It doesn’t matter that the alarm clock hasn’t clamored on, the sun is beaming through both the north and east windows of the crammed bedroom, doing its best to encourage the day to start. People who don’t live in Florida think the sun will cure any of their issues. Have trouble getting out of bed and going to work? Move to Florida, the sun will get you up. Not exercising enough? Move to Florida, it’s warm all year round so you’ll be sure to quell the pangs of sloth. It is an escape for many but for the few born and raised and the many who lived in Florida longer than anywhere else, the sun doesn’t fix the desire to work at a miserable job and the butter soaked seafood far outweighs the idea of working up a sweat. Actually, it only takes about eight months for an individual to realize 60 degrees is coat weather and to take the sun for granted. The highly sensitive people who love watching the trees transition twice a year somehow find beauty in brown grass, dealing with sneezing and spending their hard earned money on sinus medicine. The natives find peace in all things green, value hurricane shutters over a backyard pool and check the air conditioner filter if someone sneezes.
Rhett lived in Florida twice – from birth to 20-something and again in her 40s. Lying awake, anticipating the sound of WMFE and hoping that will convince her to roll out of her cool pool of back sweat soaked sheets, she tries to remember the day’s planned chaos. It’s Monday, the whole day is chaos.
Finally she makes the flop, sending a chill down her exposed back and thrusting her feet quickly to the ice cold floor tile. Rhett is a night-before prepper, her peanut butter sandwich is packed in plastic, cut neatly at an angle, and she has a bag of pretzels for a little crunch. Pretending she will have time to eat more than that is just pretending so she doesn’t bother to pack anything else. Teeth and hair brushed, deodorant slapped on before grabbing a not-too-wrinkled button down and the navy blue pair of pants, she slips into her navy slingback flats to complete her just-enough appearance of professionalism.
It’s about a 10 minute drive to work but in order to have something considered breakfast, she swings through the Burger King drive-thru for a cup of coffee every day. Oddly, it took longer than it should have for her to accept the benefits of a senior discount. Always a scrapper, cutting coupons, reading what most people consider junk mail in order to find a discount, the idea of getting something for less just because she hit a certain age didn’t really stick. For a couple of years she shopped and continued with due diligence for laundry detergent and pistachio nuts, but when Starbucks came along and made everyone believe coffee should cost more than her daughter’s daily allowance for lunch money she decided to accept the geriatric perk. Burger King only charged her 10 cents for a cup of joe and as long as she didn’t hit the drive-thru guidance poles with her company Taurus, it was worth it to be old.
Escaping the fast food establishment was simple to do: two rights in, one left and a right out and directly onto the magnificent two mile campus where she earned an undergraduate and master’s degree as an administrator – not a secretary – for the head football coach. Lined with palm trees and predominantly windowless buildings, she enjoyed slowing for students using the cross walk and glancing for a peek of the reflection pond, the state’s attempt of keeping in theme with the most magical place on earth, just 30 miles west of her daily duties. That crosswalk was her last chance to change her mind, give up or go home but each day she stretched to see if the fountain was on, sipped a quick hit of hot 10-cent coffee and continued to the 50-spot paved staff parking lot. Despite her daily dragging herself out of bed challenge, she was grateful her day started early because a parking lot that close to the football offices inevitably meant football players would illegally park in the staff lot. Early bird gets the parking spot, she thought as she gathered her lunch, coffee and brown handbag from the car.
Two diamond shaped buildings connected with an awning was her home away from home and while she understood why the buildings were nestled away from everything else on campus – to be near the football practice field – she never could grasp why there wasn’t a sidewalk laid. As soon as her feet left the asphalt of the parking lot she had to maneuver through sand filled sod to get the to front door. Today, three new employees would arrive in the building, likely dressed better than any other day of employment, hoping no one will notice the sweat rings formed from walking across the 117 degree parking lot and fake comfort to hide the irritability caused by sand in their shoes. Her best advice will be to get here earlier and wear shoes that can be removed, shaken and slipped back on quickly.
Rhett’s office was located in one of the cold sections of the building. It had white walls, a desk with piles of file folders on the left and a phone on her right, situated behind the computer monitor. A table sat against the wall behind her desk, easy enough to turn her chair around and sift through more piles of file folders and if necessary, use the machine she knew how to dominate, the typewriter. Situated behind the computer monitor and in front of the empty file cabinets was a guest chair. Despite the titles of Assistant Athletics Director, Senior Woman Administrator, and Head of Human Resources she had not met any of the new hires joining the team. Typically, eager applicants would sit in that chair and respond to any and all questions she could imagine, all asked with the goal of finding the right fit for this working environment. Today was different. New, young employees without a need to show her any respect were hired to work in her department by someone else, she just signed approval.
