1996 summer job
I walked in and didn't know what to think of all those people at their computers, in a maze of cubicles, cut off at the same level. Buzz buzz buzz, phones ringing, the clicking of file drawers. The woman who had taken my picture for the employee ID card had a big smile and talked to everybody, was reading "How Stella Got Her Groove Back." The other people getting their pictures taken were nice too, but after we got our new IDs, we were all escorted to different floors.

7th Floor, Bay 9 was where Tracie Hughes' former desk was located, where mine would now be. She was a tall, slender black woman. She was attractive and well dressed, seemed to know everybody. She asked me all about myself. As it turned out, she'd been an English major, too, but had only finished the first two years of school. My back was icy cold as she continued talking, explaining the how-to's on the computer, how to deal with engineers on the phone, how to translate their slurs and grumbles into English. My facial expressions leapt continuously between a big warm "hello!" smile to wide-eyed, blank fear. Tracie introduced me to everyone as her "little trainee."

The first day, I occupied myself with taking notes on everything she told me, so I was panicked, but busy. The second day, I got in an hour and a half before Tracie. I sat in the cubicle, in the corner of it, and did anything I could think of to stay busy - recopying my notes into legibility, reading through the instruction manual, really absolutely nothing - which made me nervous. I kept envisioning some Hewlett Packard man in a white shirt and tie appearing around the cubicle wall, asking me exactly what I thought I was doing sitting around aimlessly on company time. No one had showed me how to actually log in, though I sort of knew what to do afterwards. There was nothing anywhere that I could recognize, except my purse, which was borrowed from my sister because it looked more respectable than my beat up thrift store one, and offered no solace, really.

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