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Thrice The Panic Spike

I spent the first part of my return to the US in Colorado where I waited out the remainder of the sublease agreement on my room in LA. There’s no easy way to begin re-entry after traveling and working in a different country for four months, but Colorado seemed like the best place to try. It was cool to be a stable human and buy perishable goods and use hangers but being in America was definitely a transition. I had gotten so used to the cost of living in New Zealand that I started buying all these overpriced things because they’d be a steal by Kiwi standards. $2 for an avocado?? Deal! When did Whole Foods become so modestly priced?


I have to assure myself that a jacket left in plain sight in the front seat will not invite someone to break in and steal all of my belongings – a fear our hostel owners pounded into our minds. After Carol {link here}was broken into, our hostel owners told a story of a kid breaking into a car to steal the groceries he saw on the seat. So now, back in America, I won’t even leave a granola wrapper in the cup holder; I don’t want people to know I have enough money to buy a granola bar and think I have enough money to buy anything else that could be hidden in the car (spoiler alert: I don’t.)


I have to remind myself to tip again and that tossing loose change in a jar does not mean I could be letting go of 14 dollars.


These things (and deciding when I was going to use my ‘buy one get one free’ Chipotle coupon) were my biggest concerns. I didn’t have any responsibilities or obligations in Colorado and life was good. But life was pricey and I hadn’t made any money since my last shift at Jazzed Bar in Rotorua on April 29th. So when my friend gave me an opportunity to make a quick buck, I took it. 


My friend, (for the sake of sensitivity, we’ll call him “Drew”) Drew, works at a small advertising agency in Denver that was pitching to a huge client while I was in town. But with it being summer and everything being wonderful, a lot of the staff was on vacation and a quiet office might as well be a dead office so the CEO hired seat-fillers.


I live in Hollywood where seat-fillers are very common. Nothing looks worse on a televised event than Charlize Theron’s lone butt groove, so any time a celebrity leaves their seat at an awards ceremony, producers fill it with a warm body. Usually a warm model’s body (sounds like they’ve been murdered but they are very much alive, just inanimate so as not to take attention away from the important people.) I was going to be one of the warm model bodies. I was going o dress to impress. I was going to be fit to fill a celebrity’s seat. I was going to buy 20 dollar knock off TOMS at Target, keep the tag on inside of the shoe, and only wear them indoors so that I could return them the next day. Sure, I wanted to look the part but I didn’t want to spend half my paycheck on this facade!


I arrived early and sat on a curb outside of the office. I thought long and hard about my fake job for the day. The more I thought the more worried I got that my true identity would be revealed. What did I think I was doing? I’ve never worked in an office. Are you even allowed to talk? Isn’t it like a library? Is there a bathroom pass? I started burning up, this sun was brutal. Nope, not the sun. Fire ants. A fire ant had wedged itself under the strap of my flip flop and bit me (rough estimate) 900,000 times. I quickly changed into my knock off TOMS, hoping for some relief. Then I walked into the office lobby and my worst nightmare became a reality: someone asked me where the bathroom was.


Who was this woman? Was she an employee in on the secret and testing me or was she THE client? The fire ant heat disappeared and was replaced by anxiety heat. Does stress sweat affect your feet? And if so, is that grounds to deny a shoe return? Thankfully Drew showed up, directed her to the bathroom * mental note * and that concluded my first panic spike of the day.


I assumed I would be put in a corner, an unimportant place where no one would talk to me, a place where I could carry out my warm body, seat-filling duties in peace. But instead I was given Drew’s supervisor’s desk and my second panic spike set in — I was Senior Art Director. This made the risk of someone talking to me go up exponentially so I went into preparation mode:


I opened random tabs on the computer, keeping “my” company’s website at the front and to be safe, replayed a few potential interactions in my mind:


client: “what are you doing?”


me: “checking our website for spelling errors.” Maybe this would make me seem like a perfectionist and not a dumb dumb.


-or-


client: “what are YOU, as Senior Art Director, going to do to make sure my account gets the right attention?”


me: “nothing. I don’t even work here.” Maybe this honesty would be taken as just good old fashioned water cooler snark and everyone would share a good laugh.


-or-


client: (regarding the model army tank on my desk) “Hey, great tank! I also love war memorabilia.”


me: “It’s a present for my husband!” Hopefully this outburst wouldn’t yield any follow up questions.


My third and final panic spike happened when the clients paused at my desk on their office tour. I refused to look up (this Senior Art Director doesn’t take unnecessary eye contact breaks) and opened, closed and re-opened the same file on my computer until they left. This wasn’t my desk and if there were sensitive images in these folders I didn’t want to expose some weird, kinky double life this vacationing bastard has. 


Once the client was safely upstairs in the conference room, I could finally relax and “work.” Still having no idea what that meant, I did what all my friends with real jobs do: I got on gchat and wasted the rest of the day.


My time in advertising ended just as quickly as it began, after two short hours I was given a Visa gift card severance package and sent on my way. It’s probably for the best, I really didn’t see this job going anywhere. 

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