Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Betty's gone

Hallelujah, praise the Lord.

Have I explained about Betty?

One Monday, I came in to find some of the office lights on. Odd, since I'm always the first one here in the mornings. I sneak to my office and sit quietly behind my computer and carry on minding my own business. A spindly curled-up woman in her late 60s with GIANT silver earrings pokes her head into my office and bellows in an excellent Cockney, "Where's the files for the German expense report, do you know?"

"Uh... No. I have no idea," I say. I entertain the notion that she might be some kind of costumed identity thief poking through Robert the Publisher's files.

"Such a mess round here, it is," she says, and leaves.

I slink off to the kitchen to make coffee, and after a moment she appears again. "You making the coffe, are you?"

"Uh. Yes," I say neutrally. Well, as neutrally as possible. (Not having had my coffee yet, etc.)

"Don't use that flavored stuff, Robert gets very upset when you make flavored coffee in his machine."

"Yeah, I know," I say, then take a stab at sociability. "I'm Moonrat."

"I thought you must be. Never seen you here before."

"And you are?" I try, more pointedly.

This is how I learn about Betty. Betty was Robert's personal assistant for twenty years when he was based mostly in England. Betty, the assistant about whom Robert still rhapsodizes. Betty regularly took dictates until 2:30 in the morning every night of the two weeks she was here "on holiday," who still woke Robert up (she was staying in his loft...) at 7:30 am each morning with a cup of tea, who rearranged the entire (indescribably disorganized--no words do justice) office and then got in a huge with Robert over the weekend because he wouldn't give her anything to file on Sunday afternoon.

"I hope Robert's at least paying you really well for all the overtime you're working for him," I tell her politely.

"Oh, 'e flew me over here, and that's more than payment enough."

"Wait," I say. "He's not paying you?"

"Of course not," she scoffs. "I'm retired."

In the mornings, Betty would sit with Robert and take dictates from him (he even verbally punctuates his dictates, although often he does not do so correctly or grammatically, for he, like yours truly, has a penchant for long clause-laden sentences, and by the time he gets to the end of one he doesn't remember what he started with). Betty would scratch down the dictates on her yellow legal pad in stenographic shorthand (who the hell still knows shorthand?!?). Then she would go out to the assistant foyer, where Robert's other three personal assistants work (that's right). She'd would then loudly read the dictate out to one of the other assistants, who would type it as she was reading into a double-spaced word document. The document would be printed out, and then Betty would bring the hard copy into Robert's office, where he would line edit it (not always to great effect). Then Betty would read aloud the changes to the memo to the other assistant, who would input them, then put the text in the body of an email, then send the email.

Now you know why Seinfeld isn't particularly funny to me.

"Betty's off her fucking rocker," I mouth to Dan as he passes my office.

"She worked for Robert for twenty years," he answers out loud. "Wouldn't you be?"

Needless to say, by her third day here I WANTED TO THROTTLE HER. She hijacked our interns--our unpaid interns, who have sacrificed their opportunity to lifeguard at the lake all summer with their friends to come here and, in theory, learn about publishing. She rustled up all the projects that the editors had conveniently "lost" for one reason or another and traipsed them one by one through Robert's office, so new shit was hitting the fan every 10 minutes or so (and all shit that could totally have stayed buried where we carefully left it).

One of the purest insults was her assumption that since I sit in the vicinity of Robert's desk and am female that I am his personal receptionist. She dragged me out of my office to answer a couple of phone calls relating to Robert's credit cards. When I ran into his office and picked up the phone (thinking that it was something editorial), I realized she wanted me to spend MY work time on HER life mission of making HIS life more managed. HELLO!! Just because she decided to spend her life in the thankless service of a man who has never even noticed she was there does NOT mean that I AM GETTING PAID ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH HER BULLSHIT as WELL as all my own work that's piling up on my desk, bookcase, floor, chair, lap (you know it's a bad sign when you're balancing you're butt on the tip of the chair because the seat of the chair is covered in submission boxes, and you can't stand up to rearrange because you also have a stack of manuscripts on your lap).

Worst, she splayed across the walls of our happy dysfunctional home an example of a model employee that none of the rest of us could hope to attain (workaholic, doormat-likely obedient, fanatically OCD, and unpaid). That we could never hope to attain because we're not robot fucking morons.

But the point is, she's gone. Gone, gone, gone. And she has vowed not to come back for at least a year.

7 comments:

C. Dappen said...

I hope that one day I will have a professional life as chaotic and insane as yours. At the end of the day that never ends, at least you have some great stories.

I love it.

jalexissmith said...

You do use REALLY long clauses.

Space Alien said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
moonrat said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Froog said...

You are making this up, right? It seems too....

One person's pain is comedy for the masses.

This was very, very funny. And if the editor thing doesn't ultimately work out for you, you obviously have a sitcom or two in you.

Anonymous said...

"you know it's a bad sign when you're balancing you're butt on the tip of the chair"

YOUR butt.

Cough.

Anonymous said...

I've been following your blog on and off for some time, and curiously it strikes me that, of all of your entries this is by far the most honest. Yes, she is a slave/mother to Robert, but also she represents some kind of mixture of the dark / light defacto antag/protagonist helper character.

Are you riled because she assumed your subordination or because she was subordinated. Or was it merely a personal thing? Are you able to differentiate between her 'exalted' status versus your own reward / revulsion response? Did Alice finally meet the Red Queen?

curiouser and Curiouser

:-)