In the Fall months of 2000, I had a stifling desk job during college to pay for gas and bar tabs. Across the aisle from my cubicle, there was a Richard Brautigan quote pinned to the grey fabric of someone else’s cube wall: “I have always wanted to write a book that ended with the word ‘mayonnaise.'”
These summer months in Ohio, because mayonnaise squats next to the ketchup and mustard towers at BBQ gatherings, and is mixed in every potato or macaroni salad, or slathered on a burger, my thoughts continue the 17 year saga wondering how I would end anything—poem, essay, or book—with the word mayonnaise. After a few minutes and discarding a few plot ideas, I remember the reason why I looked up so frequently that the quote bobbed relentlessly into my periscope, and has thus been haunting me for nearly two decades: my boss at this job— a petite blond woman—an administrative assistant who commanded the office with her Type A skills, who harbored some hybrid form of superiority via inferiority complex, took deep pleasure in ordering me around. I often looked up from my computer because she would often appear out of nowhere, “What are you up to?” As if she caught me red-handed trying to score a few extra copies of the latest how-to books we were launching that month; the edgiest instruction books on how to build bird cages out of tree limbs and hemp.
That would be my fate as I entered the labor world, into many aspects of adulthood, actually. I would take a job various industries—restaurant, daycares, retail, hospitals, counseling, healthcare, academia in order to pay for the quotidian needs of life and I’d find myself glancing up to see a white boss lady, often blond, who would only know me as her subaltern: an inconsequential being, certainly unthreatening with my mannerisms and pleasing rhetoric. Excruciatingly polite. Curiously overeducated.
I remember the iterations of her disapproval and my nascent comprehension of self. Her pointed nose, her bird-like face, eyes so sharp and hawkish. Nothing but skeleton wrapped in translucent white skin. She looked like she might bake a lot for other people. Not for herself. A tiny thing, but larger than her job, and knew it. Gleefully knew it. The others—the ones in much larger cubicles than mine, littered with framed pictures of pruney babies and Post-It To Do Lists stuck on top of printing and launch schedules, seemed fine. Absolutely committed to expressing variants of fine and just fine. I don’t know what I was expecting, but at the time, there was nothing more disappointing than a publishing house with brooms as people in the cubicle. The magic of reading was slightly spoiled by working there; the wizard was truly just another man with a bag of trinkets.
I did what I was supposed to for a couple months before lying about being overloaded with coursework and needing to quit. The last day of work, I remember heading toward the elevator, and she wasn’t at her desk. I didn’t wait for her return to say goodbye. I never saw the hawk again.
But she would be replaced with more hawks later in life, even bigger ones. And I’d continue to survive by writing in the notebook margins of those jobs, scribbling poems and riffs, plays and prose about power, love, dreams, and liberation before making up a lie and quitting because I couldn’t bear another second as someone’s subaltern. I was often told that under my pleasantry, I had a real problem with authority. Glory be to writing; it has saved me in ways beyond material.
Almost twenty years later, I often find myself thinking of those white boss ladies, speculating what became of them, whether they’re reading this now, and wondering (still) if I’ll ever find a way to write about mayonnaise.