I work at a company straight out of 1957. When I roll up to this place at 8:29 in the morn smelling like a hooker’s ashtray in a booze mill, knowing I’ll spend all day struggling to stay upright while working on stuff I could shoot off in a few hours on my own time, I don’t know whether to cry or laugh all the way to the bank. I know I’m lucky to have a job at all right now, especially one in media. Well, it sort of counts as media. I work at a Biography Factory, where I just sit around writing semi-famous people’s stories all day long. So until I pour you a beer, mix you a cocktail, or step on your dick in stilettos, you can probably assume I’m in the South Bronx drinking antique coffee, fantasizing about what muttonchops might feel like on my thighs and churning out articles on notable individuals from Douglas Feith to Chamillionaire. Come along with me and I’ll give you a tour.
The building itself looks like a cross between a boarding school and a jail—not like there’s usually much difference between the two anyway. The lighthouse statue on top flicks on when the sun goes down, supposedly symbolizing the spread of knowledge (though what kind of mixed metaphor is that? Isn’t a lighthouse supposed to be hope?). We specialize in catalogs of books that have already been published, and I’m on staff as a writer.
So what does a staff writer do in a place that specializes in already-published material? I spend my days researching and interviewing anyone who’s ever done a thing the public maybe once liked, then writing up 3,000 word biographies of them. Most of my co-workers don’t do what I do. Most are librarians who make intense, labyrinthine reference books that are whole reference catalogs in and of themselves (and often those are references couched in references too), just this giant M.C. Escher-esque referencing situation that calls for a lot of indexing and abstracting.
There is a reason librarians are stereotyped as crazy cat ladies: because it’s true. The ones here at the Biography Factory feed the ferals in the bushes every single day. The only mongrel that lets you near is covered in sores. Flies abound. Everyone holds their breath when they walk past.
Besides the cats, I also have to deal with Bob before I even get to the front door. He has tits and a gunt. He brings his lunch in a giant cooler of ice. Though the lot’s always half-empty, he loses his shit if you park in “his” space; when I accidentally did this, I came outside to find him affixing a long, type-written note to my car, which I’m truly bummed I never got to read. Removing the note, he pleaded with me in a high, whiny voice to stop tormenting him, and six months later he still thanks me constantly for letting him have his space because it really makes his day. Yeah, I’m nice like that.
Despite seeming to all appearances to have given up on ever touching a female breast again, Bob is not without certain prurient urges. Once I went away on vacation, and upon my return he asked me where I’d been. “The beach,” I lied.
“Why are you still so pale?” he asked. “Where are your tan lines?” I frowned and kept walking.
Once inside, there’s another guy I try to stay clear of, a massive, blonde, ponytailed Viking with a weightlifting addiction and a lazy eye. About a year ago he got blackout drunk on Long Island iced teas at happy hour and woke up in jail after beating the shit out of some poor dude who looked at him funny. Knowing we don’t have anything so modern as caller I.D., he used his one phone call to tell the boss he was feeling under the weather. He was sentenced to “education” and community service, and came in the next week talking breathlessly about how he’d just had the best sex of his life with a beautiful, Rubenesque, worldly young woman he’d met in anger management class. I hope someone gives them their own reality show, and that he still lives with his mom in New Jersey when it’s filmed.
Despite being down with weirdos, the company, which was founded in 1898, has been surprisingly slow to change with the times.
The computers run on Windows 2000 and the picture on the front of the coffee vending machine reads ©1991. They just got the internet approximately five years ago and boxes of punch cards still litter the second floor. The style guide dictates we write “Web site” and “on-line.” The company web site looks like it was made using geocities in 1995, but the most awesome relic I’ve found is definitely the maxi pad machine in the bathroom. It says "beltless" on it. I think the last time someone used a belt for her period my mom wasn't born yet.
After realizing I had no tampons one day, I put in a quarter and this popped out:
I could never period on this. It’s a goddamn antique.
If there ever is a bright spot in my day, it’s encountering my work crush while waiting in line to use the microwave. Not that there’s any competition at all, but if I were going to fuck anyone at the company, it would be him. From what I can glean from his interactions with others, he was born and raised in downtown Brooklyn before it became a playground for terrible people. He wears colorful, snazzy pants, and unlike most dudes who wear them, can pull them off because he isn’t manorexic. He has flecks of premature grey in his hair, awesome muttonchops, and square 90s glasses, and probably fucks like a champ. Sometimes I see him drinking coffee alone at the Spanish lunch counter and wonder what it would be like to bake him a pie. I don’t know what he does, but I’m going to assume it involves his big, strong hands. Maybe he shovels coal in the cellar between reading Derrida and summarizing history.
There’s so much more to tell, but I’ll leave you with this: Of all the biographies I’ve written, one that pushed me to work the hardest was that of Douglas Feith, who was undersecretary of defense for the Bush administration until he resigned under shady circumstances. I learned a lot of things I probably should’ve known already, and though Feith has done horrible shit like pushing false WMD evidence for the Iraq war and facilitating torture at Guantanamo Bay, I’d like to think my article was relatively balanced; for example, I saw fit to leave out how General Tommy Franks called him “the dumbest fucking guy on the planet.”
A few weeks later, my boss received a letter from Feith that was longer than the biography itself, taking issue with everything in it. Apparently Feith was suing us and I had to send him all my paychecks until he felt better. JK, but guy was really pissed. But you know, we had truth on our side. This gave me a warm feeling equaling, like, one tenth of one percent of what a real journalist must feel every day. Moments like that make working at a 116-year-old reference company marginally bearable.