Friday 24th July 1998
Well, I’m officially not a student anymore. Today was my first day in my job. If I’m honest, I’m still not sure what I’m doing there.
A letter arrived on Wednesday saying my interview was the next day. The funniest thing is I don’t remember applying for it.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. Hardly had a moment to take it all in. They practically handed me the job in the interview. I was barely in the door when my phone rang.
‘Could you start tomorrow?’ he asked. ‘You’ll need to wear a white shirt & black trousers.’
‘Erm,’ I started. ‘Would it be possible to start on Monday?’
My white shirt was worse for wear. Literally in this case. It had gone chewing gum grey in the wash.
‘Well if you’re not interested, we can find someone else,’ he snapped.
‘No, no. I’m interested. What time do I start?’
‘Oh nine hundred hours,’ the tone was deadly serious. I had to stifle a laugh.
I never understood why military types said “oh nine hundred hours” when 9am was much easier to say. I thought I should throw some army jargon into my reply.
‘Roger… Wilco? Thank you very much… I…’
The other person had already hung up. He hung up before I could even ask what the job actually entailed. I should have asked that in the interview. I was waiting for the “do you have any questions” section but they never asked that. Probably not a good idea to ask that after I’ve accepted the job. Might set me off on the wrong foot.
I told Jayne the good news. She was happy for me I think. A bit annoyed too. She’s been out in the big, bad world looking for a proper job for a whole year. Then here I am, graduated two weeks ago, & I’ve got a job already. Haven’t even had a chance to sign on the dole yet.
Lied to Jayne a bit & said it was an admin job. Can’t let her know I don’t know what the job is.
So after a good night’s rest, I turned up at the office. I suppose it is an office. It’s more like a bedsit. It’s only really two rooms & a loo above a video shop.
I don’t know why it’s such a strict dress code (borrowed a shirt off Andy, by the way), there’s only five people here in total. Three of them are computer nerds. You can tell by their uniform – oversized black t-shirt, faded jeans & a whooping great computer. They are in the backroom, tapping away & sniggering to each other.
Then there’s me & the drill Sargent in our bloody white shirts. We don’t even get a room. We are in the hall. We’ve got a little desk to sit behind, so i thought maybe we were receptionists of some kind.
He’s the one that called me. Joe. He’s a good twenty years older than me. I don’t think he likes me much. He doesn’t like anyone from first impressions. He wasn’t at the interview. That was the other three. I would have thought twice if Joe had’ve been there.
I thought the interview might focus a bit on my work experience (none) or maybe my qualifications (some). A small part of me hoped I’d been headhunted for my dissertation on Pre-Raphaelite poetry. None of this came up.
They asked me about my black belt in karate & if I’d ever “crane kicked anyone in the head like Daniel-San”. There was a lot about the Karate Kid I, II & III but no mention of The Next Karate Kid. Less said about that the better.
But sat in front of a desk with a strange man who looks like Kevin Costner from The Bodyguard, only less enigmatic, I wondered why I was there at all.
‘So what do we do all day?’ I finally asked.
‘This is it.’
‘There must be more than this.’
‘Well,’ he cleared his throat. ‘We have to check the perimeter.’
‘The hallway… Erm, the downstairs hallway… The boiler.’
‘Boiler? For what?’
‘Suspicious packages or…’
‘Wait…’ I turned to look the dull eyed Kevin Costner straight in the face. ‘…Is …Is this a security job?’
‘No. No. Absolutely not. You are an administrative assistant. This is in no way a security job.’
The red phone plonked on our desk rang. Joe picked it up.
Joe uh-huhed & ummed, then hung up. I heard a click in the nerds’ room.
‘Who was that?’ I asked.
‘The fellas in there said to stay off the phones.’
‘They rang us to tell us to stay off the phones? They couldn’t have shouted that through the door?’
A high pitched squeal came from inside the other room.
‘They are going on the line now,’ Joe uttered.
‘It’s online, not on the line,’ I stood up. ‘I’m sorry, Joe, but I’m not cut out for a security job.’
Joe opened the desk drawer & slid an envelope across the table.
‘Open it,’ he said.
I did. It was my first wage. I don’t like to say how much was in it, but it was maybe double what an administrative assistant would get.
‘And this is for…’
‘That’s one month’s salary.’
I sat back down again. My hands tremble a bit. My head was flooded with questions, but only one came out.
‘Yes, please. Milk, three sugars.’ Joe stared straight ahead.
I trudged into the kitchenette which doubled as a boardroom. The kettle was already boiling, one of the geeks leaned against the table with his back to me. I grimaced. It was the shorter & less scraggly of the three. The one who asked all the karate questions. I thought about retreating, then he spoke.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I just need something to calm me down.’
‘First day nerves? You’ll be all right, Daniel-San. Mr Miyagi out there will teach you everything he knows. You’ll like this,’ he lifted his heavy, Arran knit jumper to reveal a faded Karate Kid t-shirt.
I nodded. The Karate Kid bit, like his t-shirt, had already worn a bit thin.
‘What do you do in there?’
‘Oh, G.I. Joe hasn’t told you, you aren’t supposed to ask questions.’
‘Well, I don’t want to be involved in anything illegal.’
‘Good to know,’ he sipped his tea. He’d only made a cup for himself. I squeezed past him, not that there’s much to squeeze past. He’s what my mum would call “a clothes horse”. Thin & wiry, the clothes just hung off him.
I made mine & Joe’s tea in silence, but I could feel his eyes on the back of my head. While I waited for the tea to steep, I scoured my brain to find something to say.
‘I’m sorry, I don’t think I caught your name in the interview.’
‘I didn’t throw it,’ he chuckled to himself like he hadn’t told the worst joke in the world.
‘I’m Eric,’ I offered.
‘I know,’ he sipped at his tea with both hands round the rim. ‘I don’t much like people knowing my name, but most people around here call me EG.’
‘When doess the boss come in then?’
‘I am the boss.’