Friday, August 04, 2006

Working Title, part 3

[previous chapter]

Over here in the editorial side of our building, it’s all about servitude at the lower levels. Paying your dues. Biding your time. Faxing this amendment to the contract. Following up on details that you know damn well nobody ever remembered to do in the first place. Plotting your superiors’ downfall and your own rise to power.

Okay, not every second of every day. But sometimes the coup can’t come soon enough.

Sure, there might be some real opportunities . . . eventually. But in the meantime, what’s with the implication that my overlords are overburdened? Because they’re just not, as far as I can see.

And whenever they start to seem so, they just drop a few things off with me or Karen. “Here, I need these by the end of the day.” Then they scurry back into their offices. If I could unload my burdens as easily as that, I’d have time to take care of my personal business all day too. But I’m at the bottom of the hill. There’s nowhere for stuff to go once it’s with me. I either do it or . . . I do it.

There is one other option . . . but it’s very bad form and I’m not yet crazed enough to fall back on it. But I’ve heard a story about one of my predecessors, a woman from a few years back who started out here as an assistant editor—

(Oh, and please make the distinction between me—an editorial assistant—and the position just above me—the assistant editor. The similarity of the names confused me at first, but the crucial difference is the word “assistant.” I’m an assistant, nothing more. Karen is an editor, nothing less. For all the rest of the office, we’re virtually indistinguishable. To anyone who has moved up and dropped the word “assistant” from his title, the most important characteristic Karen and I share is our underling status. Much to her chagrin, I’m sure.)

So anyway, this assistant editor was thought to be a whiz in the office. She signed books, completed mounds of tedious paperwork, filed all manner of documents, contracted for use of text and photos, and much, much more. And she did it all with a smile and without utterly sacrificing herself to living in her office over the weekends and deep into the night. She was probably going to be promoted up to a full-fledged editor when she suddenly quit and moved to London with her fiancee.

So Karen, who had just started here as a college intern, got stuck clearing out this woman’s cubicle to make way for whomever they hired next. And then they found it: a frighteningly large cache of paperwork that had never actually been completed. Disorganized stashes of files that had had only the slightest work done on them. It was such a mess that nobody knew what to do with it. It implied that the company had published all sorts of stuff without a real permission having been cleared on it. Copyright information had never really been filed. The Library of Congress had never received paperwork on scores of already published titles. About the only thing this woman had kept up with, more or less, were contract payments. If she hadn’t done at least that much, she would have been found out a long, long time before. Nothing will turn up a payment oversight quicker than a literary agent’s whining complaint about money he’s owed.

Even better, though, was that there was yet another oversight yet to come to light. They finally pieced this together months after the secret slacker had left (with, strangely, no solid lead to her whereabouts except a P.O. box for her final paycheck and tax forms). Then the calls and letters started pouring in, wanting to know what Curate’s Egg Press was doing about the query letters, proposals, and unsolicited manuscripts still in the office. Still in the office? No, they weren’t that. They were just never replied to. Worse, they were nowhere to be found. As far as anybody could tell, this woman had just tossed them out. “No wonder she always kept such a neat desk,” one editor remarked. Uh, yeah. I can’t believe no one notice what an anomaly that was in the first place. They should have been suspicious from the get-go.

Whatever. I’m off to lunch. Y’know, it’d be nice—especially since we have such a small staff—if somebody would ask me to do lunch with them. The first day I was here, Carrie took Karen and me out to eat, and I thought, “Well, this is cool. I guess now that I’m officially in the salaried workforce, I get to enjoy lunches out at nice spots occasionally.” But that was the first and, so far, the last time such a thing happened. Karen usually just tends to bring pretty wilty-looking salads in Tupperware tubs and eat at her desk. So I’m on my own. No literary lunches for me. I can’t wait to find out how many other illusions of mine they’ll shatter at this office.

Still, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if there were someplace close by I could go. But our offices are tucked back in a weird industrial area here. It’s two miles to the nearest safe-looking eating establishment. Maybe I’ll get brave and try the sandwiches from the Roach Coach that serves the workers in the printing plant on the other side of the lot. Or I could try the barbecue place with the permanently blacked-out windows on the next block. But for now I’ll go with fast-food standbys. At least if I get served something bad there, I might have a chance at getting some compensation. These other places, I might just end up on the menu.