The Jennifer Chronicles - Volume XV
January 1, 1970Making Friends and Influencing People - Joan Style - Part III
"What do you mean you're not going to the bookstore?"
Carrie's stunned tone came through the speaker phone loud and clear. I was stalking around my apartment trying to put together an ensemble for work. My apartment was a reflection of my state of mind: disaster. Piles of mail covered every available surface, laundry flowed out of baskets, dishes loaded in the sink. Unbelievable. I'm one person, I thought. One! How is it I can't handle my life? What did other single, career minded people do? What did Duncan do? He has a housekeeper, moron, I thought. Oh right.
I had to make a wardrobe choice. I rifled through my closet. This was my process: if a piece of clothing looked relatively clean, I steamed it with an iron. After smelling it. I smelled my clothes now. Delightful.
"I swear to God, I think I'm becoming a man," I said as I stuffed a sweater near my nose.
"What?" Carrie's voice called through the phone. I hadn't spoken loud enough for the speaker.
"I SAID I THINK I'M BECOMING A MAN!"
"What are you doing over there, smelling your clothes before you wear them?"
I blew out a long sigh. "How do you know that?"
"Joans, I live with a man. Trust me, you don't know the half of it."
Half? What half? Was there critical information I didn't know? I picked up the phone. "What else do they do?"
I hated it when she held out on me.
"Why aren't you going to the bookstore?"
"Because the way things are going, if I go to the bookstore, there will be an earthquake and I'll die under a collapsed bookshelf. Of Russian literature. Depressing Russian literature, like Dostoevsky."
"It's a slow start," she soothed. "But you're out there, that's what's important."
"The girl in the spin class snarls at me. I can't network with someone snarling at me."
"Screw her," Carrie said. "Keep going to class. Pretty soon your thighs will be thinner than hers."
"That's all that counts," Carrie said.
I couldn't argue with that.
"You started this Joans. Finish it. Go to the bookstore on Saturday. Join the group. Discuss - whatever they're discussing. Call me when you're done." Then she said quickly, "no, wait, call me late on Saturday."
"What are you up to?"
"I have to work in the morning and -"
She hesitated. Carrie never hesitates. She was doing something with my mother.
"What was that?" I said in my best, 'No I won't jump down your throat because you're usurping my place in my family' voice.
"I'm going to a museum with your mom. It's not my thing but the Tut exhibit is there and I guess it's not Randall's thing."
I felt my lips purse. Now she was downgrading the experience of spending time with my mom, for my sake. We observed an awkward moment of silence.
"Oh, that's great," I finally said through clenched teeth.
"Call me Saturday night, okay?" she said, sounding tentative.
I stopped steaming, my sweater and my mood, to focus. "I will. I promise."
We hung up.
Friday afternoon at ten minutes to five. The air had already changed. The aura was relaxed, the tension evaporating by the second. People were filing out, calling out their goodnights as they passed offices.
I decided it was time to say goodnight to Duncan and left my office to walk down the hall.
I stood tentatively at Duncan's office door. He was standing, leaning over his desk, flipping through a pile of documents.
"Getting warmer," I said.
He gave a small, tight chuckle. "Feeling playful are we?"
He seemed pleasant when he said it, but I never quite knew with him. I thought it best not to push my luck. I came into the office and stood at the side of the desk.
"Your wish is my command," I said.
He sat down in his chair, running his hands through his hair. "The latest yearly report for Pinegate software."
I eyed the piles and picked one. Halfway down, I pulled out the report and handed it to Duncan.
"See how smart I was not to fire you."
"Have faith. Someday you'll get your chance."
He smiled. He sat still for a minute, holding the report, thinking, eyeing me. Then he focused on the clock.
"What are you still doing here?"
