Other Duties As Necessary

“Why am I here?” she asks. “I’m sorry to be such a burden to you. I should go back to Japan.”

For the last seven decades my mother-in-law, Kimiko (“Kimi”), has lived in the United States. Her father was a career diplomat, stationed in Japanese-occupied Manchuria when she was born in 1926.

Chez Kimi. Our cat, Neko (which is Japanese for "cat") is relieved to have a newspaper in Kanji.

Chez Kimi. Our cat, Neko (which is Japanese for “cat”) is relieved to have a newspaper in Kanji.

“Families take care of their own. You’re not a burden, you’re a blessing.” Sometimes with linguistic coaching from my husband I’ll use the Japanese word, shiawase. It’s a word I can’t seem to remember on my own. She thanks me and is content for the next 45 seconds, until the litany starts again. She told me the other day that this place, our house — her house of 50 years — is a prison, and I’m the only nice person in it. Sometimes she kisses my hands.

Kimi, who has mid- to late-stage Alzheimer’s, had been in an assisted living facility for two years. Last week another resident found her wandering outside at 5:00 a.m. The powers-that-be informed us that 24-hour monitoring would require an immediate extra $4,000 a month, private pay, which is too rich for our blood. The facility’s partner nursing home would cost $12,000 a month. Kimi is both ambulatory and sweet-spirited. We knew that even if we could afford the nursing home, it would leach out the last of her vibrancy. We took her home the next day.

I keep her array of medications in a 14-compartment dispenser, and hide my own bush league meds in the drawer with my checkbook. My husband, clinging to the old ways, keeps his meds on the lazy Susan where they’ve always been. He’s allowed. A light sleeper, he awakens whenever she gets up to go to the bathroom, every 15 minutes from bedtime until about 4:00 a.m. when she finally achieves REM sleep. She is a pale ghost floating through the hall, the unfortunate embodiment of his recurring nightmare in which a murderous phantom looms over his bed. She isn’t completely incontinent, but the brain function that modulates the feeling of a full bladder is defunct, so she always feels she has to void. Like many others with dementia, she is obsessed with tissues. She goes through a roll of toilet paper a day — oh, to own Costco stock — and stashes Kleenex, napkins, and paper towels in pockets, shoes, newspapers.

At dusk she falls victim to Sundowners Syndrome, an onset of depression and anxiety that breeds chaos from her usual confusion. She forgets that her husband Harry died three years ago, and weeps when I tell her. “Nobody told me! Everybody is keeping things from me. When my son gets home I’m going to strangle him,” she cries, and pantomimes same. She demands to know whether “all the old people” are dead, and then decides to share the bad news with her mother, who died in 1998. She picks up the phone and stares at it. I figure she probably won’t call Guam, and let her continue. She is so angry that her beleaguered brain actually regurgitates the phone number for her parents’ Manhattan apartment. Dialing, she reaches one of her two sisters, Mari and Mio, who still live there. They have a brief conversation in opaque Japanese. Mari phones the next morning to thank me for taking care of her sister. “I just wanted to make sure you were O.K.,” she says.

A kitchen spa moment, courtesy of the luminous Coreen.

A kitchen spa moment, courtesy of the luminous Coreen.

Now my job search has become more urgent than ever. “You need to work for your self-respect, and to get out of the house,” says my husband, who knows that if I continue as a full-time caregiver I’ll eat my liver out. My least favorite state of being is reactive mode, and with an Alzheimer’s patient that’s my wholesale existence. Will she or won’t she? What if she does, or what if she doesn’t? Our placid and deliberate aide, Coreen, who comes in three days a week, stands unknowingly between my overcompensating cheerfulness and utter litost, a Czech concept defined by Milan Kundera as “a state of torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.”

