Just about anybody who's held down a dull job has experienced the brutally slow torture of an on-the-job hangover. This is one man's story. I'm sitting at the reception desk of a goofy public television station, feeling so utterly lousy that being drawn and quartered would seem like a skip through the rhododendrons by comparison. It's a temp assignment.
I'm the first person people see when they get off the elevator, and what they see is turning different shades of green with every passing minute. I'm one heaping mess of ugly pain, clinging to the delusion that if I drink lots of water and try to relax, I can beat this.
Only six more hours to go. I'm polite when I greet incomers, sounding self-assured and calm. If only my pancreas would stop using my stomach for a trampoline -- it's like the goddamn Cirque du Soleil is rehearsing in there.
I can feel my stomach contracting like a birthing sow as the salivary glands kick into high gear, getting ready for the changing of the guard. Lucky thing it's a moment when no one's around -- I see my chance and take it.
I set the switchboard to "night service." A polite voice tells people in both official languages that the offices of the TV station are closed for the day. I wish I could have changed them to say, "Hi, I've gone to chuck up breakfast, so please hang up and try your call again," but that would have wasted precious time.
I walk as casually as I can down a corridor that seems miles too long, get to a stall thanking Christ that no one else is there and puke up all the water I've been drinking.
I run back to the reception desk just in time to find a robust-looking old man waiting in the lobby. "Can I help you?" I ask as politely as possible for someone using his tongue to check for for stray bits of gag-ammo.
"Oh, I'm here to see ______," he says. "I have an appointment for 11:30."
Slightly hungry I send him in, trying not to give away the fact that I've been tasting tidy-bowl cleaner just minutes before.
Lunch break finally comes a gruelling few hours later, and I'm relieved by the person who normally does the job. Slightly hungry, I decide that some yogurt might settle my stomach.
I eat slowly, expecting this Balkan bacterial goo to soothe the burning itch in my throat, but it doesn't work. I desperately need to lie down. After swiping some keys from the reception desk drawer, I unlock the conference room and lie down on a nice, hard table for a bit of rest. It feels cool and sterile as a morgue drawer. For a brief moment, it's the kiss of heavenly relief on my cheek. For a moment.
I'm abruptly awakened by the impatient rattle of keys as the conference room door opens. Quick as a fox, I get up and try to straighten myself out a bit, tucking in my shirt and faking nonchalance.
Fuck! Caught red-handed by one of the higher-ups, who's pissed he had to fetch another key to the room because I've nabbed the one from the reception desk and locked the door behind me.
He glares as I slither out of the room trying to look breezy and unconcerned, my shirt half-untucked and my hair screwed up. On top of it all, I'm 15 minutes late returning from my lunch break.
I head back to my seat, feeling better physically but knowing that I've tainted myself in the eyes of the company after only a week. Calamity! And there's still half a day to get through. What if the bile rises again?
At every ring I take a deep breath and tell myself I have just three hours to keep the yogurt down.
Then, as I'm repeating the station's mailing address for the nth time to someone on the other end of the phone, I feel the cavalry charge.
In the middle of the postal code, I suddenly blurt out, "Er, can you please hold for a moment?"
"OK," he says.
I get up. The calls are coming in, the display on the switchboard is flashing like the deck of the starship Enterprise, and all I can think is "The horror! The horror!"
Staunch flow I run for it, doubting whether I can make it to the toilet this time. All I ask is to quickly puke, get back to the front desk and finish giving this guy the fucking postal code. Is that too much for a reasonable God to grant?
I manage to staunch the flow temporarily, but just when I think it's safe to go back to the desk, out rushes the yogurt. Oh, fuckin' hell!
I get home that day feeling so miserable, I start drinking again. Early. I don't remember going to bed, but the next morning I wake up to the clock flashing 11:34 am.
I show up breathless at noon and take over at the desk. A woman from HR comes up and very politely asks to see me in her office for a moment. Incidents involving sleeping in the conference room and other examples of "unprofessional" behaviour are mentioned, along with my being four hours late without phoning in sick. (Hey, if I hadn't been too sick to call, I'd have been there on time!) I offer the excuse that I've been having trouble sleeping lately, but fail to score any points.
Before I can get my stuff and leave, she suggests that I get some counselling for insomnia. Good advice, I think, wrong ailment.
I'm discreetly canned.
At home, there's a message from another employment agency on my answering machine. Turns out they have an assignment for me, and I should call if interested. I pour a drink and dial.
David Banks is a pseudonym