Bonita LeFlore, 1/18/2016
Current Occupation: Artist
Former Occupation: EVP Director of Local Broadcast for Zenithoptimedia NYC
Contact Information: Bonita LeFlore lives and works on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Bonita has been writing and painting full time since escaping the advertising industry in New York City. While looking for an agent for her novel, Bonita began writing the Claudia Stories. These stories are a linked collection connected by the “invisible” people a young women sees on her journey to a job interview. Human Resources is one of those stories.
Patty McGovern stepped out of her green dress and threw it on the bed along with the three others she had just discarded. If only she had listened to Ellen yesterday.
“Eliminate choices, Patty, that’s what makes us so crazy, especially in the morning when no one, even me, can think straight.”
“I have too much on my mind, so many ideas in here.” Patty tapped her head with her index finger.
“I know.” Ellen took another sip of chardonnay and watched her friend twist her long brown hair.
“My brain feels like a jumble of pages in a book, your thumb flips through them and all you see is a blur.”
“Your thumb never gets stuck, honey? There are no pictures in this book?”
“Try to take me seriously, Ellen. Tomorrow I’m asking for a raise. What should I wear?
“I think that’s the least of your problems.” Ellen reached over and pulled Patty’s hand away from her hair. “You need to watch your body language.”
“I need this raise, that’s what I need. I’m so sick of taking the subway. It’s been so damn hot and those people just don’t respect personal space.”
“You need to watch your language too, you’ve got to be a little more PC.” Ellen took another sip of wine and looked at her watch. Their happy hour had turned into two and she needed to get home.
“You’re so lucky you can walk home from here. If someone you don’t like the looks of comes too close, well, you can move or change sides of the street.”
“This is what I’m talking about. You live in New York―Brooklyn, and you take the subway. Be a little more PC, honey, just try.”
“When I was a kid…” Patty thought of her father.
“You’re not a kid, Patty, you’re twenty-eight.”
“That’s a conversation for another night. I think you should wear the grey suit with the white blouse.” Ellen started to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?”
“George Marmoset will think he is looking at himself. He only wears grey suits with white shirts and ties with silly patterns.” Ellen took out her mirror and checked her short blonde hair that never needed to be checked. She smiled at her image, snapped the compact closed and motioned to the waitress.
“It’s so hot; I’ll be sweating. I never take off my jacket, not even in the subway,” Patty said.
Ellen took the last sip of her wine and shook her head.
“Whatever you decide, decides tonight. Hang what you are going to wear on your closet door before you go to sleep. Gotta go. Are you taking the subway home?”
Patty sighed. “End of the month doesn’t leave me any choice.”
“Text me when you get home and tomorrow text me when it’s over. I want all the details.”
Ellen stood up first. The outdoor cafe on Sixth Avenue had become crowded with people. The waiter, who lit the candle on their table, was now circling, waiting to seat patrons who were buying dinner. Patty rose, gave Ellen a kiss on the cheek, and watched her walk confidently toward Twenty-third Street.
I could never live with roommates, Patty thought. It was Ellen who cut her hair short. It was Ellen who got the promotion to Assistant to the VP of Marketing. It’s amazing how she is so successful. And just after moving here from New Orleans. How could anyone live in such a horrid place: New Orleans. Maybe that’s why she is willing to live with just about anyone.
The grey suit didn’t look so bad. Patty twisted left and right, looking at her reflection in the mirror. She combed her hair into a small knot at the back of her neck and clipped it in place with a black barrette. The pile of clothes on her bed, she sighed, would have to wait; there was no time to hang them and she wasn’t going to second guess the grey suit. George would listen to her pitch and then he would pass her request on to Susan Geffen, his boss.
Patty was a glass half-empty person. Nothing was ever right and it would never get right, not in her lifetime. She was able to predict every bad thing that ever happened to her. It wasn’t a surprise then that the subway was so hot. There were a few people waiting for the next train who looked like her: dressed for an office job and angry about taking the subway. She recognized their hostility and raised her chin when they acknowledged her with a knowing look. It was always the same people every morning, five days a week, fifty-two weeks a year with the exceptions of holidays and her one-week vacation.
As the train tunneled its way into Manhattan, other people would join them. Patty always tried to move out of their way by standing in a corner near the door that led to the next car. This morning the conductor made every stop; at the last stop, a crowd pushed through the door.
“It wouldn’t be so bad if you people waited your turn. You should have waited for the next train,” Patty fumed.
“If I could―I would move,” the girl pressing against her said.
“Humph.” I know where I would move, Patty thought, I’d move to a little studio apartment in the Village with air conditioning and a doorman that screened visitors.
Borough Hall was the next stop and Patty slipped into a seat as soon she could.
The air above ground was cooler, but still held the smell of August in the city: sour fumes of cars and last night’s restaurant garbage waiting to be hauled away. Patty brought a lavender scented tissue to her nose and then rubbed both of her hands with it before tossing it into the corner trash bin. The revolving doors of 325 Hudson Street pulled her inside and pushed her into the chilled lobby. One of the two men behind the information desk smiled at her. Patty looked straight through him; she wasn’t interested in service people, they were invisible to her.
A sea of beige cubicles filled center of the tenth floor; as usual Patty took the shortest route to her desk.
