I’m starting a new job today! It’s writing consistently. Viewing my writing as a job, and calling myself a writer instead of “someone who likes to write” will, I believe, help me take it more seriously. It’s a scary job. Luckily though, this first day hasn’t proven quite as intimidating as Reggie’s first day on the job.
Reginald Macintire looked at his black dress shoes as he sat lightly on the corner of his crisply made side of the bed, feet together and back perfectly straight until it slumped forward the tiniest bit at his shoulders. Since his alarm clock rattled at 5:03 AM, he had already smoothed wrinkles off his side of the bed four times. He’d had enough of that. It was now 6:42 AM, and he was ready for work. The thin laces of his shiny shoes were neatly tied, his briefcase and fedora rested at the foot of the bed, and his hands were fidgeting in his lap. He had even switched the lamp back off so that Angela could keep sleeping. Her slow breath matched the rhythm of the feeble strands of steam coming off his coffee mug on the dresser.
He had woken up too early. He did that to give himself plenty of time. What if he wanted breakfast, or spilled coffee on his tie, or couldn’t find his socks? He had thought of these possibilities the previous night, as he lay a fresh pair of socks on top of the folded outfit he planned on wearing. Well here he was, too nervous to eat breakfast, not a drip of coffee on his tie—or any other article of clothing, for that matter—and a sock on each foot.
That twitching needs to stop. He folded his hands and forced them to stay still. His tactic worked for a moment, until he noticed his foot had started tapping. 6:43 AM. He did not have to be at work until 8:00, which meant he would arrive no later than 7:45. Even considering the twenty minutes it took to walk to the office building over on West 43rd, there was too much time.
He always did this on big days. Last time he’d gone in for the first day at a new job, it was even worse. He was ready by 5:53 and had to wait in agonizing silence for nearly two hours. That was before he’d even met Angela. He remembered telling himself back then that it was the last time he would have a first day at work. At the time the thought had comforted him. But now it stung. He had forgotten that companies sometimes downsize. Even companies with flexible hours and generous editors.
Angela’s deep breathing evolved into a snore, which shook Reggie out of his thoughts. He needed to move. Gently smoothing out his side of the bed one last time, he grabbed his hat, briefcase, and mug, and made his way back into the kitchen.
The room was a narrow strip with cabinets overhead on both sides and limited counter space. Counter space is capital in the City. The subtle pattern on the vinyl flooring hid the fact that it had been several days since either of them had swept. The not-so-subtle pattern of the wallpaper managed to incorporate avocado green and burnt orange in a shocking explosion of floral that clashed horribly with Angela’s treasured set of turquoise pots and pans. But he didn’t dare tell her that. There was no room for them in the cabinets anyway. They had to sit out on the precious counter space, assaulting his eyes every time he walked into the kitchen. The aluminum coffee percolator still sat on the gas stove, and Angela’s note still sat on the countertop. He read it again. In her round, cursive scrawl were the words:
“Good luck on your big day! Remember- first impressions are important but they aren’t everything. Love you Reggie! -Angela♥”
It was sweet. It made him smile, it really did. But it was wrong. Robert had made a better first impression, and look who still had his job. Nineteen years of no sick days and never showing up late didn’t matter. They liked Robert better. He made a good first impression.
Reggie pressed his lips together and poured the rest of his coffee down the drain. It was lukewarm now, and besides, he was already too jittery. Caffeine was the last thing he needed. What he needed was for the time to hurry up and pass so he could leave without being embarrassingly early. A glance at the round clock on the wall told him only a few more minutes had passed.
The paper would kill some time. Reggie congratulated himself for this sudden thought and hastily grabbed his briefcase and hat, forgetting, in his excitement at having some activity to occupy his mind, that he should move slowly to fill the time and avoid breaking into a premature sweat. With the fedora covering his slicked hair, he stepped out the apartment door.
