Office Girl (week 3)

Office Girl (week 3)

{In celebration of the release of Joe Meno’s new novel Office Girl, Annalemma.net is serializing the beginning of the novel over the next four weeks. Click to part 1 and part 2. Click over to Akashic Books for more info on Joe and Office Girl.}


Odile yawns on the telephone and enters the appropriate answers into the appropriate fields on the computer and then it is almost eleven a.m., which is when she likes to walk by the supply closet to steal something: anything. It’s the only thing that makes her feel the least bit alive at her job, taking things, and she usually prefers snatching the small bottles of liquid paper to sniff discreetly at her desk. Or a box of pastel Post-it notes which she uses to cover the rat holes in her bedroom wall in various odd geometric patterns. Or the small colored notebooks to do sketches and write her ideas in. And so today she stands, straightening out the bell shape of her skirt, and treads the worn-out carpeting down the aisle past Paul’s office, which is indicated by a hand-drawn sign he had to make himself, Asistant Manager, the word Asistant misspelled. She goes to the supply closet and takes a brand-new green notebook and slips it in her pocket. And on the way back, she sees Paul talking to a girl by the broken-down copier, and the girl’s one of the other girls who does phone surveys, and she looks like she was probably vice president of her sorority back in Ohio or some such shit, because she has red hair not found in nature and a great-looking ruffled blouse and they are standing beside each other at the oldest copy machine in the world, which gets ink all over everything, and both of them are laughing at a copy that looks like a rorschach test moth but laughing in a way that immediately reveals something else is going on because no one really laughs like that unless you are in love, or at least fucking, because Paul is slightly handsome, with his soft brown hair and very small eyes, but he is not at all funny, and Odile’s face goes red and she hurries past and rushes into the bathroom to hide in the farthest stall, and then, on her way back, she passes the girl Jennifer’s cubicle, and she looks right at Jennifer and asks, “Are you doing it with Paul?” and the girl, who Odile sees is probably older than she is, just smiles without smiling and says, “why do you care?” and Odile shouts, “why do I care? Are you kidding me?” and she begins to blush and hurries away, back to her boring cubicle. And she spends the rest of the day typing the letters F-U-C-K-T-H-I-S on her computer screen again and again.

And this is what makes her so mad as she’s riding home from work that night. The realization that, after all, she knows she is nothing special, not to anyone but herself, and does that even count? Not very likely.

Why did she think this city would be different than Minneapolis?

Because it isn’t. It’s only bigger. And a whole lot noisier. If anything, this city’s only made things harder for her. Because just look at the kind of person she’s becoming. One of those girls who will give a handjob to just about anyone. And this, Paul, this is exactly the kind of thing that happens when you fall in love with someone you shouldn’t.

On she rides, still mumbling to herself beneath her green scarf, thinking of all the other things she does not like, and so this is what she mutters out loud:



“I do not like beards on men. Or ironic mustaches. I do not like kissing someone and seeing a bunch of marks all over my face because they don’t know how to shave. I don’t like men with big hands. Or small hands. Or hands that are sweaty. I don’t like men who wear the color red. I don’t like the color red. red is for assholes. I don’t like music you can high-five to. I don’t like high-fives. Or the act of high-fiving. I don’t like the look people get on their faces when they high-five each other. I don’t like the size of my breasts, which are almost nonexistent. I do not like my butt either, which is too flat. Or my hair, which I’ve dyed too many times and now is brown and shoulder-length but brittle. The bangs are okay because I cut them myself except now I look like some kind of flapper.

“I don’t like the fact that no one has any imagination anymore. It doesn’t pay to be a dreamer because all they really want you to do is answer the phone. Nobody wants you to think about anything new or use your brain or make anything interesting because everything important has already been made. America is over; it’s done being brilliant. Just like all the factories near the river, which are closed-up and empty. Everything genius has already been built, like all the great works of art have already been produced. Also, whenever I tried to do anything imaginative in my classes at art school, all the teachers looked at me like I was a nut. Like the time I made the dress out of chewing gum. Actually, I never learned anything of the slightest importance in art school. I only have two semesters left and I doubt I’ll go back now, because what’s the point? It doesn’t seem like any of it matters. Besides, I haven’t made anything interesting in a long time and now I’m working so much that it’s hard to give a shit about going back to school.