Expecting them soon, she shuffled the piles to make them at least straight and turned on the computer monitor, crossing her fingers that the noisy hunk of metal survived the weekend without her needing to reboot. Thankfully, she didn’t need to ask anyone to help her find the restart button so she opened her calendar and confirmed the day’s appointments with the appointments on her day planner. With everything in order and a few minutes to spare she poured the remainder of her 10 cent coffee in her black office cup and joined Betty in the copy room to wait for a fresh pot of coffee to finish brewing. Betty didn’t talk much, never smiled and seemed to have disdain for Rhett. They both started as admins but Rhett was promoted with each degree she earned. Betty already had her degrees but wasn’t considered for any promotions. Regardless, as long as people agreed to Betty’s work motto – A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine – Betty would show anyone the proper respect, even if she didn’t think they deserved it. Just as the two were going to exchange pleasantries about the weekend, weather and whatever else, a tan woman with long, black hair in a French braid rounded the corner, looking lost and walking with her arms wide as if to air out potential drippage.
“She must be new,” Betty said to Rhett.
“That must be the new assistant girls basketball coach.”
“Girls, Rhett? I imagine at this point they want to be called women.”
“Whatever. They do make them all sizes nowadays, don’t they. I wonder if she is sensitive about her height.”
“Well, I’ve never seen a woman that tall, or skinny for that matter, so I imagine she’s sensitive to all things out of her control. But maybe not. Who knows? As long as she is a planner for things that need effort from me, she’s good in my book.”
Rhett stepped out of the copy room and asked, “Can I help you?”
“Oh, hi. Yes, I’m DJ. My name is Dolores Jackson, DJ. I’m looking for Margaret Kelly’s office.”
“I’m Margaret. Rhett. There are two others starting with you today DJ. If you wouldn’t mind waiting in the lobby, just there on the left, I’ll be around for your orientation in just a few minutes.”
DJ ducked to fit through the doorway, a habit she hated having because even at 6’4” she wasn’t going to knock her head. Still, she always shrugged her shoulders and ducked her head when walking through doorways. She took two steps through a dark hallway and entered the lobby, a large white room with three shiny, gold loveseats. Two of them were situated neatly around a glass coffee table, the other sat along the opposite wall, a fake plant on each side of the furniture. I guess that’s the main entrance she thought while looking at a wall of six dirty glass doors. Fortunately, only one of the two new people were seated, giving her a couch to herself.
“Hello, I’m Doug,” the red-headed 20-something said, standing to introduce himself.
Not knowing if he was standing for comparison or to shake her hand, she forced the greeting, reaching out with an open hand and saying, “Hi, I’m DJ.”
Doug realized she wanted to shake hands and obliged but couldn’t resist, even though she squeezed hard and even did a bit of a hard arm jiggle to try to stop what she knew was coming. “How’s the weather up there?”
DJ smiled and looked like she was blushing but that was simply the rise of pure anger showing in her face, something she hadn’t perfected hiding. “Oh it’s, probably the same as…
“Juhzeezus Christ! This place. Did you guys have any trouble parking your car? And where’s the freaking sidewalks around here? My Franco Sartos are filled with sand, I have no idea where my car is and I wore a light pink shirt that I’m currently sweating through. What the hell? First day jitters are long gone guys, I sweat them out walking to the building. Oh, hi. I’m Lesa. Lesa Thompson. Sorry for the outburst but I was so worried I was going to be late, then I started sweating so much I couldn’t decide which would be worse, showing up late or soaking wet. With a freaking light pink shirt on. That’s basically see-through once things get real wet. Anyhow, has anyone been around? Do we need to check-in somewhere?”
DJ was thrilled. As long as a crude, loud-mouthed, self-consumed human being like Lesa was in her presence, no one would worry with her height. Or weight. Or hair, for that matter. People focused on the weirdest things. No one ever asked her where she was from, what her major was, or even if she was married. Apparently being tall left jumbled people’s minds so much they couldn’t ask basic get-to-know-you questions.
“No one’s been through the lobby yet but I bumped into Margaret Kelly in the hall earlier. She said to wait here and someone would be around to get us. Oh, and she goes by Rhett, I’m DJ and this is Doug.”
“Nice to meet you all. I’m guessing you coach soccer, DJ? What about you Doug, are you a coach or a trainer?” Lesa smiled at DJ, saying with her eyes I know you don’t coach soccer, but then turned to listen intently to Doug.
“I’m actually going to work with Ms. Kelly but I’m not entirely sure what my title will be. This is a paid internship, my final credit for my Master’s Degree in sports management. So, I’ll do whatever they need me to do and see where this takes me.”
“I’ll tell ya where it will take you, to another internship,” Lesa explained. “I just finished a graduate assistantship and took this job, as a sports information assistant. All the same work as an assistant director, minus health insurance, paid leave and any ounce of respect as a human being. But I’ll work games and write about sports no one else wants to write about, so it’s all worth it.”