By Sydney Maier
It was mid-February. I spent a few minutes trying to decide whether I was dying of heat stroke from the noon day sun pressing right in my face, or simply from boredom.
I had, as always, completed my day’s worth of tasks in about seven minutes: check the messages (none); check my email (none); take the ‘closed’ sign off the door. Each hour was a week, which meant today was five weeks long. The thought was exhausting.
I settled in to watch TV on some shady site where you could only stream 72 minutes of video before the site forced a 60 minute break. I was too poor for Netflix, but that was ok, because usually the computer could support two browsers, and anyway, I had a newspaper. Glee was still newish, and as I watched Lea Michele succeed at life, my insides shriveled a little more, and the dank office sucked me in.
I never knew what my job title was, but I knew right away I was hired to let Amy off the hook. I learned later I got the job because I looked Jewish and smiled while she talked to me about Intervention. She “thought we’d be buds.” Three days after I was hired, and four months before she got pregnant, Amy went on maternity leave. This left me alone in an office with three desks. I decided I was the Office/Property Manager. Occasionally, I showed apartments next door, but the building (a vintage high-rise [read: poor plumbing and no a/c] with 97 units) was in disrepair, and the gorgeous marble lobby set potential tenants up for pretty major disappointment. Only three people rented from me in the whole year I was the Office/Property Manager.
On this particular February day, I was hungry. My roommates (a student and a Jamba Juice employee) and I were each on a $30/week food budget, which we called the skinny-cuz-you’re-starving diet. My feet were freezing from the February cold blowing through the inch gap between the floor and the bottom of the door. My face was burnt from the sun. People sharply dressed in clothes bought new were constantly crossing the street to pay $4 to drink tea outside. I stood on that corner once, looking into my office. It looked like an abandoned storefront. Even with the lights on, people couldn’t see me. I could taste the melancholy.
Sitting next to me was the bucket into which I dumped the monthly reaping from the 16 laundry machines. No one from the head office could muster the resolve to visit me regularly enough to pick them up, so the quarters sat in the bucket until I stole them to do my own laundry. Sometimes, after lunch, I would use the tupperware that had carried my crackers to take a nice scoop from the bucket. Once, another leasing agent had flirted with me, betting I couldn’t guess how much money was in the bucket. I guessed $300 in earnest, but soon saw the $300 I stole made so little visible difference, I had to recount my stash. The only reason I didn’t steal significantly more had everything to do with the bank: first, I was sure they knew I was stealing from laundry machines. Second, quarters are heavy, and I was skinny-cuz-you’re-starving.
I wanted Noodles & Co, so I texted Emily to come get quarters from me. When she got to the office, she flashed the face that made me feel as run down as my workplace, but the shame was short-lived since she was the first person to talk to me, and also, I had trapped a roach under a cup that I needed her to take care of. She had Jambas for us, and we watched Heroes while we drank them, waiting for it to be three o’clock. Then we rinsed our Jamba cups, filled them with quarters, and walked to Noodles.
Sydney Maier is a guest writer for Tumbleweed Diaries. Her years of theatre training never taught her how to write a decent bio, but laundry listing seems efficient: she lives in Chicago, works in animal welfare, and dreams of travel. Her belief system revolves around the Golden Rule and cinnamon. In college, Sydney studied theatre, psychology, nutrition (for three weeks), and finally landed on communication in order to graduate on time, rather than accumulate even more student debt. Since then, she has dabbled in employment in everything from guerilla marketing to interior design to early childhood education. Sydney is a runner, a vegan, and a Netflix loyalist.