Episode 6 – Standard Ink

I had mostly shrugged off George’s suggestions for lunch at our “favorite place” in the weeks that followed. I dutifully brought my lunch each day and put my lunch bag in a prominent spot on my desk so that he could see it when he came by. He’d act so disappointed when I tapped the bag and told him I had brought my lunch, but he didn’t attempt to convince me to skip the bagged lunch for another trip to Fanny’s. Eventually, he stopped asking when he saw my lunch bag sitting there.

Julie would wander by my cube every once in a while and see how I was doing. Her visits changed my entire day for the better. Sometimes, I’d stare down the corridor hoping to see her coming my way with her big smile and her hair pulled up into the familiar ponytail, but on most days I was disappointed. She was off recruiting or training someone somewhere, and I found myself envious of whoever it was that had her attention. When she did come by to say hello, we’d often walk down to the break room and get some coffee. I hated coffee, especially the muddy water that passed for coffee at Standard Ink, but for Julie I’d pretend I liked anything to spend more time with her.

On an unpromising Tuesday, I had spent the greater part of the morning calling customers trying to push more ink. I had been hung up on, yelled at, and accused of being a scammer, but I did manage to score one big order from a woman with a gravelly voice who asked for my direct number in case she had a problem with the order. I didn’t think she was really concerned about her order because she peppered me with personal questions as I took her order. Before I said goodbye, she told me that her last boyfriend was twenty-something.

“Good morning, Travis.”

I spun around in my chair to see Julie’s beautiful face smiling at me. I forgot all about the rough morning I had been having. I greeted her enthusiastically.

“I’m training a new salesperson here.”

“Really? Where?”

“Two  rows over.” Julie nodded toward the other side of me. I looked over that way but no one was visible above the cube walls.

“A new graduate?”

“No, she’s been in Sales for a while.”

“What’s she doing here?”

“Her last company laid her off.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, she has over 30 years of experience in sales.”

“Wow.” The image of this new hire in my head changed dramatically. In the back of my mind, a sense of dread emerged at the thought of doing this job for 30 years. I shook away such awful thoughts.

“Do you want to go to lunch?”

I tried not to look too excited, but in my mind, I was racing in circles like a dog about to go to the park. “Sure,” I said in my best nonchalant voice.

Julie smiled. “Excellent. Are you okay if we go now? Susan had to take an early lunch to see her grandkids.”

“Susan?”

“The lady I’m training.”

I nodded and grabbed my jacket from the back of my chair. “Where do you want to go?”

“Top Bread okay?”

I nodded again. I didn’t care where we went as long as I was with her. Even stale bread saddled with sweaty meat couldn’t squelch the excitement I felt around Julie. I could always come back and eat the lunch I had packed.

Julie did most of the talking as we took the elevator down to the lobby. In between training stints, she was working on a project reporting directly to the CEO of Standard Ink. I’d never seen anyone so animated and excited about working at the company. Even George in his perennial upbeat demeanor seemed beaten down by life at Standard.

Only a couple of people stood in front of us in the line at Top Bread since we were about 15 minutes ahead of the usual lunch rush. The guy making the sandwiches looked about my age, and he nodded when I approached the counter as if we had some unspoken greeting between us. He mostly looked at Julie who continued to talk to me as I told him what I wanted on my sandwich. He watched as we moved on down the line. I wanted to tell him to not be so obvious in his staring, but I let it go. After all, I was the one having lunch with her.

After we sat down and unwrapped our sandwiches, Julie finished telling me about the project she was working on with the CEO while I took a solemn bite of my turkey on wheat. The meat tasted like it had been out of the refrigerator for too long, but I ate it anyway.

“Mr. Rich really listens to me. He’s giving me a lot of latitude.”

“That’s cool.”

Julie looked up at me as she took a bite of her sandwich as if she were expecting more from me. I scrambled in my head to think of something to say. To be honest, the project sounded boring, and I hadn’t entirely been paying attention to what she said about it.

“What’s it like working for the CEO?” I said after I swallowed a bite of slimy turkey. I exhaled as if I had just beat a buzzer of some kind.

“It’s great. I mean, I work with the entire Executive team, and they’re all so nice. It’s very different than what I expected.”

I had only seen Mr. Rich, the CEO, in company videos. He looked tired, old, and stern like a school principal or something.

“What’s the purpose of this project?”

“We’re deciding the future of the company.”