Six flights of stairs below, he turned left onto the sidewalk and joined the first of what would soon be a throng of fellow sleepy-eyed, suit-clad men heading to work. He exchanged a dime for a copy of the morning paper. An empty bench was just across the street. Perfect. Reggie checked his watch as he opened to the Business section. Still thirty minutes to spare. The sounds of the city waking up included footsteps, distant chatter, pigeons calling, the occasional honk of a car horn, windows opening, and a man playing the trumpet on the adjacent street corner. This combination excited Reggie, and he found his foot tapping to the rhythm of the trumpeter’s morning call.
People glanced at him as they walked by. He thought they were rude, repeatedly pointing out with their sideways looks that he had too much time on his hands. Clearly he woke up a little early, no need to stare. Their eyes made him start breaking into a sweat. When he realized this, he started sweating more, stressed at the knowledge that he was already sweating before even getting to the office. That would not make a good first impression.
He discretely lifted his arms by holding the newspaper a little higher in front of him, hoping a breeze would somehow rush through both his jacket and button-up to save him from pit-stained embarrassment. The air hung still, and he resigned to keeping his arms securely by his side all day.
Since leaving the apartment, time had passed uncomfortably quickly. He checked his watch again. It was time to leave for the office. Oh no. As he powerwalked up the busy avenue, now alive with bustling, his mind raced between imagining the worst possible scenarios (sweating through his jacket, stuttering, or spilling lunch on his lap) and self-reminders (Just be confident. Confidence is a good first impression.). Before he knew it, he was standing in front of a tall building that, despite its height, still looked established and dignified rather than purely commercial. He stepped through the door. Could they tell he was nervous? He crossed the lobby. The moisture on his hands made it difficult to keep the briefcase from slipping. He entered the elevator with several others, each pressing the button for their respective floors. He pressed 16 and had to endure the agony of the elevator stopping for everyone else until finally, he was alone in the box, trapped in with the heat and his tapping foot, which seemed like its own, untamable being.
The metal doors slid open in slow motion.
Reggie stepped off the elevator. He tried to look confident, but that was hard when it was so hot in here. Hot like the hell that he knew this place would soon prove to be. When earth demands that you earn money, and heaven lays you off, the only place left to go is down to hell. Or up, he thought, remembering the long elevator ride.
As he walked into the office, everything grew silent. It was a silence that seemed to last a decade, one in which he could feel his cheeks throbbing red, his chest growing heavy, his armpits becoming swampier than before. Every eye was on him. He tried to remember how to make a good first impression, but all he could focus on was the erratic storm of furniture and papers that made the whole office seem inches from falling sideways.
To his left was a hat rack. Yes, that’s what to do. Take off the hat, idiot. He walked over, shoulders relaxing the slightest bit as he realized the silence had finally ended. Quiet chatter among coworkers, the click of manicured fingernails on typewriters, and the shuffling of paper echoed throughout the room.
He hesitated to take the hat off. Underneath it, as he was all too aware, his faded red hair was simultaneously graying and balding, which meant it did little to conceal the nervous beads of sweat that had formed there. Oh well. He took a deep breath, which made his muscles relax a little more. Nothing he could do about that.
Hat hung, he turned around to face the room, when suddenly the panic came flooding back. Where was his desk? He needed to search the room but could not appear confused or stupid. That would be a bad first impression. Bad first impressions are what get you laid off. Eyes frantically scanning the vast stretch of desks buried under files, typewriters, and pencils, he finally located an empty seat at an empty desk. That must be his. Of course it was the one furthest away, in the corner with no windows. It seemed fitting though; something as wonderful as sunlight never made its way into hell. He carefully traversed the room, somehow managing to avoid a disaster such as: knocking down a three-foot-high stack of papers, smashing his hip into the sharp, hip-height desk corners, or making eye contact with someone.
At the final destination, a single file sat on the desk. It was already waiting. Does that mean he was late? That would not be a good first impression. He hastily set to work.