When I find a job I’ll put the money towards two extra days of aide time. Anything left over will go to my son’s medical insurance (he lives half of the year with his father), household expenses, and, if the ha’pennies permit, my daily Starbucks grande five-pump chai latte. Soon we’ll have spent down the hard-scrabbled savings that Harry left for Kimi’s care. For him, the extravagant amount we pay for basic Alzheimer’s needs would have been a shock. A veteran of starvation during the war, he would insist, “There is a god in every grain of rice.” Waste was unthinkable. Now, only when she is down to the meagre scrapings of bequeathed funds will Kimi become Medicaid eligible. My husband watches the dwindling tally with dismay. For him, there is a god in every cent of savings spent.

Sometimes Kimi is sassy. As we sorted through her accumulation of designer handbags and gloves from the ‘40s and ‘50s, I rhapsodized on how delightful it must have been to get all dressed up and go out to a fancy dinner with her husband. Or, I teased her, maybe with a boyfriend. “Takes too much time,” she scoffed. She can also be an adorable little presence, as cute (Japanese kawaii) as a human Hello Kitty. That evening, as I cooked dinner for her — sautéed chicken in mushroom sauce and vegetables, the kind of meal I’d never bother to make for myself — she announced, “I wish I could help you. But I don’t want to.” I hugged her, and thanked Jesus and Buddha and the Norns for the gift I had been given: a mother-in-law who retains her sweet but honest soul, even as her memories decompose into dust.

Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie



Sunday morning, after a weeklong intensive seminar in bronchial spasms, I embarked on a five-day course at Z-Pak University, with honors in Prednisone. This total immersion was precipitated by a family wedding, where the receiving line led straight to a sequined rhinovirus vector and a commensal bacterium in black tie. Forty-eight hours later my husband left for work muttering, “I don’t feel so good.” By nightfall he was stumbling through the level of perdition reserved for small-business owners who must clock in when they are sicker than rabid swamp rabbits.

I pitied him from afar, squinting through my own viscosity. The tingler* had already wrapped its tactile organs around my brain stem, and I was as lurgy as a double-pithed frog on the cold metal exam table of the soul.

"Since we don't know what it is yet, we can't give it a Latin name."  ~The Tingler (1959)

“Since we don’t know what it is yet, we can’t give it a Latin name.”
~The Tingler (1959)

When you have a job, getting sick is bad mojo. You know you should respect your colleagues’ overtaxed immune systems and stay home while you’re contagious and acute; still you dread the first day back from deep within your croup. I thought that since I’m formally unemployed, coming down with this crud could be a sort of rheumy bliss. For once I could ignore the six a.m. marimba of my iPhone. I didn’t really have to be anywhere, account to anyone, batten down brainstorms or cauterize the open leads of paragraphs.  I even enjoyed lying around that first day, despite glacial extremities and body aches that transformed my Tempur-Pedic into a fakir’s nail bed. I invoked the philosophy of a military pal, gleaned from his drill sergeant during basic training, who would shriek as the recruits leopard-crawled over barbed wire, “Pain is just weakness leaving the body.”**

Placebo-LaudanumIn the wee hours of the afternoon, as my sinus merrily tossed the caber at my throat, the onus of uncompensated sick time descended. The dreaded passive voice was upon me. No leads were generated. No work was netted. Even when I managed to man up, sit up and plug in, I dreaded a positive result. The thought of landing an interview morphed into a Dali-Buñuel  fever dream of endlessly telescoped travel time, of quaking in my camisole when I longed for long underwear, while lacquer-faced robo-VP’s in  vertiginous office buildings swayed through a fog of Mucinex.

At the peak of my laryngitis a recruiter phoned. I panicked, conking my forehead on the edge of the nightstand but still managing to take the call. Miming into my cell, I somehow conveyed to her that my hearty Russian peasant constitution would soon have me up and scything the wheat of my chosen field again. For a while after, as I iced down my bruised hairline, I felt a little better. At least I’d made micro-proactive contact with the employment world.

But the relief didn’t last. With my paralysis exacerbated by grippe, meds, and a baleful inability to lean in, my mind imploded into a pitched battle between job jargon and body talk…

…Is this a vertical mobile app
Or a horizontal spinal tap?
Perhaps I should call the EMS
To resuscitate my CMS.

