Back when I was working my terrible receptionist job, I learned a lot about corporate culture. Namely, that nobody gives a single shit about you unless you somehow bring in lots and lots of money.
There were several low moments for me. One time, one of the salesmen on the floor lectured me at length for “not doing enough with my life” and told me my self-esteem sucked. I hardly knew him at all. Another time a crazy man came in through the door and blew past the reception desk. I was told to physically chase him down and tackle him, which I refused to do. At 5’0″, I didn’t get paid nearly enough to risk my life trying to trip up a crazy person who was possibly armed.
But one of the worst was when there was a fire in the building. Not a drill, but an actual fire, at least as far as we knew at the time. The alarm went off, and I gathered up my purse to begin evacuating with the others. My boss told me put my things down, stay put, and keep answering the phone (despite the fact that the alarm was so loud that it was impossible to hear who was calling). A missed call could mean a missed sale. He told me that there probably wasn’t a real fire anyway, so I should just keep doing my job. He stood over me as the rest of the employees filed out the door, watching me answer calls in vain, shouting, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you!” as the phone rang again and again. He finally left with the others, telling me to keep manning the phone unless I saw smoke.
As soon as he fled out of the door, I ran to a different exit, fearful that I was going to be burned alive on the 37th floor. I headed to the stairwell, and hoped he wouldn’t turn around and see me. He didn’t. I headed to a local cafe after reaching the lobby, and continued to hide from my coworkers. It turned out the fire was real, but small, and not on our floor.
After we finally got the all clear, I tried to run up first. My boss found me still at my desk, answering calls. As far as he knew, I stayed at my post. He gave me a little nod, perhaps impressed that I was willing to risk my life for the good of the company.
I hope to never work in a corporate office ever again.
It has been a persistent fear of mine for many years now that a natural disaster will strike, and I will be naked for it.
Maybe not even a natural disaster. Maybe a terrorist attack or a fire eventually traced to arson. Whatever the situation, my recurring nightmare is that something unspeakably terrible will happen, and I will be naked while dealing with it.
I have no idea why this should terrify me so much. Perhaps it’s just adding insult to injury, that I’d crawl out of a burning building or swim out of a flood, then still have to deal with the indignity of being nude and vulnerable. Or that I’d drag myself out of a building ravaged by an earthquake, then spend my first dazed moments searching for a blanket or something. In these bizarre imaginings, I never just suck it up and deal with self-preservation first and foremost. I don’t spend my time saving others crushed by buildings, or seeking precious fresh water. No, for some reason in these scenarios I see myself simply wandering around, sadly looking for clothes to steal.
I’d like to think I wouldn’t act so stupid in an actual life-or-death situation. But there was the one time it almost came true.
I was living in Japan in the Fall of 2004, staying with my host family in Kyoto on a semester long study abroad program. I was busy showering in my host family’s expansive bathroom, and was cold, covered in soap suds, and most assuredly naked. At that moment, an earthquake struck that was stronger than any I had felt so far. The rumblings were strong enough to knock me to the floor in my sudsy state, and there I lay, terrified and thinking only, “My fear has finally come to pass.” I imagined myself having to wander the streets of Japan nude, my pale foreign skin still wet from my shower as fires burned around me from ruptured gas lines.
Of course, the earthquake was considered mild by Japan standards, and the only thing damaged in our building was the elevator. I finished my shower and dressed quickly, still prepared for a sudden evacuation that never came. But I still remember my terror.
I don’t know what is with me and nudity, but I seriously need to get a grip.
Birthday parties as a pre-teen involved extremely girlish slumber parties. This was no exception at my house, despite my dad’s slightly OCD tendencies. Before the other girls arrived, he gave me a list of things that were not to be touched, and items that, if damaged, would result in my immediate death. The list was awfully long for a group of ten 11-year-old girls.
The party was confined to the basement, with my Dad theorizing that we couldn’t cause much damage down there. He would soon prove himself wrong.