“Got the grey suit on this morning, huh? Going on a job interview at lunch?”
Patty looked at Eric, whose head appeared over the cubicle wall they shared. He was grinning.
“Not today.” She deflected his remark rather than waste her time with small talk.
“I guess you don’t believe in dressing for success Eric,” she smiled back at him. His brown hair looked like he just rolled out of bed.
“Nah, too dam hot and most of the big shots are on vacation in the Hamptons.”
“Not Susan, she doesn’t take vacations.”
“Ms. Geffen, still your idol, Patty?”
“We all need role models. Do you have one?” Patty looked at her watch.
“Not in this office, not everything is about work, you know.” Eric took Patty’s hint and withdrew to his side of the wall.
There was no privacy in cubicle land and Patty knew too much about Eric’s sense of priority. She turned on her computer and logged into the company’s system; the day had officially started. Working in HR gave her access to all the personnel records. There were several databases that she and Eric shared responsibility for. Patty had signed the usual confidentiality forms when she was hired, but there were additional forms for the HR staff: non-disclosure of sensitive information: performance reviews, salaries, bonuses, health issues, and memos that had been added to employees files.
Her computer beeped: the meeting with George was in two minutes.
“Don’t be a stranger.” Eric didn’t look up from his computer screen when she passed him. He had one database open and another screen open to a sports website.
George, as Ellen had predicted, had on a grey suit, white shirt, and a tie with a pattern of sailboats.
“Right on time,” George smiled and stood up. “Nice suit, Patty.”
He closed the door and went back to his side of the desk where a folder with Patty’s name sat. He opened it and shook his head with a smile. George was overweight: his summer tie barely covered the pull of his shirt against the buttons. Patty looked over his shoulder at the award he won last year for employee of the month.
George followed her gaze. “You could be in line to get one of those.”
She ignored him and looked a family photo on his desk.
“Six and four.” George proudly stated his children’s ages without her asking. “When you started, well, I guess they were just babies.”
“Yes, I have been working here four years.”
George looked at the paper in front of him and got down to business. “You asked to see me this morning about a raise. I see you had one two years ago; it was five percent. The economy is on an upturn Patty, but our industry has to remain cautious. You never know when you are going to loose an account? Right?”
“RCB has had two great years, George. I enjoy working here. You know I love numbers…” she paused, “and working with people.” Patty started to reach for her hair and realized she had pinned it back so she wouldn’t twist it during the meeting.
“You’re an important part of the team, Patty.”
“I want to do more for the company, George. I want to improve my skills and move up. I want a promotion and a raise.” Patty dug a fingernail into the palm of her hand and held her breath.
“Well…” George seemed confused: the agenda had changed.
Patty visualized the power point presentation she had created for herself last week. She anticipated all the issues where he would cut her off. Lead with what you want. State the facts. Mention case histories with results and repeat the goal. Keep it simple, breathe, and don’t leave room for a break, she thought.
Patty interrupted him: “George, four years has given me the chance to improve my skills and prove why I am valuable to RCB,” she cleared her throat. “I have taken classes during lunch in IT. I had the idea of cross-pollinating three of our HR databases. I brought that idea to you completely formed, we only had to beta test it one month.”
George’s left eye twitched as he touched his summer tie.
“That database saved hours of work and, as you know, we cut staff by four people.” Patty didn’t take a breath. “Right there, George, is over 120k savings in salary.”
Beads of perspiration formed on George’s forehead. He had taken credit for the new database; he was the one that had gotten the promotion with the window office.
“I’ll be the first to admit it was a great idea, and, yes, it did save RCB money. Of course they always find a place to spend it, don’t they? This is a six billion dollar company worldwide, Patty,” he held up his hand to prevent her from interrupting him. “We have shareholders and they always scream for more profit.”
“I’m asking for four thousand dollars.”
“No one has gotten that, Patty.” Then he realized that she knew everything and he could not hide behind a lie. “I’ll have to take this to Susan. We already have discussed you,” he smiled and closed her folder. “We were thinking six percent. I’ll talk to Susan this week.”
“Do you think I should talk to her?”
“No, that’s not how it works. You know that,” he stammered. “There are channels, and, as you know, we have systems for everything.” George took out a handkerchief and wiped his forehead. “Let me look at a calendar and schedule something with her. I’ll get back to you.”
George stood up, holding his tie against his shirt; he walked over to the door and held it open for Patty. He must have read her mind. “Just remember, Patty, everything we create here is company property, you can’t take it with you.”
Patty smiled and reached out to shake his hand. “Thanks for taking the time to see me, George. I love working at RCB, I would never consider leaving.”
“I would never consider leaving, I l-o-v-e RCB.” Eric mocked her; he was in her cubicle standing behind her. “What was that all about?”
“Just because you can hear everything, doesn’t mean you know everything Eric.”
“I wonder how they are going to hide that memo to your HR folder without your seeing it?”
“I have work to do Eric. I just wasted twenty minutes of my day.
Patty pulled her chair up to her desk and began writing an email to Susan. Patty wasn’t someone to be ignored; she would not allow herself to be invisible. Patty imagined sitting in George’s chair, going to meetings with Susan, and telling Eric what to do. George’s office would need to be painted, she thought, and the carpet should be steamed cleaned. He is such a slob, always eating at his desk.