When e-solicitation and E. coli collide,
We’ll dongle up a PowerPoint slide,
We’ll promote social networking by culture medium.
(Or should that be media? Dear God, the tedium.)

But is this a granular strategem
Or merely a gem of pristine phlegm?
Click on this link, and you can win
An injection of gamma globulin.

For now I suppose I’ll silo my bile
And globally short-sheet my in-house style.
I’ll cc you on my E.K.G.
You’ll have it all by C.O.B.

I’m lurgy with synergy! Repeat after me:
There is no cubicle for doubt.
Your latter-day Leary groove must be
Turn on, tune in, LinkIn,
Blog out.

Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie

*Have you Tingled today? Tingler3.wav is particularly delicious.

**Military speak courtesy of Patrick J. Boland, U.S. Army veteran and Renaissance reactionary.

Have Knuckles Will Drag

Sometime ‘long ‘round 13.798 ± 0.037 billion years ago, the Big went Bang. Shortly thereafter came the first job interview, during which a quark was overheard saying to a gluon, “We’ve decided to go in a different direction.”

A few cosmic milliseconds later, in 1968 A.D., my parents took me to see Planet of the Apes. This was before the age of ubiquitous media spoilers, and we were in for a shock. The space traveler Taylor and his crewmates drag their astronaut prerogatives out of Lake Powell.


They meet some human primitives.The soundtrack warns us with its dissonant horns and percussive clatters that we’re rather far afield from Kansas, and then:

TAYLOR turns, looks back at:


From which they recently emerged. There is no sign of life.


Twelve “horsemen” suddenly emerge from the trees, riding abreast at canter, like a squadron of cavalry about to charge. The horses look huge. So do the riders, but at this distance we cannot identify them.


Coming closer. We HEAR a rifle shot, then a flurry of shots.


He reins in, raises his rifle and fires. For the first time, we see that he is a GORILLA. He wears a simple quasi-military uniform — tunic, trousers and boots.*

I must confess that ever since that revelation and its variations throughout the sequels, I’ve had a fondness for our sentient ape overlords. They are highly regimented and a bit eccentric, qualities I find reassuring. Harried by the vicissitudes of random authority, they triumph over the pesky, sneaky, comparatively hairless humans. It helps that they speak like Roddy McDowall and glower like Andy Serkis. I’m repeatedly seduced by their depth of feeling and the inherent irony of their essential humanity.

Another pivotal scene from the original Planet of the Apes is never far from my mind these days. As I venture into the habitats of potential employers, I often think of the naked Heston-as-Taylor being hectored by a tribunal of reactionary orangutans, while desperately trying to prove to the Department of Simian Resources that these thumbs were made for opposing. The scenario is the archetype of a job interview: an unfamiliar person or committee judges you wholesale, based on their first impressions and your answers to half a dozen inscrutable questions. The situation is so contrived that I can’t help seeing these encounters in artificial, even cinematic terms.  Consider, for instance, this average prelude to an interview, scripted as it would be in a slice-of-life docudrama:


ANNE sits at conference table, hands folded. There is no window. Fluorescent lighting.

MARK enters and offers his hand to shake.

Hello Anne, I’m Mark Markinson.

(Shakes his hand)
Hey Mark, great to meet you. How’s your day going? It sure looks busy out there.

Yeah, typical Tuesday. Before we get started, can I get you some coffee or water?

(Fidgets with her glasses)
No thanks, I’m good.

How would Hollywood script this simple vignette? The actress playing me would undoubtedly be a little younger and a little thinner, with a quirkier voice and a wryer expression, and less unruly hair. Of course, all the other details would depend on the chosen genre. Here — with apologies to my husband — attractive job seeker meets bemused executive, and stars somewhat fecklessly align.


ANNE sits at a rich oak conference table, drumming her perfectly manicured hands on the table edge. The sun pours through the immense window.