“Then there’s the fact that I do not know if I have what it takes to be an artist, because the kind of things I like to make don’t seem to go over with anyone. Like paintings of igloos having sex. And genitals on fruit. Because I don’t give a shit about taking myself so seriously, but apparently, that’s all my teachers really wanted me to do. Apparently, everyone was supposed to make a painting about war and the failure of God and female genital mutilation at some point. But really, I didn’t want to. It doesn’t take any kind of artist to make art about what already exists. Or that’s the way I think anyway. Any idiot could do something like that. what I want to make are things that you have to imagine, things that are slightly impossible, but then you have people like Professor wills who taught my Painting Four class and who said my work was ‘twee’ and ‘whimsical,’ which really meant ‘weak.’ And what were the other people in class painting? Still lifes of vases and flowers. which is the real reason I think I quit art school. Because no one had any imagination. That and the fact that I couldn’t really afford it. And how many people become artists out of art school? It’s all pretty ridiculous if you think about it.

“I’m better off working a job anyway. The job at the survey office is not so bad and even though it’s a bore, I know I’m lucky to have any kind of job right now, even though it’s pretty mind-numbing. But it’s still better than my roommate Isobel who works at a corporate copy shop making copies for people who can’t figure out how to use a copier themselves. At least, with the survey job, I don’t have to deal with absolute idiots. There are just a high percentage of people who are incredibly old, because those are the only people who answer their phones anymore, and then there is the fact that I’ve fallen in love with someone who happens to be my supervisor, and I’ve only slept with him three times, and two of those times I only gave him a handjob, which hardly even counts, but apparently it doesn’t mean that much to Paul either because he’s obviously seeing other girls in the office. which is retarded. Because the more I think about him, the more I realize I really like him.

“Paul is probably the first person I actually enjoy having sex with, because he’s a couple years older and totally unapologetic, while the other four people I’ve slept with always wanted to talk about everything beforehand, and during, and even after. I lost my virginity back in high school, when I was a senior, working on the school yearbook. It was with a boy I did not like but I knew he was smart and I thought I could trust him. It was more like a social experiment than actual sex, at least to me. we only did it twice because he had a girlfriend who was away at college, and he never mentioned it to anyone, and I think I will always be thankful to him for that. The first time we did it he came on my skirt and I didn’t know what to do so I just laid there. For like a half hour. Seriously. Anyway, he used to kiss too hard. He kissed like that because he watched too many porno movies, I think. And then there was Brandon, who I dated freshman year, and a boy I met a party who I never saw again, and then this other guy, will, who I was seeing off and on for a while—a photographer who I met in art school, who doesn’t even actually take pictures anymore because he’s a waiter right now—and once he wrote me this long letter asking why I didn’t make any sounds during sex and I happen to think it’s more sexy if you are quiet and he said I needed to start acting like I was having fun with him in bed, so I decided right then it was probably not going to work because what I’ve figured out is that it never gets any easier once you fall in love with somebody. Even with Paul.”

Odile pauses at a stoplight on Orleans, just after the bridge. The snow comes down like a bad feeling.

She looks up, catching a single snowflake on the tip of her pink mitten. The snowflake is lopsided and quickly melts.

She glances around and watches the city fall off into darkness.

You murderous city. You oafish palace. I’d like to burn it all down. What am I doing here? What am I even doing? what do you do with the rest of your life when you realize you don’t like anything? She decides the only thing to do now is quit. Okay. She will quit. It will be easy. Because Odile has quit seventeen jobs in the last three years already.



Four days later Odile looks in the ads and takes a job as a third- shift phone operator at a small orthopedic supply company. Apparently, phone operators are on call twenty-four hours a day to attract every possible orthopedic customer available. All Odile does is answer the phone and take down the orders for inserts, braces, slings, and crutches, and talk to podiatrists and orthopedic surgeons from Dallas to Cleveland, answering questions like, “Do you have splints for small children?” She enters the customer’s name and credit card number into the computer, and then files her nails, or plays solitaire, or draws dirty pictures on the scraps of paper in the corner of her desk. with her pink ruffled blouse on, the one she found at the other thrift store, the blouse which she sewed back together herself, Odile stares down at her uneven cuticles, talking to an podiatrist from Peru, Illinois. It is one a.m. and he is restocking all of his supplies and is being very thorough about it. The orthopedic supply company plays instrumental melodies over its intercom system throughout the night, and Odile, unconsciously tapping her foot along, is surprised by how many of these songs she actually knows. She takes off her shoes, placing them side by side beneath her desk, and leans back in the chair, entering the podiatrist’s order, trying to decipher the instrumental music overhead. “Barry Manilow,” she says to herself a number of times each night, without humor.