It’s amazing how an entire night of entertainment can be created as long as you have a video camera. In an unusual show of generosity, my dad had lent us his old camcorder for the evening. I was told that I was the only one allowed to operate it. This did not happen.
Terrible skits were planned, acted, and filmed. I distinctly remember one girl acting out a fake condom commercial, and commenting on the saltiness of sperm. I was completely lost, but evidently some of these fellow 11-year-olds had a hell of a lot more experience than me in that realm. Scary, in retrospect. At one point, a girl’s favorite baby blanket was hidden above the ceiling panels of the basement, and she began to sob when we wouldn’t tell her where we had put it. God, little girls are assholes.
We eventually got bored of the basement and secretly ventured upstairs, where I proceeded to spill body spray all over the kitchen counters. I tried to make a design, and since body spray is mostly alcohol, I figured I might as well set it on fire. Caught on tape are ten girls, seemingly hell-bent on burning my house down. My parents only found this video years later, and it’s disconcerting to get an angry phonecall from your dad 15 years after the fact, asking, “What the hell were you thinking?!”
After we had lit up an entire bottle of body spray, we then decided to go outside in the middle of December and play Ding-Dong-Ditch. Here’s where my pussiness finally got the better of me. I was the only kid in this whole neighborhood, and anyone we played this prank on would know IMMEDIATELY who had done it. I hung back, begging the rest of the girls in a whiny voice to come back to the house. I think I promised milkshakes as part of the deal. No dice.
The girls ran up to houses, rang the doorbell, then ran away giggling, while I stood in the street and wrung my hands. Luckily, they tired of this after a while since it was bone-chillingly cold, and we headed back to my house.
Back in the basement, the girls were starting to get unruly. Some decided to play a pirate ship game using the leather recliners, pushing them across the floor while pretending to shoot torpedoes at each other. This resulted in a wall outlet getting cracked, and streaks of blue leather now ran from one white wall to another. I would be berated severely for this the next day. Others settled in a corner to play “Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board,” which is a silly game where you call on the powers of the occult to lift a friend. We later played a game of hide-and-seek where I ended up partially stuck in an old fireplace.
Eventually, long after midnight, someone made the suggestion that we try surfing down the staircase. I immediately didn’t like this idea, since after the wall outlets and the leather marks, I knew I was on thin ice. But damn, it still sounded like a cool idea. We gathered up the sleeping bags, and the first girl lined up at the top of the stairs. She stepped into her sleeping bag, then rolled down the steps at full tilt, finally hitting the wall at the bottom with a loud BANG.
Well, shit, I thought. I’ve finally killed someone. I knew this day would come.
But she sat up groggily, and declared the experience to be, “AWESOME!” Soon everyone was pushing each other to be the next one to go down the steps.
Another went up, prepared her bag, then launched herself down the stairs. WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-BANG.
A girl was right behind her, and she decided to slide down on her stomach. WHUMP-WHUMP-WHUMP-WHAT-THE-FUCK-IS-GOING-ON-DOWN-HERE-BANG.
My dad had torn the basement door open halfway through her descent, clad only in a striped robe that was partially open. Mustache aquiver and nostrils flaring, he demanded to know what the hell we thought we were doing. “IT’S 2AM AND YOU ARE SURFING DOWN MY STAIRS?!” We all looked up at him, wide-eyed and pale.
I realized that I might in fact be the one to die this evening.
Somehow, the apologies of ten little girls managed to placate him, and we promised to stop. He stooped down to survey the damage to the steps, then marched back upstairs, a look of fury on his face. We all broke out into nervous titters once he had closed the door behind him. But, to my horror, one of the girls was prepping to go down AGAIN. I flung myself onto the steps to block her way, pleading with her as if my life were truly on the line. “DO NOT MAKE HIM COME DOWN AGAIN!” I begged, red-faced and close to tears.
I was called a coward for the rest of the party, but at least I wasn’t killed by a middle-aged man in a robe. I was also not allowed to have another slumber birthday party ever again.