ANNE sighs and stops drumming. She takes out her smartphone and stares longingly at a photo of her late husband.


MARK enters and offers his hand to shake. MUSIC fades.

Hello Anne, I’m Mark Markinson.

He towers over her. They are both taken aback by their difference in height.

(Shakes hands)
Hey Mark, great to meet you. How’s your day going? It sure looks busy out there.

(Grinning awkwardly)
Yeah, typical Tuesday. Before we get started, can we get you some coffee or water, or a latte or espresso from the Starbucks downstairs?

ANNE bites the earpiece of her glasses.

How nice. I’d like a grande nonfat half-decaf mochaccino with two extra shots of chocolate and extra room, and one Splenda. But if they don’t have Splenda, I’d like two raw sugars, please.

(Genuinely surprised)
What do you know? That’s my drink too.


…Or perhaps the studio has more suspenseful fare in mind, a Bourne-style revenge thriller.


ANNE sits at a rich oak conference table, gripping the table edge with perfectly manicured hands.


She takes out her smartphone and looks at a blurry black and white photo of herself with MARK, much younger and clearly in an intimate relationship.


MUSIC: Low pedal point that gradually increases in volume.

MARK enters and offers his hand to shake.

Hello Anne, I’m —

(Nods her head)
Hello, Mark. I’ve been looking forward to this.

(Withdraws his hand)
It appears you have me at a disadvantage. Can I get you a drink? Coffee? Water? Something…stronger?

ANNE slowly removes her glasses, folds them carefully, and puts them into a sleek, stainless steel receptacle.

You tell me. You probably know a hell of a lot more about my drink preferences than I do.

…Of course there’s always last year’s go-to blockbuster, the zombie apocalypse.


ANNE sits at conference table, hands folded. There is no window. Fluorescent lighting. She takes off her glasses to clean them.

ZOMBIE MARK lurches into the room, his arms outstretched. Anne stands abruptly, fumbling her glasses.

POV – What Anne sees, without glasses. The room is a blur.

Oh hey, you must be Mark Markinson.

She puts her glasses back on.

What the…?

She screams. MARK rips her face off and eats her brains.

This latter scenario is actually an apt metaphor for employers. They’re looking to harvest your brainpower. In the best positions your grey matter is cultivated and regenerated. In a less desirable atmosphere it’s devoured or defenestrated, leaving an empty, soulless carcass that relies on other victims’ brains for sustenance.

On second thought, the sentient ape apocalypse is looking better and better. Them I could work with. Just throw in a little flex grooming time, a corner tree, and a three-banana-daiquiri lunch.

Our Founder

Our Founder

Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie

* Excerpted from Planet of the Apes (1968), by Michael Wilson. Shooting script, May 5, 1967.

As I Was Sewing in My Closet

One of the things I miss most about regular employment is daily human contact. While staying home alone definitely decreases the odds of contracting norovirus, it is neither meet nor salutary to reside inside this head of mine all the day long. When my three kittens and I finally hear the garage door signaling that my husband is home from work, we all share the impulse to pounce on him. The cats, who have less complicated intentions, are permitted to proceed. I try to restrain myself and give him some air. We then commence our debrief-and-detox routine. He tells me what happened at his store today, furnishing new chapters for his hybrid opus, the Diagnostic and Statistical Gargantua and Pantagruel. He then asks if there’s anything new with me.

These days his expectations of progress on the employment front are understandably modest. “I applied for a really good job” merits a smile; “I got a call from a recruiter” is worth a hug. “I got an interview” translates directly to the blender, and piña coladas.

Saint-Help-WantedTonight, though, I’m not sure if I’m going to tell him the whole story of what happened this afternoon. It isn’t every day that you entertain a visit from a metaphysical construct, and this one was a doozy.  As my Macbook digits clicked over to 3:00, I mumbled a heartfelt prayer about needing a day job, stretched wearily and looked up from the screen. There, sitting across the kitchen table, stroking my white cat like a Bond villain, was Saint Cajetan, the Patron Saint of the Unemployed. “Hi,” he said. “You called?”