I sat up straight. “That’s a big project.”

“Yes, it is, and I’m a part of it. You should be a part of it.”

“I’m just a peon in Inside Sales. I’m not sure they want my opinion.”

“You’re exactly who they need to hear from. This company has been mired in its past for so long that no one notices. We need fresh voices to help determine how we survive another hundred years.”

I loved her enthusiasm, but the truth was that I didn’t care if Standard Ink survived or not. I didn’t like my job, and if I could ever muster the enthusiasm, I’d look for another one. I did like the regular paycheck though.

“You should join the team.”

“What about my job?”

“You’d still do your regular job. This would be in addition to your current job.”

“So I’d do more work and still get paid the same?”

“When you say it like that it sounds unflattering.”

“Maybe because it is unflattering.”

Julie seemed hurt by my cynicism. “We’re deciding the future of the company. There will be many opportunities in that future, and if we’re leading it, then some of those opportunities will open for us.”

I sort of understood what she was saying, but it seemed like too much work for a payoff that was so uncertain, but I nodded my understanding anyway, and she seemed to take this as some acknowledgement on my part. We ate in silence for a few minutes before she spoke again.

“What do you do for fun?”

Finally, a subject that I wanted to discuss. “I play video games.” I smiled at her.

“That’s it?”

I wiped the smile off my face. “Pretty much.”

“Okay,” she said diverting her eyes to her sandwich as she took another bite. I had a sense that she was not impressed, and for a moment I felt a flush of embarrassment wash across my face. I had played video games since I was a little kid. It had been the one thing I enjoyed no matter what, but somewhere along the way it became the only thing I did, and in that moment with Julie, I realized that it didn’t impress her in the least. I wanted to impress her.

“How do I get on this project?”

“What?”

“The project you’re on, how do I join it?”

She put her half-eaten sandwich back down on its wrapper and gave me a studious look. I caught a whiff of the roast beef and wanted to gag, but I kept that to myself.

“You need to let your manager know you’re interested, and I will talk to the project leader about adding you. I’ll put in a good word for you.”

“You will?”

“Yeah. It’ll be great to have you on the team.” She smiled at me as if I had paid her a big compliment or something. I reflexively smiled back despite my reservations about doing more work for the same paycheck. Then, I thought the project would get me off the phone for a few hours a week, and that made me unusually happy.

Julie finished her sandwich before I could choke down the remains of mine, so I listened while she talked about an art exhibit she had seen the previous weekend. She only mentioned a girlfriend of hers, so I remained hopeful that she was unattached. She had not referred to a boyfriend in any of our interactions. As she spoke, I wondered what she would look like with her hair down. Every single time I had seen her, she had it pulled back in a tight ponytail.

“What?” she asked, looking at me quizzically. I must have been giving her a strange look or something. I shrugged and shook my head. “You look like you have a question on your lips.”

“No. I’m just listening.” She smiled at me again and we looked at each other until it became uncomfortable after a second or two.

“You ready to get back to work?” She gathered up her trash and put it on her tray.

“Not really.”

She laughed as she stood up and I followed her to the trashcan near the door. The sandwich shop had grown crowded around us. The line to order snaked out the door. I scanned the anonymous faces that faded to beige in the line. No one looked particularly happy to be at lunch. The din of conversations seemed muted and depressed. Julie and I weaved among the people near the door to leave. It felt like we were swimming upstream in the rush of the lunch crowd.

We took the elevator up to my floor. When the doors slid shut, Julie turned to me. “I’ll talk to Mr. Rich about adding you. He’s looking for young talent to join the team. If he says yes, then the project leader will reach out to Mr. Swanson.”

“Okay. I doubt Swanson knows who I am.”

“Of course he does.”

“I’ve never even met him.” Swanson was the Inside Sales manager. He was four levels above me. I’d only seen a glimpse of him when I walked by his corner office once in my first week when I got lost trying to find the one printer the whole floor shared.

“He knows who works for him. Besides, he’ll tell your manager, and we’ll go from there.”

By the time we reached the corridor that led back to my cube, Julie turned to me. “It’ll be great to work together. I’m looking forward to it.” Her enthusiasm was almost as impressive as her smile. A sense of gloom descended on me as I bid her farewell. I’d rather spend the day working with Julie on some boring project than spend another minute at my desk on the phone, but I managed to say goodbye to her and trudge back to my desk. Another day. Another week.

