Lesson 1: Glamour

I used to work in the tallest building in the city. I didn't sit next to a window, but if I stood


How to Survive 9 to 5

Lessons in downtown life from a former office lackey.

Lesson 1: Glamour

I used to work in the tallest building in the city. I didn't sit next to a window, but if I stood up at my desk, I could see the islands and the Sound in the distance. I could see the putting green and park benches that sit on top of the Norton Building. Whenever I think about the money I used to make, I feel greedy and a little bit wistful. My title was corporate executive assistant. I ate countless company-sponsored pear salads at McCormick's Fish House (722 Fourth, 682-3900). I had an important job. People loved me. I wanted to defenestrate myself.

Lesson 2: Dress Code

The CEO was one of those women whose wardrobe is fashioned entirely out of colored wool and giant buttons. I needed a wardrobe that followed policy, and over time I came to recognize a fundamental truth: If you are in this situation and unsuited to suit-wearing, you go to Ross Dress for Less (1418 Third, 623-6781) and the Nordstrom Rack (1601 Second, 448-8522). After all, $10 ties come in the same shapes and colors as $80 ties do. Along this vein, the next time you're at the Southcenter Mall, take a walk through Sears. Think these thoughts: (1) It's classier than the one in SoDo; and (2) Nobody will ever know.

Lesson 3: The Work

Your job is to be resourceful, and being resourceful means nothing more than finding others who will do your job for you. This is a bigger part of your job than you realize. A whole subcategory of businesses caters to your needs.

An executive asks you to throw an office party on, say, zero notice. It's entirely possible, if you know to enlist the swift help of the icing impresarios at Remo Borracchini's Bakery (2307 Rainier S., 325-1550) and the balloon inflators at Red Balloon Co. (624 Olive Way, 467-0318). Both places deliver, and their phones are answered by humans. Every flower place delivers, of course, but no shop is better named, more helpful, or carries a better (if better means unusual) selection than Buckets (1219 First, 405-3335). That's it, you're done. That's your job.

Lesson 4: Down Time

The most degrading aspect of the work isn't the time spent actually working. It's the time spent going to work, sitting through lunch in between a day's work, and whenever you're cornered into some sort of not-work-related chitchat. For these reasons, you need a portable CD player (I got mine at Fred Meyer, 417 Broadway E., 328-6920) and a subscription to The New Yorker (800-825-2510). Time spent en route to work is always best occupied in blissful audio or literary detachment (presuming that you're on the bus and not behind the wheel of a car). Under no circumstances should you give any thought to the day you have ahead of you or the people you are about to spend it with.

Lesson 5: Lunch

Take your lunch breaks alone, and bring the magazine—it's always better company than another office human. If you are within walking distance, eat in the bar at Palomino (1420 Fifth, 623-1300). Order the chicken salad sandwich with walnuts and apples, and get a little boozy. (It's a heavy sandwich, you will be fine.) Alternate eating at Palomino with eating at the Fifth Avenue Cafe (1522 Fifth, 621-7137), Mae Phim (94 Columbia, 624-2979), and Guadalajara Express (217 James, 382-3557).

If you can eat fast and then take a nap, that'll really shorten your day. Even 15 snoozy minutes leaves you feeling refreshed, if a little sweaty. There are easy chairs in public places aplenty downtown—I'm not giving away any secrets here, everybody does this—particularly in the lobby of the Bank of America Tower (701 Fifth) and Barnes & Noble (600 Pine, 264-0156). It's fun to watch old ladies sleep.

Lesson 6: Talking Points

Non-work-related socialization with co-workers is the trickiest aspect of office life. These conversations consist of talking about other people's kids and professional sports. Those are your only choices. If you deplore other people's children even more than you deplore professional sports, you should at least try to incorporate the word "ball" into whatever you say at meetings. Instead of "I didn't get it done," say, "I dropped the ball." Replace "I'm going to let you take care of that" with "I'm going to bounce that ball into your court." Take that ball and run with it, and you will go far.


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