“I suppose I did,” I said. “But I’m not Catholic.”

“S’OK,” he smiled. “When it comes to heartfelt petitions, I’m an equal opportunity responder.”

“Omigo — gosh — thanks! Wait, would it be rude if I Wikied you?”

“Knock yourself out. I don’t much care for the picture. Solimena really made my ears stick out. The realms of glory are nice, though.”

“Let’s see,” I said. “Wow, talk about great resumés. Before you were ordained, you were a lawyer and a diplomat. You founded a hospital for incurables, focusing on spiritual healing.  Also founded a house in Naples to aid those who wished to check the advance of Lutheranism. You know, I was baptized Lutheran.”

“Your Facebook profile says you’re a ‘Jutheran.'”

“Wait, you guys check Facebook?”

“Everybody checks Facebook.” Pregnant pause. “I’m not good about updating my page. As a matter of fact, it’s auto-generated.”

“You have 744 ‘likes.’”

He shrugged. “So what’s your sitch?”

“Well, here’s the thing. I know God helps those who help themselves. I’ve had my resumé redone by an HR and behavioral interview expert. I’m freelancing, and keeping myself open to all sorts of opportunities. I haven’t joined LinkedIn Premium, but money’s kinda tight. Do you know if it helps?”

“My sources say no.”

“I also started blogging to get my voice out there, hoping that people would think of me when they heard of an opportunity.”

“Any nibbles?”

“Not as such. So what else do you think I should do?”

“That’s tough,” he said, as one of the grey tabbies burrowed into the billowing sleeve of his robe. “Don’t take the rejection personally. Find ways to be kind to yourself.”

“I treat myself to Starbucks twice a week.”

“There you go.”

“I bet you would have liked their Macchiato.”

“Yeah, I was really more of a crust-of-bread and ladle-of-water kind of guy.”

“Any other advice?”

He bit his lip. “Just more of the same, I’m afraid. Persistence is a virtue. You’ll hit critical mass — no pun intended — eventually.”

My heart sank. “In other words, it’s just my cross to bear.”


“Sorry, no disrespect intended.”

“None taken, my Child.”

“It’s just that sometimes it gets to me, Your Holiness. Or should I say, O Heavenly Patron and Glorious Saint.”

“Is that how they address us now? How charming.”

“Yeah, I used to work for a Catholic fund-raising company. We had to know these things.”

“I remember that,” he nodded. “That was a tough job. You did good work.”

“Thanks. Hey, I got a new job on Christmas Eve once. Best Christmas present ever. Do you happen to have any clout with St. Nicholas? Or maybe I should just give St. Jude a tinkle.”

“Good luck. He’s got his hands full with climate change and the Middle East; barely has any time left to devote to Miley.” All three of the kittens had fallen asleep in his expansive arms. He kissed each of them on their soft brows and sighed, “I should be moving along.”

“Father,” I said, for I was feeling comfortably ecstatic, “Before you go, can you bless my iPhone?”

“Done.  And it didn’t come from me, but…hang on to your Apple stock.”

“Thanks. I suppose Steve Jobs is causing quite a stir up there in Heaven.”

“Word is it’s all about packaging. Next time you see me, look for the new and improved halo app.”

“Halo? You mean the video game? Do they play first-person shooters in Heaven?”

But he was gone, leaving nothing but the sough of the air conditioning unit, blowing through my two-year gap.

Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie

A Diminutive Corvine

This one goes out to you intrepid readers in Scandinavia, New Zealand, and Indonesia, and to other foreign enablers whose far-flung locations were revealed to me by the WordPress Dashboard. There you were, your rainbow-hued GPS tags scintillating like Skittles. You don’t know me from papyrus in a sinkhole; yet you declare your willingness to hang on my words. I declare myself an editor, but you can’t verify it on Snopes. For all you know I could be an ersatz J. Jonah Jameson. Or perhaps I’m more akin to your mobile spellbot, programmed to believe the Magna Carta suffers from the lack of autocorrect, and shall henceforth be called the Magma Crate.

crow-editorYou may have read the recent New York Times profile on the heirs to the Stephen King dynasty. The author’s spawn, Mr. King, Jr., would cut short his fellow toddlers’ playdates to put in a solid two hours composing on the Speak ‘N Spell. Can I relate? Not really. I may have learned to read looking over my older brother’s shoulder, but the two R’s weren’t a mandate, just something that came easily. I was more curious about contrails — how do they get so fluffy? — and the fact that my across-the-street neighbor only had one arm. (More on my fear of dismemberment some other time. And thanks for that scene in Misery, Mr. King, Sr.)

Since it’s both graceless and prodigal to excel in something without considering it a vocation, I’ve eaten half a box of madeleines, hoping to discover that seminal moment in my childhood when suddenly a word wasn’t just a word. What I found:

  • In third grade, we were given a blank notebook and told that this was our vocabulary cahier —  private school piffle — and that we were to devote a separate page to each letter of the alphabet. For the X-word page,  everyone chose “xylophone” except for me and one boy. He wrote down “xerox,” and is now probably surveying this mortal coil from his corner office at the top of the Petronas Tower. I wrote “xanthophyll.” My mother, who is an early education supernova, had taught me to identify autumn leaves by their pigmentation chemistry: orange carotene, red and purple anthocyanin, and yellow xanthophyll. My x-word required its own Olympic event to write in cursive, and flowed from the lips like an incantation. I was enchanted.
  • Around the same time our local paper, which enquiring minds referred to as The Daily Typo, published a stirring news story about a fire that consumed a village office building. Fortunately the fire happened early in the morning, and nobody was inside yet. The accompanying photo caption dutifully reported, “a small crow gathered to watch.” Re-read that carefully if you didn’t get it the first time. Now visualize, as I most certainly did.
  • “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” That may be why, when I smoked in college, I opted for Benson and Hedges.

Ergo, I would declare myself an editor, and could myself believe. I react and redact. One of my more winsome university colleagues would waltz into my office, decorate my inbox with copy, and exhale, “I know you’ll make it sing!” I must add that for any prospective employers who are Skittling onto my blog map, I can make it sing for you too. Like a flock of small nightingales, gathered to watch.

Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie

Rorschach and Awe

Dear Soon-to-Be Employer:

Now that we’ve sealed the deal, I thought you might be interested in learning some things about me that may not be readily apparent from my references and background check, or even my response to your linchpin question about “a time when I anticipated potential problems and developed preventative measures.” I honestly believe these character canapés will be more informative than the combined results of my MBTI profile, Bernard Pivot’s questionnaire, and the pending karyotype.

My favorite morning snack. Introduced these to my last boss, and now she's an addict. Sorry 'bout that.

My favorite late-morning snack. Introduced these to my last boss, and now she goes into withdrawal after two consecutive days without. Sorry ’bout that.

1.  I don’t eat lunchA large midday meal tends to make me sleepy, so instead I just snack at my desk. As a result, I usually don’t need to leave the office for that requisite hour, and you’ll find I’m around to help you prepare for that last-minute meeting, or be a resource for folks who have questions when nobody else is available. I won’t steal anybody’s thunder, but sometimes it can be helpful to have a butt in a seat.

2.  I’m a Cleveland Browns fan. I was born and raised with Cleveland football in my blood, and despite an overall W-L record that curdles said bodily fluid, I will be faithful until I go to the Celestial Dawg Pound. Which is by way of saying that once I’m on your company’s team, you won’t find another employee more loyal to your mission and vision. (And if you happen to bleed Steelers or Bengals colors, no offense or defense intended. My team’ll inevitably lose to yours after the two-minute warning.)