Episode 5: Standard Ink

“Potter!” George called out to me across the aisle of cubes. He was walking my way, and he had a big smile on his face. I leaned on the edge of my cube wall as I waited for him to get to me. He ambled along the opposite corridor and turned the corner down from my cube.

He had an uneven and frenetic gait that seemed like he would fall down at any moment. He also sported a slight hunch forward, likely because of his huge gut, and his arms flung by his side as if he were attempting to take flight but couldn’t get his weight off the ground. His chubby face, adorned with a full, thick mustache, looked swollen and ruddy. His bushy, unkempt eyebrows danced above his bulbous eyes.

Today, he wore a light blue, short-sleeve dress shirt with a turd-brown tie that had diagonal, faded gold stripes on it. His shirt had a faded stain on the front of his belly that he likely couldn’t see given the curvature of his gut. He stopped short of me and levered his arm against my cube wall to steady himself as if the walk across the floor had exhausted him.

“You ready for lunch?” he asked. He seemed positively giddy, which perplexed me since our lunch would likely involve yet another lame sandwich from the shop in the lobby. No one at Standard Ink ventured far from the building it seemed. Most of the good restaurants and shops were down the street quite a ways where many of the new, modern office towers stood.

“Yep. Where do you want to go? Top Bread?” I asked, suggesting the sandwich shop in the lobby. I wanted to get this over with as quickly and painlessly as possible. Given the age gap, George and I had nothing in common, but somehow we’d developed a connection sort of like two people who are thrown into the same cell in prison.

“Nope. I’ve got just the place for you. Let’s go.” He walked past me and motioned for me to follow him. I fell into his wake and followed him to the elevators.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.” He continued to wear that big, goofy smile. His eyebrows perched above his eyes like birds of prey. I felt mildly uncomfortable, but that feeling was fleeting compared to what was to come.

We were the only two people on the elevator for the whole ride down to the lobby, and I heard him chuckle to himself, as the bewildering smile danced across his face. I began to think that maybe he was a psychopath who preyed on new college graduates. After all, there had to be an explanation as to why there were no other new graduates in Inside Sales.

I put my reservations aside as we walked into the dingy parking garage and took the rickety elevator up to the fourth floor. I thought I heard another chuckle from him, but it was hard to tell. I noticed George had these unusual ticks where he made seemingly unconscious noises. He’d breathe heavily, snort, or make a popping sound with his tongue. I made small talk to fill the uncomfortable void.

“What’s good at this place?”

“Oh, you’ll see. There’s a lot good there. I mean a lot.” His whole goofy demeanor spilled out as he said this as if he were in on some secret. I began to wonder if I were being hazed. I could tolerate hazing in the name of a good fraternity party, but being raked across the coals by some old dude violated even my fleeting youthful sensibilities. I heard him laugh out loud as we walked to his car, and I briefly considered excusing myself and returning to the office.

He walked in between a shiny, black Lexus and this cranberry-colored TransAm. I knew immediately which car was his. The TransAm hadn’t made it out of the 1970s. I’d seen two versions of this car in my lifetime – one that had been well-maintained and displayed in classic car shows and another that was one pothole away from being obliterated. George owned the latter. The car whined when he sat down in the driver’s seat and leaned over to unlock my door. I felt like I sat on the ground when I lowered myself into the seat. The vinyl seats had tears in them that pinched my legs. A stench similar to a microwaved Filet-o-Fish filled the air inside the car. Fast food wrappers littered the floor at my feet.

He looked at the wrappers as I kicked them out of the way. “Sorry about the mess. I haven’t had time to clean her lately.” It didn’t look like the car had been cleaned in a long time, and I wondered what George did with his time outside the office. Whatever he did, I was certain it didn’t involve any cleaning.

He cranked the car, and it’s engine roared to life. The whole car rattled and vibrated. The radio blared some indiscernible music from its tinny speakers before George flipped it off. He struggled to look back as he maneuvered out of the parking space. He gunned it forward once he backed out like he was trying to impress me with his muscle car. I felt more embarrassed than in awe.

Once we merged onto the street, his goofy smile returned. “Potter, I’m taking you to my all-time favorite lunch spot. You know what’s so great about it?”

“What?”

“Lunch is free.”

“Free? How’s that?”

He laughed as if he had told a joke. “You’ll see, my son. You’ll see.”

