LIZ VAN PAY

the ramblings of a music journalist and nearly-published author.

I wrote a book.

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If you’re anything like I am, you have definitely had a job that you hated getting up and going to every day. There is only one difference between you and I: my former job was like the saddest, worst soap opera I ever could have dreamt up, but the worst part was that it was all true. Back in November 2009, I finished my manuscript for On The Sauce: A Cautionary Tale of Being Burned by the Pizza Industry. Below, please find the first chapter of the manuscript, and feel free to offer any advice or criticisms. For more info, check out the ‘On The Sauce’ tab on the right-hand side of the page, over yonder.

PROLOGUE

At first glance, you would not expect someone like me to make a living as a copier jockey in an office somewhere. Heavily tattooed with a smart mouth, I constantly surprise those who think that I hold a more alternative job to fit in with my alternative look. The fact is that we all need to make money. And to do that, we all need to work. Most of us would rather spend our time sleeping in and doing what we want instead of muttering “Yes, sir!” and spending our time with ‘the man’ five days a week.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of a ‘job’ is as follows:

‘A specific duty, role, or function’.

There are all kinds of occupations to be had. Industrial, telemarketing, hell, even retail… even though the latter could be seen as embarrassing for anyone over the age of 25. My niche has always been in office positions. From call centers to administrative assisting, it has always come easy… and allowed for Internet browsing throughout most days whether my employers liked it or not. Answering phones, filling out paperwork, filing, and data entry are the backbone of most of the positions I’ve held. From the age of eighteen on, it has been an easy way to collect a paycheck. My start came in the form of a catalog call center, where I dealt with phone calls from customers wanting to order their new Michael Jordan basketball shoes and complaints from customers who – most of the time – had no idea what they were complaining about. I was fired after a year and a half over a scheduling technicality. From there, I picked up an administrative assisting position at a physician recruiting firm, with little more than call center experience. I excelled at doing more than just answering the phone and pretending to be nice. It was one of the first times I was ever allowed to be in charge of anything, and it felt good. After over a year, I was forced to leave by a boss who wanted me to choose between the job and furthering my education. There have been little jobs here and there since then, until May 2008 when I picked up what I thought at the time would be a big jump in the right direction: my first office manager position. I would have command of a small office with one other employee, and I was only 22.

Like many others job hunting, I utilized local newspapers as well as scouring the Internet for anything that matched my skill set. Seeing an open position for an office manager at a local pizza franchise, I felt that I wasn’t completely qualified on paper but that I could learn and compensate for what didn’t know. At my first interview, I waited 45 minutes before even speaking to the franchise’s operating partner. This practice was commonplace, as I would later find out.

The office was located on the 14th floor of a high-end apartment building instead of an office building, and getting to it the first time was a bit like a trip to Narnia, considering it was located in the midst of an industrial area and there were only two buildings on the block. By time I got into the office itself, I noticed a few things. A breathtaking view of downtown Milwaukee greeted visitors, and the bright red paint on one wall tied the business itself into the space it occupied. Visitors were welcomed to sit on a ‘leather’ couch, which scrunched and creaked uncontrollably if there was even an inch of movement, and if you were unlucky enough to be wearing a skirt, your skin would stick as if you were sitting on glue. There wasn’t much to look at, as the whole of the office consisted of a kitchen, ‘waiting area’, hallway, two offices, and a ‘conference room’, which was considered the master suite in other apartments. It echoed uncomfortably, but if there were any more furniture or filing cabinets in the space it would have been bursting at the seams.

The franchise management was made up of an operating partner, two area supervisors, an accountant and an office manager. The office manager and accountant were the only two individuals that had offices in the space, and there was no indication as to where the operating partner or two supervisors worked.

The operating partner was a man in his mid-40s named Randy, originally from Georgia and with the accent to match. He had an air of superiority whenever he entered a room, which went hand-in-hand with the high-end cologne that burned the nostrils of everyone inside. His over-starched button front shirts and painfully pleated khaki pants tied in far too well with the Dolce and Gabbana eyeglasses that fit close to his face, a face which also boasted obsessively groomed facial hair in the form of a goatee and soul patch.