3.  My mind is an attic. Even in this age of Siri and Google’s semantic algorithms, there’s a decent chance I remember the answer to that niggling question about film or grammar or the name of that client. Memory can be a curse — I’m still trying to forget the words to “Oompa Loompa Doompety Doo” — but you never know when your search engine will be unavailable and I’ll have to step in. And if I can blow my own horn, I’m a damn good speller too, and I never unintentionally auto-correct.

Oh no you didn't.

Oh no you didn’t.

4.  I know how to staple. I was taught how on the first day of my job as exec assistant to the president of a global fund-raising firm. I admit that when he told me I was doing it wrong and proceeded to demonstrate the proper 45-degree angle of staple relative to paper, I gritted my teeth politely and thought on my Yale baccalaureate. But he was right — I’ll be glad to show you why — and I will bring that worthy paradigm of open-mindedness to whatever quirky ideas you lay at my doorstep.

5.  My two favorite jokes are brief and clean. The joke for kids: What did the zero say to the eight? “Nice belt.” The joke for adults: Two cannibals are eating a clown, and one says to the other,”Does this taste funny to you?” You’ll draw your own conclusions, of course.

I look forward to a long and fruitful collaboration. Oh, and sorry about getting the Oompa-Loompa song stuck in your head. They say that the best cure for an annoying earworm is to sing it out loud, followed by something equally addictive. “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida” usually works for me.

Best regards,


Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie


When I was 11 or so, my mom got me my first grownup job, volunteering at a local theatre. Mostly I collated things and stuffed envelopes. Occasionally my bemused supervisor would send me around the corner to the Village Luncheonette to buy cups of coffee and cans of TaB. One afternoon, when neither the boss nor the Shubert Organization was likely to call, she left me to man the office. I’d learned from my military father how to sound official, and when the phone rang, I answered matter-of-factly: “Fudd* Theatre, how may I help you?”

“Who is this?” demanded a resonant male voice.

“This is Anne,” I answered truthfully enough. “I’m a volunteer.”

“Where’s your boss?”

“She stepped out for a bit.”

“Ah. Well, you sound reasonably intelligent.”

For some reason I don’t recall what he said next.

The year after I finished college, I reported for my first day of work at Fudd* Publishing. I was an editorial assistant, which meant that mostly I collated things, stuffed envelopes, and typed cheshire labels on IBM cards. I was also receptionist. That morning, as soon as the office manager left me on my own, the phone rang. I answered confidently, “Fudd* Publishing.” No sound came out of my mouth. I had contracted spontaneous laryngitis that was to turn into a bad cold.

“Hello?” barked the caller.

“Fudd Publishing,” I ventured again, in a whisper like a graveyard breeze.

“Hello? There’s no one there. Hello?” snarked the caller, and hung up.

When I moved to Arizona some years later, starting from scratch in the seniority pool, I managed to secure an administrative assistant job at Fudd State* University. This would mean collating, stuffing, answering the phone, liaising with the board of directors, and eventually morphing or amorphing into the credentialed communications professional that I am today. The first day of the job, I woke up at 5:45 a.m., ready to convince the understandably transient-phobic locals that I was game for the rigors of employment in a small but demanding mountain town. I looked out the window. Overnight the Kachinas of the San Francisco Peaks had dumped chest-deep snow on same town. I phoned my new boss. “What should I do?” I asked, fearing that the promise of a paycheck would turn into slush. “Stay home,” he said. It was a 30-year storm, and the first time the university had closed all its essential operations since the 1960s.

Some mornings, when I am making my rote pilgrimages to Indeed.com and Mediabistro.com and LinkedIn.com and WhenCanIAffordStarbucksEveryDayAgain.com, I think about the first day of my new job. I’m hoping it won’t be akin to the premise of a (decent) M. Night Shyamalan flick, or the true final entry of the Mayan iCalendar.

Hey, my inbox just pinged. Your connection St. Peter has endorsed you!

Anne Herbst Oto Words & Moxie

Anne Herbst Oto
Words & Moxie

*Not her/his/its real name.