We rounded one corner and then another. I couldn’t help but think of a movie I had seen when I was younger where this child was abducted and taken to an abandoned warehouse by her captor. She was rescued eventually, but she was forced to stay with her creepy captor for a while until the cops found her. George could easily pass for that guy.

I saw the muted neon sign in the distance before we arrived, and as we puttered further along the street in the traffic and he started to slow down near the sign, a feeling of discomfort and awkwardness washed over me. I laughed nervously.

“Where are we going?” I asked. In my head I said “No. No. No.”

“Where do you think?” He turned to look me square in the eyes as he nosed the car into one of several open spots. He laughed out loud, and I thought I saw an evil gleam in his eyes.

“They serve lunch here?”

“Yep!” he said proudly. “Don’t worry, they keep the food separate from the dancers.” He laughed out loud, a big belly laugh that most people reserve for something so funny that they can’t control themselves.

I couldn’t believe that we were having lunch at a strip joint. I’d only been to a strip club once before when one of my older fraternity brothers had had a bachelor party, but that place had been somewhat posh, at least as much as these clubs could be. Fanny’s was the polar opposite of posh. It stood wedged into a semi-basement of a row of old buildings in the back alley of the city. The parking lot smelled of urine and vomit, much like the average city bus that trundled up and down the streets.

I wheeled around to observe my surroundings as I stood outside George’s car. This wasn’t a place I’d visit at night or any other time really.

Hesitantly, I asked. “What do they serve here?”

“Pizza.”

“That’s it?”

“They order it. There’s no restaurant here. It’s good stuff, and it’s free, but you have to pay for drinks.”

I followed George to the door where a gruff, large man sat on a stool. He nodded to us and we passed by him without a word. On the other side of the foyer, the room was dark and loud. I could barely hear a word George said as we followed a scantily clad hostess to a table. There was only one stage in the dank room, which smelled of cheap pizza and alcohol. A single dancer stalked the stage, topless. When we sat down she confidently strolled toward us and began dancing on the stage in front of us. She turned around and bent over shaking her ass above us. George cheered and groveled. He pulled out some money and stuck it in her garter belt, while I just sat and watched the horror unfold.

I could only think of one person I’d be more horrified to have at my side in the presence of unmitigated sexuality – my mother. I felt about as comfortable as if she were sitting right next to me. George stood by the stage and groveled some more as the lady shimmied just inches from his fat face. When she strutted away to some other customers on the other side of the stage, George looked forlorn, but he kept that goofy smile on his face. You’d think a man his age would be numb to such things, but he looked like he’d just discovered it.

As he moved away from the stage, he put his hand on my shoulder. “Wow, she must be new here.”

I laughed. “Do you come here a lot?”

“I’m usually here once a week.”

“Really?”

“Potter, my son, a man doesn’t pass up free food. Speaking of food, let’s get some lunch.”

He wobbled past me to a long table against the wall. Heat lamps glowed above the boxes of pizza stacked on the table. George grabbed a flimsy paper plate, and surveyed the options before he grabbed several slices of pizza. I followed his lead and did the same before we returned to our table and ordered drinks from our waitress. George kept his eyes on the dancer as he shoved a slice into his mouth. He chewed sloppily and made noises as the lady gyrated on stage, which made me even more uncomfortable, if that were possible. I stared at my food only stealing glances at the dancer when she walked by us on the stage.

The dimly lit room made it difficult to really see the woman. She looked young, at least judging by her body, but her face looked tired and worn, which padded a few more years on her. She moved suggestively occasionally grabbing the pole in the middle of the stage and rippling herself up and down it, but something about her demeanor made her look disinterested as if she were in a morbidly boring job and was just trying to make it to the end of her shift. I could relate.

“Georgie!” a disembodied, female voice squealed in the dark. I twisted around in my seat to see this older dancer emerge from the dark and plop herself down in George’s lap. She seemed excited to see him in that fake way that many sorority girls greeted one another in college.

“Delilah!” George exclaimed. “How have you been?”

“Great, now that you’re here.” She pecked him on the cheek.

“You dancing?”

“I’m up next.” She stood up and adjusted her top, which barely covered her large breasts.

The smile on George’s face grew tenfold. “I’ll be ready for you.” He patted his leg in what I assume was a gesture to his money, or at least that’s what I hoped. She gave him another hug and scampered off toward the back.

I took another bite of pizza, but my stomach roiled. George leaned in and said, “Wait until you see her dance. She’s amazing!” His breath smelled of mediocre pizza and fruit punch. I wanted to vomit.

