Wanted: Receptionist, Must Like Anthrax

There are some things you’re willing to put up for at a job for the money. Especially when you’re younger and poorer.  You put up with managers with bad attitudes, long days with no overtime. Cleaning up after a fire. As I got older, I was able to snag decent jobs with decent pay and great benefits.  Being of the blue-collar mentality, I was often willing to go above and beyond because the hours were good, the pay was decent, I got vacation, sick leave and sexy, sexy health insurance.  But there’s a line to be drawn. And that line is death.
It was in the weeks following September 11th in 2001.  I was working for a technology company in midtown Manhattan as a receptionist.  Needless to say, everyone was on edge. It was very tense in Manhattan. Our building had been evacuated a few times and we were all more than a little bit jumpy and slightly irrational.  But the events of 9/11 aren’t what I’m here to discuss.

Let’s talk about mail.

We deliver....fear.

As I mentioned, I was a receptionist, and a hard working one. I did everything. I cleaned the conference rooms, stocked the kitchen with the free drinks (pre-recession), carried cases of paper to refill copiers.  I did it all.  I actually liked the job and the people I worked with (at least most of them), so I was willing to go the extra mile to impress my bosses and keep my job.

Polish your knob for you?

Don't Panic!
            Shortly after the attacks on the Twin Towers, I was downstairs in front of my building, smoking a cigarette, when I noticed a kerfuffle up the block from me, in front of NBC.  I saw fire trucks, cops and people in hazmat gear. I hurried back upstairs to catch the news on the break room and find out what in the blue hell was happening

As it turned out, there had been an anthrax scare involving mail delivered to NBC studios.  This created a new panic among New Yorkers who were still shell shocked from the attack.  Newscasters calmly reported the threats in that suave, sane manner that they have when reporting lethal threats to the world. Anthrax was now everywhere and everyone should be afraid.  Now, that birthday card from Grandma with the ten-dollar check in it was public enemy number one.  As was powdered donut residue.  The mail was gonna kill ya!

Admittedly, I was nervous.  Everyone was skittish and this new threat weighed heavily on my mind, since I received and sorted the mail.  However, the powers that be at my company were not about to put the lives of their employees at risk! They had solution:

Two executives approached me, one the Head of Sales and the other, Head Legal Counsel, at the front desk. (Now, please note their departments as I go on.  I didn’t report to them, they were not my department, and they were not Human Resources.)  They came to me to discuss the mail situation.  I looked at them oddly, since they had nothing to do with the mail, or me, but listened because they were high up muckety mucks. They calmly explained that they had a solution to the mail threat, since I had been letting the mail pile up behind me, refusing to go through it.  First they handed me a box of gloves.  They said that these were to be used by me when sorting the mail.  They were not the cool, blue gloves the Postal Service uses.  They were not latex gloves. Nope.  They were the kind of gloves you buy in the drugstore in bulk for use with hair dye.

100% safe, we swear!

You all just ain't right in the head.
At that point, I was just blinking at them as they continued on with their plan.  I, the underpaid receptionist, was to take the mail on a daily basis into the smallest conference room, and sort through it with the door closed to prevent possible contamination.  If I found anything suspicious, I was to notify my supervisor.  They finished explaining their plan to me, looking smug and proud of themselves.  I, however, sat there, speechless.
    I looked at the two of them with disbelief and rising anger.  Were they fucking kidding me?  This had to be a joke, I was on Candid Camera.  It was no joke. They were serious.  I looked at the Head of Sales, a haughty bitch I never liked in the first place and the Head Legal Counsel, an out-of-touch-with-reality lawyer who couldn’t wipe his ass without his Assistant’s help. 

I looked dead at them and said: “What the fuck do you think I am, a mining canary?” 

I'm not even blonde.

I proceeded to tell them that there was no good goddamned way in hell that I was locking myself in a tiny room with possibly lethal substances and goddamned hair dye gloves.  The mail would continue to sit there, indefinitely. I also told them that they had a lot of nerve even suggesting this to me, because I didn’t work for them.  The look on their faces was that of the truly elite that have lost touch with reality.  Surely, this underpaid peasant receptionist would be happy to put her life on the line for their royal corporate asses, right?
I verbally kicked them out of the reception area and left my desk unattended, which I never did. I marched straight into the Human Resources office, and started ranting at the Head of HR, a woman I had a good relationship with.  Her initial response was pretty much “They did what?!”  She shook her head in disbelief and explained to me that I didn’t have to do anything they told me to do. I replied with a laugh that I had no intention of doing it anyway.  She reassured me that she was working on getting the mail issue solved in a far less douchey way, and was trying to get some sort of professional service in the office to deal with the problem.  In the meantime, I didn’t have to touch the mail.  Days went by and no solution was found.  The company wouldn’t approve the expense to get a professional service. So the mail piled up. And piled up. And piled up.


A single fuck, I do not give.
People started to notice that their mailboxes were empty and inquired to me about the whereabouts of the mail.  I would motion to the overflowing box behind me and welcomed them to have at it.  They could even have a pair of the fancy gloves that I was given.  When the most elitist of employees mentioned with some derision that sorting the mail was part of my job, I replied “Yes, but dying is not.” and went about my business.  Executives, Sales Managers, Assistants, all sorted through the Danger Box with wariness and fear, while I did the tasks my job required that were in the scope of reason, as they did the job of one of the "little people".

Eventually, my boss’ boss’ boss, the Head of Global Property, actually sorted through the entire box and put it into the mailboxes, much to his chagrin, because I was not risking my life

There was really nothing they could do to me.  They couldn’t reprimand me, force me to sort the mail or fire me.  If they had fired me, I would have been a very, very rich woman after the lawsuit was settled. A VERY rich woman. 

After a few months, I did resume sorting the mail, but at my own pace, when I felt like it.  I bought expensive gloves from an OSHA approved company, on the company’s dime, and poked through the mail leisurely.  The scare passed, no more threats were reported and things and life went back to semi-normal. 

At least, as normal as they can be working in New York City.

Bitch, sort your own damn mail.


Anonymous said...

SMH. That's all I've gots to say

Anonymous said...

I wish they would have fired me. The company was owned by Reuters. I would have been oh so very very rich.

AnyKorlWoman said...

Finding and reading this two years after you posted, I have a bittersweet smile on my face. I worked in a small office and I never thought twice about sorting the mail. Though that could be "I don't care if I die" mentality, or just "duh, what's all the fuss about white powder, is there free coke?" I also worked midtown during that time and I remember one of my coworkers getting mail at home and apparently panicking when he thought there was white powder there, LOL. But at least (most) of the people I worked with were not asshats. And you *** ROCK *** with your response to those two asshats. Wish I had more of that chutpah when I worked.