Because of her new job answering telephones at night, Odile stops sleeping normal hours. And because she is not sleeping normal hours, she begins to make a number of questionable decisions. For example: in her second week answering phones, Pete, another operator, who has shaggy brown hair, asks if Odile smokes, and she says sometimes. She thinks he means cigarettes but when she follows him out of the office into the hallway, then down the hall to a broom closet that is unlocked, he takes out a small, tightly wound joint, and she sees he means pot. Now what? She used to smoke pot when she was in high school but she started getting very paranoid and she was always afraid someone she loved, like her mom or one of her brothers, was going to get in a horrible accident and she was going to be too stoned to know how to help, and so she stopped smoking dope when she got to art school because her mom and brothers were so far away, but here is this guy—who is maybe, what, twenty-four, twenty-five?—and his smile is kind of dopey but cute, and they are sharing the joint and then they start making out a little and she knows he’s not the one she wants, that the one she wants is already married. But this is a little like real life too, isn’t it? and she’s feeling slightly stoned and so she opens her mouth, taking her gum out, and sticks it to the side of the closet door. And they start kissing again, which isn’t all that bad. At first.

But then Pete puts his hand on her hips, then on her shoulders, then up the back of her blouse, and there is a mop and a broom and a dustpan on a long handle that are all poking Odile’s neck but Pete does not seem to notice, because he is whispering nothings in her ear like, “You’re so hot. This is great. I mean, you’re a great kisser.”

Odile is pretty sure nothing in the broom closet is all that great. The muzak, blaring over the office speakers from down the hall, sounds like real music being held underwater against its will. It is an instrumental version of a Carpenters song. Pete, his face throbbing red, has gone quiet finally. He has his pants unzipped, and what does he expect her to do now?

He looks down and then she looks down and she rolls her eyes a little.

“What?” he asks. “What are you doing?” she asks. “Nothing. I just thought . . . you know . . .” Odile sighs a little. “I’ll give you a handjob but that’s it.” Pete silently weighs his options and then agrees. Odile sighs again and does not know why she goes through with it. But she does. This young man, Pete, has the ugliest penis she has ever seen. It is hairy and misshapen and all out of proportion—the head of his dick looks like it has its own facial features or something. Like it’s the face of an old man or a cartoon turtle who slurps soup. And it keeps winking at her. It’s disgusting, but she does it, tugging away, looking at the side of Pete’s sweaty face. The expression Pete makes when he climaxes is the worst thing ever: like something from a ’70s porno movie, or like a clown, gagging, his mouth open, eyes rolled back into his head. She thinks she should do a series of paintings all about the stupid faces guys make when they come. Pete’s face is totally ridiculous and she’s pretty stoned and she can’t help herself from laughing and then she does but realizes too late that Pete does not think it is so very funny.

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Pete dares to act like he does not know her and even ignores her when she tries to smile at him from across the aisle between the cubicles. There are only three other operators on at this time of night and what does he even care? But he won’t look at her and smile back, so screw it. People are just one big useless hassle.

And so night after night, for another full week, she answers the telephone, which never stops ringing. And as she enters an order from Akron, Ohio—a podiatrist who needs a new set of crutches for a patient—she thinks, I don’t even like that guy Pete. Why do I keep doing things with people I don’t even like?

And then it hits her. The podiatrist is asking how they can bill the patient’s insurance company and Odile is saying something in response but really she is thinking that she cares too much about what other people think. In fact, she will go so far as to give some guy she barely knows a handjob just so he’ll act as if he likes her, which is really no way to get through the world.

when she looks up—another operator, a pimply, hyena- faced squirt by the name of kurt, winks at her. She is momentarily appalled and then turns, peering over at Pete, who refuses to make eye contact with her. kurt is now opening and closing his mouth, making little kissy sounds. Odile can feel her face go bright red. kurt is jerking his hand up and down in the universal gesture for “handjob” and then Odile is standing, and then her face is going red, and then she is trying to run out but trips over the cord for the copy machine, and she falls against a cubicle, hitting her head, and everyone is staring, until she can grab her green parka and hurry through the glass office door.

Now what? It’s almost one a.m. and the city doesn’t even look the same. She decides she has had enough of that job, of those

particular people, and so she unlocks her bicycle and does not bother to let them know she has quit. And then she rides off. And the city is awful, there’s never anything pretty, even with all this snow.

Read more about Joe here.

Read more about Caroline here.


  1. Congratulations for the sensitive combination of the images by Caroline with the text. We are long time fans of Caroline and are happy to see that someone else has appreciated the beauty of her work.

  2. Libby says:

    I have always love the butterfly image.

  3. Dale says:

    Lovely writing and beautiful images by Caroline Furr.

  4. susan says:

    Beautiful imagese carol!!! congratualtions—you are amazing

  5. Kay Smith says:

    Caroline, what a diverse array of talent you have!

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