The irritating thumping music on stage segued to a stop, and the dancer strutted back stage like she was a fashion model. I watched the last of her bare ass disappear behind the velvety curtain that draped across the length of the back wall. The DJ announced Delilah, and even before she appeared on the stage, George stood, clapping and whooping like a college kid at a home football game. He was the only one who cheered, or at least he was the only one I could hear. The music throttled up and Delilah burst onto the stage in full stripper regalia. George almost fell over moving to the edge of the stage to greet her.

I couldn’t watch, and I couldn’t eat. I sat back in my chair and tried to look around for something else to occupy my attention, but my eyes kept falling on George behaving like a lap dog in the presence of this older woman who teased him from the stage. The whole scene was embarrassing as if it were my dad standing at the stage while my mom stripped for him. I wanted to leave, and I considered doing so. I could easily make my way to the main street and find one of those Lime scooters to get back to the office, but before I could muster the courage to take off, George returned to his seat.

“We should get going,” he said, still smiling and reeling from his encounter with Delilah. I could smell her cheap perfume on him as he squeezed past me. She had moved down the stage to another fawning, sad man.

“Yeah, lunch is almost over,” I said trying to encourage him. My feet were already pointed to the door.

We put some cash on the table to cover the drinks and a tip. I stood up to leave, but George walked over to the stage and waved to Delilah. She smiled and waved back to him, but she didn’t leave the man in front of her who had cash in hand. I made a beeline for the door only looking back to confirm that George was still following me.

I’d never been so glad to smell the dank air of a surly backstreet as I was when we emerged from Fanny’s. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. George came up beside me as we walked to his car and put his arm across my shoulder.

“Well, what’d you think Potter. I bet you’re liking this working life a lot better now, huh?”

I didn’t know what to say, so I said, “It was interesting.” I struggled to hide my desire to get away from him as quickly as possible.

“We should do this again sometime.”

I looked askew at him trying to hide my incredulity. I noticed some pizza sauce had dripped onto his shirt, but I didn’t say anything. I just promised myself that I’d never go to lunch with him again.

Episode 4: Standard Ink

“That’s what I do?” I asked.

“Yes, that’s the gist of it.” Julie replied.

“It’s kind of boring.”

“Everyone has to start somewhere.”

I stood up and peered across the sea of cubes. Heads poked above the short walls in just about every cube. I was, by far, the youngest person in the department. I saw more gray hair and bald heads than anything else.

“What about everyone else here?” I looked down at Julie who sat in a ragged chair she had dragged into my cube from the conference room across the hall. It was the last day of my training. I had spent three days with her, and I didn’t want it to end.

“What do you mean?”

“It appears I’m the only new college graduate in this department.”

“Inside Sales is the backbone of the company. A lot of people make a career of it.”

I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the week doing this job, much less spend 30 years doing it, but some of the people I had met over the last three days had been at Standard Ink for their entire careers, and they were limping toward retirement spending their days calling prospective customers to sell them ink.

As Julie had explained to me, my job was fairly simple. I had a book, a literal notebook of printed pages, not a list on the computer, that contained the names of current, past, and potential customers. My job was to call on those customers and get them to buy more ink from us. Every day, I was expected to come in and spend the day on the phone trying to solicit orders for ink. That was basically it. Sadly.

The computer on my desk was used only to enter orders and respond to emails from my boss or customers. The order entry program looked like a throwback from the mainframe era I had read about in my history class, and that’s because it was. Standard still ran mainframes in a central room somewhere on the fifth floor of the building. The program ran in an emulator that produced a putrid monochrome green and black screen where I had to use the tab key to move among the fields to enter an order. The email client was also an anachronism from the days of desktop software. The only thing advanced about the computer was its security software, which prevented me from doing anything other than email and order entry. There was no browser installed, so I couldn’t waste time surfing the internet. I’m not even sure Standard had heard of the internet yet.  I felt like I was a little kid again when my parents used parental controls to limit my access on my computer.

I sat back down and looked at Julie. “So what’s next?”

“Well, it’s time to turn you loose.” She smiled at me and my heart melted a little. I didn’t want her to turn me loose. It felt like she was dropping me off at prison. I tried to remain hopeful in her presence.

“I can’t wait to get started.” I almost choked on these words.

“Good. You are going to do great. You’re just what this department needs.”

