade tape.

I was never very good at drawing, so it took me a few hours of painful drafting with a ruler and a pencil before I was able to make a good enough radioactive warning sign for the front cover. I put a smiley face in the middle of the icon, stenciled the titled over the whole deal, and it was done. At the last minute, I made up a press name—Fancy Panties Press, with my P.O. box listed as the mailing address —to stick on the back, just in case someone from work found the finished chapbook and accused me of using the office copy machine. In my plan, I would just point out the press name on the backside of the chapbook and claim that it was printed at some little press in downtown Huntington Beach.

Since the book was quarter-sized format, I could put two copies of the cover on each full-sized sheet of paper. Whenever I had to run to the photocopy room, I’d bring ten or twenty sheets of yellow cardstock to slip into the photocopier to run off copies of the cover whenever possible. Some days, I’d be lucky if I could run off five copies before being interrupted. On those days, I’d shake my head and grumble, “Someone put yellow paper in the photocopier again! How many of these signs do they actually need in the warehouse?” On good days, I was able to run almost a hundred copies, which equaled two hundred copies of the cover.

All this time, the other secretary, Frank, kept grousing to anyone who’d listen about how I wasn’t actually doing any work when I was sent to help the traffic controller or customer service offices whenever my own work was done, that every time he went by he’d see me sitting at a desk, talking on the phone to reps for longer than I needed to, that the whole thing was some sexist scam. He refused to answer phones anymore, so when I was working in the customer service section of the building, I had to answer both their phones and the phones for the main office, even though I could barely hear the main office phone ring from where I sat. He also wouldn’t answer the front desk, so if anyone came to the door, I had to run all the way from the back of the building to the front desk to sign for whatever package was being dropped off, or to greet visiting salespeople, or pass out and file job applications. I didn’t really mind, though, because I knew the whole thing only made me look even busier to the rest of my co-workers.

It took over a month to finish all the photocopying for the chapbook. On the last day, I went into the company storage room to pick up supplies for cutting and collating the book. I found a giant paper cutter—a really old one with a giant machete for a cutter that could slice through fifty sheets of paper at once without any trouble—and an industrial stapler that could easily go through the 26 pages that made up the chapbook. I grabbed both items, as well as some boxes of pens, and pencils, and a few reams of white copy paper and some pencil erasers. As I staggered back to my office, I stopped at a couple of the side offices and unloaded boxes of pens and pencils and erasers to my co-workers with a cheerful “Hey there! Saw you were running a little low on writing materials!” People were so happy to not have to make an official requisition for new supplies from me that no one questioned the bulky paper cutter and stapler at the bottom of my pile. When I got to my office, I dropped the paper cutter and stapler on a back cabinet, and took the reams of paper off to the photocopy room. I stocked the photocopier to capacity, making sure to get just enough toner on my hands to make it look like I’d had a hard time in there, but not enough to ruin my clothes. The first thing anyone said when they saw me for the rest of the day was, “Oh, wow—looks like the photocopier got you!” just like I knew he or she would.

I came in an hour early the next morning and managed to cut all sixteen-hundred sheets of paper into halves before the rest of my co-workers even showed up.. I gave serious thought to trying to collate pages during the work day, but decided there wasn’t any way to do it without someone finding out what I was doing.

When I went home that night, I unloaded my heavy backpack right on the living room floor and spent the rest of the night arranging the pages into piles of single pages, then piles of the assembled chapbook. When I’d finished, I carefully put the papers back into my backpack to bring back to work with me to staple the next day. I did have a shitty little hand staple at home, but I figured it’d be easier and faster to use the industrial staples at work.

The best part of it all was when I’d finally had all 400 copies—minus about ten copies that photocopied badly, or got maimed by the paper cutter due to poor alignment—collated, stapled, and back in my apartment in neat little piles. I rubber-banded about two hundred of them in stacks of twenty to take around to some of the businesses downtown, just like I had with me and Paul’s book. I called Leigha up and asked if she wanted to tag along. We decided to meet at our friend Jinx’s bar, Taxi, have a couple of beers, and head out from there.

School was out and downtown was deep into summer break. Even Jinx’s crappy little biker bar was packed with tourists, and I soon found myself handing copies of my chapbook to dozens of fat, drunk old men who had decided that Leigha and I couldn’t possibly have stopped in the bar just to hang out with ourselves. The poetry books worked like Kryptonite to the tourists—they’d take the copy I’d handed them as though it was some sort of religious pamphlet, nod politely, then stumble away to an obviously friendlier table. The drunker I got, the pushier and braver I got, and soon, Leigha and I were stumbling out of the bar to go back home, and I was stopping people on the street to give them a copy of my new book. I left stacks of copies in bars, coffeeshops, on top of newspaper racks, in a bundle for the guy who ran the downtown newsstand to find the next morning. I managed to pass out all two hundred copies that night, and it was exhilarating.

The next day, I drug myself out of bed and headed to work, another hundred-fifty copies in my backpack. I sent stacks of copies—on the company’s dime, via FedEx—to friends and editors I knew all over the country, with a note included in each package pleading for them to drop the books off at a local coffeeshop or any place that welcomed poetry, with promise of my eternal gratitude. I also sent review copies to Mike Gunderloy at Factsheet Five and Flipside and a bunch of ‘zines that ran chapbook reviews, and even stuck copies of the chapbook in with the rejection/acceptance letters I sent out with Next Phase submissions. By the end of the day, I had less than twenty copies of the chapbook left. Twenty copies left after starting with nearly 400 just a few days before.

I got a few nice letters from people in response to reading my poetry, but really, the real thrill of putting the chapbook together had been putting one over on my boss. If he hadn’t threatened to take away my health benefits, I probably never would have bothered to do it at all.

 #

back to WORK

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  1. This made me laugh! Imagine the boss wanting her to slow down her work? So weird.

  2. Good story about the perils of efficiency. I remember hiring ten newly emigrated Vietnamese workers for a high speed production operation. They were new to the ways of American manufacutring. Some of the more veteran workers immediately complained that the Vietnamese people were too fast for the assembly belt. It was difficult to get these new workers to understand the concept of ‘go slower.’

    Again, Jan’s story was very good.

    Thanks to WORK for giving voice to this kind of effort.

    Tim Dyson

  3. good work holly enjoyed reading it….

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