Each of the area supervisors seemed much more down to earth, from their relaxed approach to meetings and interviews down to the fact that it looked like neither of their shirts had ever been ironed, much less starched beyond recognition. Tim was a man in his 30’s who always had a smile on his face and a joke to tell.  Shane was quiet and reserved, and it took quite a bit to get a reaction out of him, much less a full-blown smile or emotional response, which was strange for someone in his late 20’s.

Accounting was taken care of by a man named Ralph; an overweight man in his late 50’s who, unsurprisingly, was riddled with health problems as I would later find out. Buttons busting on his shirt and Velcro shoes were part of his daily outfits, and he always spoke literally, very much like an accountant. Being constantly surrounded by numbers does that to you – everything straight to the point, nothing left up to chance.

Helen was the current office manager, and was a stout woman in her late 50’s who sounded as if she’d smoked three packs a day for years. She didn’t like me from the moment she laid eyes on me, and I could tell just by her body language and how short our conversations were. It all seemed very mechanical, like she wanted to get over talking to me to get to the next applicant, and like I didn’t have a chance in hell.

My first interview was with Helen and Randy, with Helen taking the time to explain the duties of the open position, as well as comparing it with my resume and other experience. She explained that she was moving to California, which is why she was leaving the job. Randy caused the interview to begin 45 minutes late, and he seemed generally disinterested and mute to anything actually taking place in front of him. I was questioned on everything from my work history to the volunteering I’d done, as well as topics like how long I envisioned myself sticking with the company and the history of the franchise. After leaving the first interview, I truly felt like I’d given a good impression, but that they would find someone with much more experience and a bit less wet behind the ears to take things over. Imagine my surprise when I received a phone call inviting me to a second interview a week later.

The second interview was with all five of the current administrative employees, and was more like a roundtable discussion than a job interview. Each staff member took turns spouting off questions about my work history and why I thought I would fit in, especially because I’d never held an office manager position before. Each of them took copies of my resume and following the interrogating second interview I was convinced I wouldn’t ever hear from them again, though Randy assured me that they would get back to me with a decision sooner than later.

Back at home, I was getting ready to move into Milwaukee (I was still living with my parents in Green Bay, a 120 mile drive), and had driven two hours to each of the first two interviews. On my final day at a temporary position before moving, I was on pins and needles. I hadn’t heard from any of the interviews I’d gone to, and though I was convinced I was out of the running for the office manager position, I still kept my head up and kept a positive attitude. Checking my phone every ten minutes for a call, I went so far as to call the office to see if any decision had been made. I was nervous. At approximately 3:30 PM on the Friday afternoon before my move, I received an e-mail job offer from Randy. He was offering me the office manager position for $12.00 per hour, and I would be able to start on Monday. I accepted.

I would have one week to learn my new duties, and it didn’t seem like too strong an order. I was now responsible for the human resources, payroll, unemployment claims, worker’s compensation insurance claims, and all of the typical administrative tasks that came with any other office position I’d ever held. On paper, it seemed like a great deal to learn, but I was confident. I was on the top of the world, and nothing could bring me down.

It felt like everything was coming together. I was taking a big stride by moving and taking a chance at living in a big city with two of my best friends. Now, had a bright new job that guaranteed I would be able to support myself. I was absolutely elated as I tearfully hugged my former co-workers goodbye and set home to finish packing on my last day living in Green Bay, Milwaukee-bound.

If only I knew then what I know now. From shady business practices to mistreating employees and cutting every corner in the book, this pizza franchise was run shadier than a willow tree. What began as nothing more than another office job turned into my lifestyle and a nightmare in less than a year.  Whether it’s considered a memoir or a cautionary tale, this compilation of events serves as confirmation of how far individuals will go to stay employed in trying times.  Many just say, “I hate my job, it’s boring,” or “I wish my boss would get off my back.” Most don’t have to feel that going in to work every day compromises their personal integrity. The following story is completely true. Nothing has been fabricated; spare the names of others involved protecting what honor they have left.

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Written by Liz Van Pay

June 21, 2010 at 8:05 pm

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