Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Trudi (or, Automaton)

I have been a trudi all my life. I have never been an automaton. Oh, how I wish this was different. A trudi is a modern day secretary. They have lots of different names, that’s how they manage to trick us, but they are all the same job and tragically we are all the same girl.

You start out wanting the job, any job, any money. Just get your foot in. You are so eager to start, they can smell it in the hallway. Your clothes give you away. Because you aren’t wearing any. These are lounge clothes, clothes you wear to church or out for brunch. It is not a suit and if it is, it’s cheap, the wrong colour for the season and you have only one. You wear it awkwardly, it is clear that you are both proud of it and uncomfortable to be seen in it. It is this discomfort that sidetracks you. You are not listening when they describe the job to you. The words do not make sense yet. It is corpo-speak of the worst kind. It is a different language and you willing accept, nodding your shiny hair and glowing your lineless face. They seem smiley and happy to see you. You briefly remember that Lorne Michaels said at your graduation, “You should be worried when everyone is happy to see the new guy”. You will be 30 years old before you understand the irony. And you will still be the trudi.

The woman who interviewed me was a thick-hipped, brassy blond with outdated clothing. She had an important title because she was in charge of people. She had fresh highlights that did not reach to her roots and it was distracting. She had returned from maternity leave the week before. She had a photo of an unattractive infant on her desk. She told me to always come to her with any problems.

She was a vicious viper of a woman. She dealt in fear and subversion and unreachable expectations. She patrolled the office like a cop, slapping her pen like a billy club, looking down her nose at the trudis, instilling fear. She had an overweight sidekick who followed her around so that she seemed more important. The viper would send shockingly mean-spirited emails to us, bizarre stream-of-consciousness, poorly phrased and badly typed rants outlining how we had failed to advise her that a co-worker was missing. It was hard to know that a co-worker had called in sick if they did not call you. These thinly veiled threats were designed to create paranoia, and it worked. A trudi is scared all the time. But I sat in the corner and I rarely saw her. It became clear that she hired young girls with little education. Either she was gay, or she liked that they were easy to control. I must have seemed very beautiful or very meek in the interview.

Shortly after that, she fell pregnant again. She had clearly waited to have children and now the rush was on. In the fullness of time, she was gone on maternity leave and her toothless sidekick was left in her place. I once saw her lumbering through the hallways, heavily pregnant, with a slick little man in a tight suit. He was her husband, but he didn’t touch her or hold her hand in the lunch time crowds. They were both looking in different directions, his pinched little face. I felt like they could become separated at any moment. It seemed like the closest she was going to get to intimacy. She seemed so vulnerable. It seemed like I had seen him somewhere before.

Without the viper, things were looser. The cracks in the system were in plain view. The office was like a school room and the sidekick was a supply teacher; no one was in charge. Trudis left early and had friends clock them out later. Compliance issues went unresolved. Complaints escalated, internally and from clients, and nothing was done. The animals were running the zoo. The viper had engineered this. Her finest moment would be when she returned.

In her absence, I blossomed. There was nothing I could not do. I outshone those around me. I made the cardinal mistake of all trudis: I showed up each morning with the intention of doing a good job, of doing right by my boss. I will never make that mistake again. As I uncovered and won battle after battle, as a gave as good as I got, it occurred to me that I was outgrowing my position. I knew, in the shadows, the viper was watching.

The woman who fired me was a wide-assed brassy blond in an ill-fitted black leather jacket. She complained that the room was too hot and I briefly wondered if she was suffering from hot flashes. She certainly was old enough. I was expecting the end of my job but I didn’t expect the look of disappointment in her eyes when I smiled. My smile scared her, I saw her need for human pain thwarted. I felt sorry for her and I was relieved. She waddled over and as she shook my hand I thought briefly of the summer party. I was reminded of a rumour I had heard that hot summer evening about the viper, when tongues were loose with free alcohol. I heard that she was so hated by the male Investment Advisors that they were passing around a petition to remove her. It was that night I learned where she had come from; that she didn’t have any education, that she started out as a trudi.

UPDATE: I was advised in the Spring of 2015 that this woman and her husband were investigated by the RCMP and subsequently released from their jobs with the same company. A quick Google search indicates that the husband - after an 18 month hiatus - is now working at a different company in the same industry.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know that I could have been as gracious in the same situation.


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