COFFEE AND CIGARETTES – Chrissi Sepe

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Ramona and I sat pretzel-style on the floor of Tower Records, slicing open boxes of vinyl albums

that smelled like plastic, clicking price tabs onto them from our blue pricing guns.

 “I can’t believe there are so few of us left,” she said. 

It was the late 1980’s, and our manager, Mike, had just transferred to the Tower Records in Los Angeles taking the hair band musicians of our staff with him. LA was the place to be if you wanted to make it big. Our supervisor, Suzette, also tagged along.

I was jealous. But even though they had jobs waiting for them, I was afraid to make such a reckless move from East Coast to West Coast. It seemed so far away and uncertain. A few months later, Ramona hired new staff so we no longer noticed the hole they left. I didn’t keep in touch with them, but Ramona heard bits of news here and there.

“How IS Mike?” I asked.

“He’s fine. He’s busy managing the new LA store. He rooms with Suzette and two other people. He said that all Suzette does all day is sit at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. She has no direction in life.”

“I’m surprised. I thought she’d hang out with the hair bands. She loves that type of music.” 

 “Well, that’s what Mike says. She doesn’t seem to be doing much of anything out there except getting a paycheck.”

Years later, I left record retail to work secretarial jobs in Manhattan. In the late 1980’s, those jobs were a dime a dozen.  I did office temp, but I mostly loved singing and painting. I worked only when I wanted to. If I needed to work on a painting or record a song in the studio, I told my temp agency I was unavailable, and they found someone else. But eventually, it was the 1990’s, and everything changed. Fewer calls came in for temp jobs, and when I did accept one, I got an attitude from the agency when I said I wanted to leave.

“But I thought this was a ‘temporary’ job,” I’d tell my representative at the agency. “I was hired to work for six weeks, and my six is up.”

Apparently, the new trend was to use temporary agencies as job placement vehicles now. The stock market had crashed, and jobs were suddenly scarce. Rather than signing up to a temporary agency  for flexibility, you now signed up because you couldn’t land a permanent job. To make matters worse, the businesses that hired temps only kept them on indefinitely – for years sometimes – because temps could function as permanent employees while the companies they worked for weren’t obligated to pay them benefits.

Sometimes I think of Suzette and wonder if she still lives in California. None of the people she moved there with wound up in famous bands. Most of them probably work mundane office jobs now too. As for me? All I really want to do is sit in my kitchen, drink coffee and smoke cigarettes.

 

(Flash Fiction Story By Chrissi Sepe)

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