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The Anxiety ofEveryday Objects

Excerpt from Chapter One

All good secretaries will eventually find truth in the hearts of men.

Winona Bartlett, Win to her friends, might not have been the world’s best secretary, but her nature was such that serving, subservience, and coffee service came easily, and, in fact, she felt there was an inherent good in doing things well, and this determination more than equaled her actual interest in the long-term prospects at Grecko Mauster Crill. She practiced her secretarial role as a Zen meditation; what role she was more suited to remained a mystery, though she was now nearly thirty. She held on to the notion that one day she might make a living by creative, individualistic endeavor. It was her belief that if she in fact made the pretty God’s eye with purple and orange yarn and winsomely presented her creation, the judge would be charmed, and she would get a gold star.

Or so it seemed to have been promised to our heroine, who at this moment was standing on an elevator, soaring up to the Chrysler Building’s 58th floor.

That’s not to say she wasn’t smart in the world--Winona had done fine in school and by the time she landed at the law firm, she had revised her résumé at least twenty times, honing it and adding to it carefully, as if it were a house of cards. But some of her greatest moments of glory weren’t in there. For instance, in college, when the DJ invited her to co-emcee the dance with him and she wore a swirling ’50s dress and red lipstick and said sassy and amplified things to throngs of bisexual castabouts. You could say she considered it a triumph when she cast surly, unpleasant Ronald in her “Avant-Garde Film History and Techniques” final project, a Super-8 film about a woman who is “afraid to be revealed” and ultimately disappears when she throws her diary into a river. Or perhaps you might consider her interview techniques a plus. When she bluffed her way into the film program, for example, or when she put on a long floral dress and matching green pumps from Shoe Town and told the lawyers, I am a good secretary, and then asked for twice as much money as she’d ever made as a waitress or as the assistant to the assistant at the bookstore.

If you are wondering if she is pretty, this is the story. When she was in eighth grade she’d speculated on this subject, twice in particular: once, upon being surrounded and interrogated by a group of girls in her new school, she said yes, she thought she was pretty. Later that same year, in a more casual moment with a friend and a camp counselor, she revealed that actually she thought she was, well, pretty pretty. She didn’t stand out as a bombshell--maybe a Miss Money Penny. Her hair was cut in a bob, and she sometimes flipped a section over to the other side in a happy and unruly flop. She wore a little makeup, eye pencil and a touch of lipstick, and today, her Queen Elizabeth perfume (some scents said stay away, some said come closer). Even in her well-matched outfit and pantyhose, she looked slightly out of place in the business world. She was no East Village leather mama, no strange-fruit lipstick or ball-and-chain fashion statements on Winona. But she was willowy, and she moved like a gazelle, and there was about her, you couldn’t miss it, a betraying twinge of bohemia.

It was reassuring to be on the elevator with the goers and getters of the universe, to catch a glimpse of her reflection in the gleaming enclosure, a worker bee like all the others. Still, Winona stood rather rigidly in her new, like-everyone-else trench coat--waist, toes, underarms itchy with Monday-morning alarm.