I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. This department, this company, needed a lot of things, and I wasn’t it. “Thank you.”

She stood up and I joined her. For a brief moment, we looked at each other in a semi-awkward silence.

“Will I see you around?” I asked, stalling the inevitable.

“I’ll come down and see how you’re doing, but if you need anything, just give me a call.” She handed me one of her business cards. I cradled it in my palm and examined the raised letters on its surface. Her name, bold with a serif font, gave me small comfort in the sea of misery of Inside Sales.

She extended her hand and I shook it. I inhaled her perfume one more time before she turned and walked down the hall. I watched her walk away, enchanted by the purposeful sway of her gait. She was like a bright star in a singularly dark sky, and I wondered why she worked here. She could do so much better. I never asked her that. I filed that question away for the next time I saw her.

With Julie out of sight, the dreadfulness of Standard Ink seeped into my bones and pulled me down into the creaky chair in my cube. I sat down so hard that I thought the chair would break, but it only whined and crackled like the popping of tiny firecrackers. I stared at the ominous green screen on my computer and then the old, bulky phone on my desk.

My first call on my own went about as well as expected. My opening spiel was met with a click. I stopped mid-sentence to confirm that I had been unceremoniously dumped by the potential customer. I marked through the name in the call book. Half of my next ten calls ended in the same way until I reached a pleasant lady who sounded lonely. Not to brag, but my call definitely brightened her day. We chatted for over ten minutes about everything from the weather to my college mascot (the dodo). By the time I got to the punchline of my sales pitch, she was ready to order. She also asked if I planned to do a sales visit. She was disappointed when I told her no.

An hour had gone by, but it felt like a whole day. I felt bored, despondent. When I was a young kid and was learning to swim, I had ventured out into the deep end of the neighborhood pool one day while my parents sat in lounge chairs at the shallow end. I had confidently swam out to the deep end on my own, but once I was there, I suddenly panicked and thought I was going to sink to the bottom and drown. I wanted to call out to my dad, but fear had sucked all of the air out of my lungs and I was left paddling in deep water trying to stay afloat. I eventually mustered the energy to swim over to the wall of the pool and climb out, but I never forgot that feeling of being trapped on the deep end fearing for my life. I felt the same way sitting there in my cube. I was in too deep.

“How’s it going, kid?” George, one of my coworkers, said. He leaned against the edge of my cube with a stained, ceramic coffee cup in his hand. He took a sip while he waited for my answer.

“Okay, I guess.”

“It’ll get better.”

“I hope so. I only landed one order in an hour.”

“Where’s your trainer?” He gave a Cheshire Cat grin and glanced sideways up and down the corridor. George was typical of the people in Inside Sales. He was in his fifties, or so I guessed, bald save for the ring of wispy, gray hair that circumscribed his oblong head, and overweight. His gut hung so far over his belt that I couldn’t see the belt I supposed he wore. He wore short-sleeved dress shirts that had ghosted stains and frittered edges on the sleeves, not torn, but just just enough unevenness to make it clear that the shirt was well past its prime. He wore an outdated tie whose pattern may have been hip back in the 1980s, and his dress pants were too long as if he bought them with the intention of growing into them, like my mom used to do for me when I hit my growth spurt in my early teenage years. He didn’t wear his jacket once he reached his cube, probably because it was too small to button over his prodigious gut.

“I’m done with training, so she’s moved onto the next one.”

“They didn’t have trainers who looked like that when I started. I had some old fart train me.” He grinned wider than I thought possible. His leering look gave me the creeps. The thought of some old man pawing Julie, even with his eyes, disgusted me. I didn’t know what to say, so we stood there in an awkward silence filled only with George’s unspoken lust. I felt like I had stepped in a pile of dog shit and couldn’t wait to scrape it off my shoe.

“Hey kid, now that you’re officially one of us, we should go to lunch tomorrow. I’ll give you the run down on the inside.” His looked shifted from lascivious to hopeful.

I couldn’t imagine a more boring lunch partner, but I needed to get to know my coworkers if I was ever going to survive this job. “Sure.”

He looked relieved as if the seconds that passed between his suggestion and my answer were unbearable. “Cool, I’ll swing by tomorrow. I’ll take you to my favorite lunch spot.” He gave another mischievous grin as he turned to walk away. I didn’t know what he had in store for me, but I imagined it couldn’t be worse than the hazing I endured when I joined my fraternity in college. This was the professional world after all.