Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
The name-changing idiots are at it again. All right, they were “at it” a bunch of years ago, but since what used to be called “Secretary’s Day” is just a hop and a hiccup away, I will treat this appellation aberration as a relatively new phenomenon.
First, I should explain that I became a secretary after I decided to become a writer. Or, as my mother wisely advised, “Just in case your first book doesn’t sell, go to secretarial school and learn to type. A typist can always get a job.”
Mom was right. I went. I learned. I got good jobs. And other than the occasional overtime, I only worked from nine to five. Which left me hours and hours and hours to write.
FilmFair was probably the best job I ever had. Everybody there was a prima donna, a dreamer, or a drunk. Like me, they all had gigantic schemes (to be directors, cameramen, producers, writers). They were dramatic, impossibly kind, and infinitely picturesque. It was at FilmFair that I learned a good boss will make coffee for an overwhelmed secretary, and there that I decided if I ever had a company of my own, I would always have a pot of coffee ready in the morning for when my own secretary came in.
Of all the places I worked, Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Company, the (supposedly) stodgy management-consulting firm, was most like living in a mini-series. I still remember accompanying my beautiful, blond, Mormon co-worker, Marilee, to her home the day she left her husband (who used to beat her), so that she could pick up the bare essentials she needed to start a new life with her boss, Jake.
I had two bosses at Peat, Marwick, Mitchell. Mr. Dovecott, who divorced his wife after he fell in love with a woman he called “Shangri-La,” and then moved with her to Arkansas to start a factory making canned peaches. And Mr. Branson, whose dreams were smaller and wife prettier. Both took me to lunch regularly. Nice places. No hanky panky. But fun! And neither resented that when I wasn’t busy, I sat at my desk writing what I was certain would one day be considered deathless prose.
Not fun, though, was Herr Gerbert Schmitz, from Germany, in New York on a sort of a lend-lease basis with the firm. He was young and witty, and even though his father had probably been a Nazi, I decided that, contrary to the bible’s allegation that the sins of the fathers are visited on their sons, I would treat Herr Schmitz (bastard) as if he had a clean moral slate.
Then one day when we were walking down the street, he said that all the Jewish people murdered in concentration camps, “had deserved it.” And I have never and I will never forgive myself for not, right then and there, punching him in the nose.
I worked as a secretary for advertising agencies, movie producers, a biology professor, a small airport, a printing plant, and a firm (I could never figure out what they did) called Mathematic. I worked for a collection agency once, too. That job lasted half-a-day. After my boss told me that when the phone rang, I should tell the caller he was “out of the office,” I replied, “I type for you. I don’t lie for you,” and I quit.
Common to all of these jobs was the reason why I became a secretary:
I called the shots. My responsibility lasted only when I was in the office. At night, I did not have to worry about profits and losses, mergers or acquisitions. No union representatives told me what benefits to demand, or what to charge. No association could prevent me from working through my lunch hour if I want to (how long does it take to chew and swallow?) I got fussed over and praised by my bosses. I heard about their love lives, listened to their dreams, made photocopies of my manuscripts, and even made some very good friends.
Being a secretary meant being a professional appendage. I was there to perform tasks and expedite what others had originated. I did not have to generate ideas of my own. I could save those for my books. Instead, I took my bosses’ ideas, set the margins, un-split the infinitives, typed, made copies, addressed envelopes, ordered stamps, and made sure that what they needed to do got done.
I remember meeting a woman a few years back who worked the aisles on a major airline. When I commented on the name change of her job to “flight attendant,” she complained, “But I liked being a stewardess!”
Hers was not the only profession to do a flip-flop. “Waitress” to “server,” “actress” to “actor,” “chairman” to “chairperson,” “fireman” to “firefighter,” “postman” to “letter carrier.” None of these transformations were initiated by skilled professionals happy with their work, but by unsatisfied wannabes determined to use their jobs as platforms to pump air into their own political balloons.
At FilmFair, our best cameraman was a woman. Later in life, the best nurse I ever met was a man.
Since Secretary Day became Administrative Professionals Day, I have not bought flowers for anyone who answers my phones and opens my mail. Nor, in honor of the occasion, have I taken anyone to lunch.
Because I do not need an “administrative professional.” I need someone who will proofread my reports, type my labels, organize my receipts, water my plants, and draft my invoices. Someone who will read the manuscript of my new book and tell me why she doesn’t like the ending. Someone I can make coffee for in the morning, take to lunch on her birthday, and buy candy corns for on Halloween.
I have such a person working for me now. She does not try to prove that she’s smarter than I (even though she is), or change her job title to build up her ego. She knows that I will never ask her to do something that I cannot do and have not done myself. She is good at what she does and proud of what she is.
My former secretaries (are you listening Maria, Terry, Jo Ann, Lucia, Mary, Charlotte, and Kristen?) are now office managers, attorneys, teachers, journalists, and … secretaries. Justine, the current apple of my eye, is studying to be a nurse.
My secretaries are loyal, brilliant, beautiful, funny, and strong.
At any hour of any day in any week, my secretary can beat up your lily-livered, weak-kneed, pussyfooted Administrative Professional.
And, when circumstances dictate, I guarantee that she can also make a very good cup of tea, too.
Shelly Reuben’s books have been nominated for Edgar, Prometheus, and Falcon awards. She is a writer, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com
Copyright © 2010, Shelly Reuben