Do you remember all those teenybopper songs about sweet sixteen and summers in the sand? Those idyllic days with transistor radios, the smell of coconut suntan lotion and greasy French fries, flip-flops, and sunburned shoulders? For me, these were vicarious pleasures. For two summers in high school, when my friends were camp counselors or working on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland, I worked in a windowless mailroom at Gem, a discount department store. Is there a statute of limitations or can I still sue my parents for making me work there when I could have been having fun, fun, fun ‘til my daddy took my T-bird away?
For two summers, while my friends were in the sunshine flirting with lifeguards, I was working in a small windowless room, no bigger than a McDonald’s restroom, with four old women. We processed charge account payments and I saved my meager earnings for college. We didn’t speak. All day long we opened envelopes, took out checks, and stacked the checks into piles. A chimpanzee could have done the job. Our lunch break was taken in a windowless lunchroom—lunch a cheese sandwich brought from home and a soda from the vending machine. My friends were wearing two-piece swimsuits and eating Thrasher’s fries with malt vinegar. Is there no justice?
My second work experience wasn’t much better. I worked at the telephone company in a huge room with women, all women, taking telephone calls from people who wanted to set up phone service or argue about their bills. I earned very little and the job was probably the most stressful job I ever had. I helped people decide whether they wanted a basic black phone or maybe go crazy and get turquoise and maybe even upgrade to a stylish princess phone.
Later I moved to clerical jobs in windowless offices in tall buildings. I kept moving from job to job, from town to town, from one windowless office to another. Several years ago I finally got an office with a window in a shabby building with a Chili’s restaurant on the first floor. My window overlooked the backside of a gas station and the building smelled like cooking grease and onions. There were huge rat traps outside the building and mice in the office. I went home in the evening smelling like Chili’s onion rings. I wondered if I could retire on a disability caused by inhaling restaurant fumes, perhaps some variant of black lung disease.
In my last job, during the interview process, the HR manager told me I would get a window office. I breathed a sigh of relief because the building was in an area surrounded by trees. I thought I finally had found the right job, or more importantly, the right office. On my first day of work I was taken to a windowless office on an interior hallway. Surely it was a mistake. The walls and carpet were filthy, the lighting was horrible, and the furniture was held together with duct tape. I felt like the nerdy guy in the film Office Space, saying, “But I was told I would get a window office.”
Perhaps they didn’t realize the promise of a window office was the determining factor in my decision to accept the job. The duties of the position are unimportant—amenities way outrank substance. Their response was that offices were being reorganized, people would soon be moved, and I would be given a window office. Believing it to be temporary, I accepted the dreary office and tried to brighten it by buying my own lamps and quietly playing music on my CD player. Someone complained about the music so I turned it off.
Months passed. Window offices opened up and other employees were moved into them. I asked again. I was told it was not politically correct in the corporate culture to discuss window offices—end of discussion. That wasn’t the final straw, but it was one of the straws. I quit.
So now I’m sitting here in my office, looking out the window, marveling at the colors of the leaves outside. I’m playing old-time fiddle music rather loudly on my CD player. I’m wearing wooly socks, no shoes, drinking coffee out of my favorite mug. I have a private bathroom and a fully stocked kitchen and my cat sometimes sits on my keyboard and I can take a nap whenever I want. The office camaraderie isn’t too great but I don’t have to listen to gossip. There’s only one drawback—I don’t get a paycheck. But the office is terrific.
Remember the film Office Space? It was filmed in Austin—the city that I visit often to see my daughter. This egg recipe is a breakfast standard in Austin restaurants. Migas is the Spanish word for crumbs and the history of this dish is that bread crumbs (in the Mexican version, tortillas) and other leftovers are combined to create this omelet-like mixture. I hastily wrote this on the back of an envelope, dictated to me by the host of an Austin bed and breakfast.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 poblano pepper, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
1 can diced green chilies
1 cup grated cheese (Monterey Jack or Cheddar)
12 eggs, scrambled
1/4 cup cream
1/4 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups crumbled tortilla chips
In a large non-stick skillet, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add peppers and sauté for 10 minutes. Add green chilies and cook for another 5 minutes. Whisk together eggs and cream and put egg mixture in skillet with peppers, stirring gently over medium heat. Add salsa. As eggs begin to set, stir in tortilla chips and half of the grated cheese. Once eggs have cooked, sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Serve with warm tortillas.