07 November 2001

Headset Jockey

Well I don't see anything in your excessively exhaustive rules about not writing, ma'am. No email, fine. No internet, natch. No reading of magazines, books, or newspapers; no coloured nail varnish; no strong perfume; no bracelets; no personal calls; sure! No problemo! But, ma'am, on your list I see nothing regarding opening a fat heavy white Paperchase notebook with a Fawn Gehweiler drawing stuck to the front cover and a WINK (Hoxton fashion boutique) sticker glued to the back. I see nothing forbidding the grabbing of a purple Pilot G-Tec C4. I see no ruling pertaining to the scribbling down of details of my friends' sex lives. Though I am sure this is just an oversight on your part, ma'am. For you are truly an efficient and proactive Head of Reception and Office Manager, ma'am, and I would indeed like to commend you on your skills.

You are harsh, ma'am, but fair. You run a tight ship: but the boat does not rock too much, indeed. Ma'am, I would like to commend you. The headset you provide us with does not snuggle inside the ear canal, leading to early deafness and a hideous infusion of a stranger's earwax: it is a padded, folded black fabric - leather? Pvc? Pleather? a quick sniff cannot verify - that rests lightly on the ear and does not cause excessive sweating. Your interactive intranet-based internal phone list is far and away the best designed and most efficient I have ever used: the caller places a request; the first few letters of the name are typed in, and, bing! The screen displays the staff member's full name, photograph, extension number, job title, line manager and co-workers in clickable user-friendly glory. This, I like.

Ma'am, you must note that it is extremely rare for a state of liking to be reached by myself when I am doing this kind of work. When my left ear is all flattened and hot; when a slender steel microphone sits an inch from my lips; when my cheeks and tongue ache from the plum they have been arching around all afternoon (b/f says that the blow jobs I perform on days when I have been doing this kind of work are sublime, for the requisite bits are already flexed and limber): in this state, ma'am, I am unhappy: generally, I like nothing.

It is in this state that I have spent the past week. I buy Alpen, expensive and sugar-dusted, to tempt me from my bed. My skin, unaccustomed to make-up before 9am (nay, before 9pm), rebels. I ride the shiny black German bike, but, unusally, I do not pretend I am Dutch as I do so. I don't imagine canals. I don't sing songs at the top of my lungs. I eschew earmuffs. I compress my mouth into a line, and every day I cycle the wrong way down St John Street. Crossroads are so confusing.

I marvel at the physical perfection of my co-worker. Her name alone signifies elegance... Elle. The mouth forms a slow 'o'; the tongue caresses the back of the teeth. The letterform her name makes is elongated and angular: a model reclining on an elbow, perhaps, or an upended lintel. Elle has the most exquisite hip-to-waist ratio I have ever seen. In the afternoons she reaches into her handbag: she heaps grapes onto the desk. They are rosy-fingered as Odysseus' dawn; they flush pink to match her lips. She tells me she loves them. I have long since ceased coveting beauty: now I treasure it as a gift freely given. My eyes feast all week, as my mind slowly empties.

Why am I here? Accursed gender-specificity; headset jockeying is as female as endometrial shedding. 'Receptionists', quotes the American Bureau of Labor (sic) Statistics website, 'are charged with a responsibility that may have a lasting impact on the success of an organization - making a good first impression.' Your list informs me to smile, ma'am: and smile I do. In the bathroom I rub vaseline on my teeth: at the desk, my lips slide slickly into the requisite grimace. Were I male, I would be - what - working in a post room? A courier?

I am too sullen to be boycrazy, though it might provide respite. The couriers' hirsute faces trap asphalt, speeding cars, oily puddles, gyratory systems, radio crackle, breezes. They fill the reception area with the scent of freedom. Their feet clack briskly across the wood floors: they thrust objects at me: pens, delivery notes, packages. Then they are gone. I shift in my chair; my buttocks are numb. The pressure of my thighs makes me contemplate depilation. I make a Z shape: rest on my toes; my useless high heels are daggers pointing to heaven, threatening the vengeful god that traps me here. I drop my pen and reach for it: am jerked to heel by the headset.

'Receptionists tend to be less subject to layoffs during recessions than other clerical workers, because establishments need someone to perform their duties even during economic downturns.'

Oh goody.

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