Thursday, November 04, 2004

Is this the way it goes, Nina thought to herself. She sat on a bench in the park, a few blocks away from the building that housed her first temp job, thinking about making it her last temp job. I didn't go to college for four years to push a metal cart full of files around, she was thinking, eyes wide open, legs crossed underneath her smart black business attire. A newly -ignited cigarette was smoldering in her right hand, slung in a tired fashion on the opposite side of her body.
One would think that at this point, five years in this city-with four of those at the college-that she would finally get used to the all too harried and all too brusque rhythms all around her, but one would be wrong. She had reached that point. She hated her environment and was rebelling internally against everything within a three-foot radius. The pigeons all moved like Mick Jagger in an old video she saw once on VH1. Why were the Rolling Stones still employed as musicians, she thought. Isn't it time to move to the country and retire?
The country. She had almost forgotten. Had it really been five years since she left her high school class numbering 185 to go to college here. If she looked up from the cement beneath her feet and took a look around, it would take her about 30 seconds or so to spot 185 people. What was she doing here? Was is so long ago that the simplicity of adolescense surrounded her with light and hope? At times it felt like only yesterday, at other a murky mountain obscurred by clouds, rising somewhere in her memories, but always seemingly too remote to reach
Her mother and father seemed like remnants from a bygone era. In the city there was action and activity that she would never find at home. She could gaze down any city street and find more traffic lights and public buses than she had ever encountered in the entire county she grew up in. There were things she had always dreamed of, possibilities that she had never explored, people she had always envisioned meeting and finding with them an instant connection to something larger.
The things she dreamed of were non-existent, the possibilities ending up being the same old things with the same old hang-ups, but in a different space. The people she had wanted to meet had all been met, and they were self-absorbed assholes. There would be no connections, there would be no higher meaning or purpose. She would meet a series of people, similarly frustrated, looking for something; something other than Nina. Something other than public bus exhaust and traffic lights. The city, clearly, was getting to her, leaving behind, in the form of a 23-year-old woman, a hardened city dweller where once there was a girl from the country.
As her lunch hour slipped away, her cigarette following close behind, it was clearly coming time to come back to the world of responsibility. Or was it? Isn't five years of responsibility enough for anyone, she thought, resting her back against the back of the park bench. She began to people watch, every once in a while watching the Jagger pigeons peck at something invisible to her eye on the ground around her. She would need to head back soon. Another ride on an elevator with some portly thirty-something from another office in her building staring at her ass as she watched the floors count off above her, pretending not to be deeply offended and deeply flattered all at the same time as she waited for the computerized "bong" at the 14th floor. She would get off the elevator, smile at the receptionist (was her name Marty or Matty?), and walk down the hall into the main office area, punch back in on the electronic time clock on the wall in the break room and return to her post in the file room. She would desperately try to ignore the people giving her the "seems like a nice temp" face as she walked to the file room, snaking through a few sections of cubicles. She would return an occasional and unexpected "Hi Nina!" with a simple "Hi" to anyone who offered. In an office of 65 people, she knew her boss' name and the name of the other temp in her section with any certainty, and that was it. Attempting to know names was useless here. She was obviously not staying here long term. That was not her purpose or destiny.
As she delayed her eventual departure from the park bench, she tried to isolate in her mind that exact moment in the last five years where she went from feeling like the center of the universe to an inconsequential speck of a file clerk in a city office like any other. She found herself briefly suspended between two worlds, one the simplicity of her teenage years, the other the future in front of her. It was hard to see that future in front of her when she spent eight hours a day filing and pushing a cart around, returning hellos to people who may as well have no faces, voices or pulse. She thought briefly about those commercials she used to watch in the afternoons on her rare days off in front of the TV, touting future careers as a computer technician, beautician, truck driver or in the exciting world of broadcasting. She had to be in better shape than that. Or certainly in better condition than the people who needed the personal injury attorneys that also advertised in the afternoon.
It was now late September. The leaves were beginning to change. Some of them had even managed to shed themselves from branches already, moving along the street with the flow of traffic, occasionally taking flight in the wake of a passing taxi. She got up and began to walk back to the office, doing her best not to catch her heel in a crack on the sidewalk. She didn't really know whether she was going to quit this job or not. The money was enough for now, but her student loans were coming up fast. Something better had to come along. She told herself that in the unlikely event that this place offered her a job, it would have to be much better than what she was doing now. Pushing that damned cart made her feel like a bag lady. It was getting so that she was nearly looking for cans on the floor in the office to collect for loose change. No, the fictional offered job would have to be something fabulous, with responsibilities and benefits, and co-workers who didn't mind the occasional drink after work. A drink. Now there was an idea.
The early Fall air almost began to invigorate her as she approached the entrance of her building; The Bennett Building. Who was Bennett, and why did he get a building? Would he feel differently knowing that the building that bears his name plays host to bag ladies?
She opened the brass door handle of the building and stepped inside, not happy or sad, not hopeless or optimistic, not fearful or brave. Mostly ambiguous, and mostly hoping that her ass would get stared at on the elevator by someone younger for a change.

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