I stared down at the desk. Suddenly I didn't want to look at him. I was afraid to look at him. I had a deja vu of his "You'll have to tell me about it sometime" comment. Now if I looked I was afraid my heart would skip a beat. I really wanted my heart to skip a beat. Lately, I had been fantasizing. A lot. I'm Ingrid Bergman and Duncan is Humphrey Bogart and he's looking at me, kid, and we're having a high old time in Casablanca. Or I'm Lauren Bacall and he's Humphrey Bogart and there's a whole lot of whistling going on. I am such an idiot.
I remembered Carrie's prophecy. I needed to decide what to do about Duncan. I decided to be stubborn. I decided I didn't need to decide anything about Duncan. Forget Duncan. Take Duncan out of the equation. Make Duncan a non-issue. What I needed was a boyfriend.
I shifted around to the front of the desk, creating space, creating distance. I busied myself straightening papers.
"I just came in to see if you had any other spreadsheets for me. If not, I wanted to say goodnight and wish you a nice weekend."
"No more spreadsheets," he said with a smile, a kind smile that softened the rugged features of his face, that handsome face. It got me thinking. Duncan probably had a very sweet side, a soft side, a gentle side. Oh my God, I thought. Stop it! Duncan is not a teddy bear, he's a beast, a strictly off-limits beast. An off-limits beast who was probably dynamite in bed.
Oh God, I needed a boyfriend.
"I'm almost afraid to ask what you're doing this weekend," he said.
"I hear there's a biker rally. I'll ride my Harley over, spend some time, maybe get a tattoo. The usual."
He smirked. I always make him smile. I came out of my pining stupor to get a visual of myself in a slideshow at a training class for Executive Assistants. A woman in a navy blue jacket/skirt combo, hair in a twist, had her pointer resting on my picture. "Class, this is an example of the unhealthy, slightly demented Manager/Assistant relationship. Do not blur the lines of demarcation with your boss. Keep it strictly business. The type of relationship this pathetic assistant is engaging in leads nowhere, except to the unemployment line. Unless he marries you. Assume it won't happen to you."
"What are you up to?" I asked.
"Nowhere," he said. "Just a quiet weekend."
My ears picked up. A quiet weekend? Men don't have quiet weekends by themselves. They have quiet weekends with a woman. They also don't go to Laguna 'with friends'. They go with 'a friend'. Memo to me: I am a blue ribbon moron. Duncan has someone. Out of the two people standing in this room, I am the only one who is alone. And then I became annoyed. How dare he screw up my ridiculous, moronic, daydreaming fantasies by having a life and getting a girlfriend. And who was she anyway? Hmm? She was probably an executive, a thin executive. Bimbo.
I realized I was standing in a vacuum of brooding silence. Responding would be good here, Joanie.
"Sounds nice," I said. I hoped I sounded frosty. I really wanted to.
"Seriously, you're not going to do anything that risks bodily injury, are you?" he asked. "Every Monday I expect to see you come in with a full body cast. You need to be careful Joan."
He cares about me. My boss cares about me. I took a long look into his eyes, his intense, onyx eyes. I wanted to run my hands through his thick, coarse, mane of black hair. I wanted his lips on mine.
Memo to me: Knock off the romance novel. My boss has a girlfriend and she's thinner than me. He cares about me because he needs someone to do his spreadsheets. You're lonely. Stop slobbering and get a boyfriend.
"I'm going to a book club discussion. No casts, but maybe a few paper cuts."
"Bring band-aids," he said.
"I'll do that. See you Monday."
And then he eyed me again, like he was considering me but I couldn't venture a guess what he was thinking.
"Good night Joan."
Back at my desk, I took a minute to bring my heart rate down. I searched through my purse and found my keys but I also found the flyer for the book club discussion.
The topic of the discussion was Noam Chomsky.
Oh shit. I let out a sigh. I said I would go so I'm going. Maybe there was an up side to this. There's a cafe in the bookstore. At least there would be food.
Next week: Making Friends and Influencing People - Joan Style - Part IV
Wishing everyone a happy and safe Fourth of July holiday! Enjoy!