Temporary Insanity

My occupation is temporary secretary. Funny, just saying it out loud seems to give me this uneasy feeling inside. You see, a temp is just my “disguise.” Oh, don’t get me wrong, I certainly look the part. On any given day you will find me wearing some adorable little office ensemble that would make any boss proud. Conservative and boring. My nylons match my shoes, my nails are well manicured, the hair … well let’s forget the hair. Lately it has been doing this weird frizz thing with wings popping out on the side! Quite attractive. As a temp I get to go everywhere and do everything. It’s not a bad job. Just a lie. My true love is radio.

When I was a young girl I used to listen to Connie Szerszen, the disc jockey from my favorite radio station. She was the first woman I ever heard on the air and I was totally fascinated. Connie had this sweet, funny personality and got to play rock and roll music! I wanted to be just like her. I used to write letters to her requesting more Donny Osmond songs. She played them just for me. I used to write Connie fan letters and she would even write me back. We developed this big sister/little sister relationship. Years passed and we lost touch. Then one day, I heard Connie on another radio station. I called her up on the studio line, and I was so touched that she still remembered me. Connie told me about a job opening at her radio station for an entry-level position. I got the job. My hero Connie was the one responsible for my big break. The dream became reality.

I clearly remember my first day in radio. There was this incredible passion and energy that I had never experienced in my life. The music was pounding, people were passing out concert tickets and t-shirts, celebrities were going into the studio. I felt like this was where I belong. I was home. About a year later, my entry-level job led me to become a programming/promotions assistant. And then one day, it happened. I became a disc jockey! I can still remember the first time I spoke into a microphone. It was on Mother’s Day. Even though I made some rookie mistakes, and sounded a little goofy, I still felt my entire world light up. I would never be the same again.

Great memories pass through my mind as I think about the listeners. Just like Connie and me, I became their friend. I remember giggling with Teresa. She used to have a secret crush on her boss. There was Tony who kept requesting the same song over and over. But mostly, he just wanted to talk. And I could never forget Sally. She wanted to be an actress. Alone in a dark studio, I used to ask myself: am I here to bring a little joy into their lives, or is it the other way around? I loved my job. And then one day it was gone. I woke up. The dream was over.

There is no delicate way to say how I lost my job. I had this horrible feeling in my gut the day I interviewed Donna for an intern position. I ignored that feeling and hired her. I became her mentor and taught her how to record a demo tape. I watched as she became a pro in the studio. We became friends. And then it was her turn to teach me something: a harsh lesson in betrayal. How do you explain someone sleeping her way in to your dream job?

Now, I’m a temp. I used to hungrily clutch a microphone in my hand and reach into the hearts of Chicago. Now I grab a P.A. and announce the client is holding on line three. At one time I used to interview celebrities. Now I’m asking people to have a seat while I pour their coffee. The experience of what happened left me paralyzed. I was too fearful to even think about going back into radio again. I lived my fantasy at an early age. When it was gone, I felt like a huge piece of me died. I realized that there is something to be said for experience and maturity. When you achieve a dream too young, too soon, you must prepare for that inevitable fall from the top. It took a long time, but I eventually pulled myself together. I realized that being a temp is not so bad. During downtime I can make calls to friends, read the National Enquirer to find out the latest fiasco for Michael Jackson and I can even fantasize about the UPS guy or George Clooney. So why did my heart drop every time I caught an earful of the radio playing in the next cubicle?

Many years after losing my gig, I got the chance to be back in radio. My temp agency landed me an assignment working at my “dream station.” This was THE station. The reason I went into broadcasting. I walked through the doors literally shaking with anticipation. I’m finally back. I just KNEW it! Well … not exactly. When I mentioned to them that I used to be a jock on another station, I got the “look.” It was that look that simply said “yeah, sure, whatever.” I had seen that look before. That look meant “you were a jock? You’re nothing but the temp.” Later that week I faced my worst nightmare. In the hallway I overheard this voice. “Oh, no, please God, don’t let that be his voice.” I turned around and was face to face with my old boss. The one who fired me, the one with whom he and my “friend” betrayed me. This time, however, I was not facing him as some talented, creative jock. I was facing him as a temporary secretary. He just stared at me. He stared at the pile of mail that I was obviously distributing to the staff. When he asked me what on earth I was doing, I thought about lying. A dozen stories were going through my mind. Do I tell him I own the radio station and just want to feel like one of the “little people?” No. Do I tell him I’m the new morning jock at the station? No. I looked him straight in the eye and said “I’m the temp.” He gave me this cold, glaring sneer. A sneer that simply said “loser.” It was one of the worst moments of my life.

Here I am now, many years and a few more gray hairs later. I’m still a temp, but the dreamer has not died. Even after all I have learned, there are still questions. Do I have what it takes to make it in radio anymore? Do I really need the “label” of disc jockey, or can I be happy as “the temp?” I’ve had many great jobs in the past, so why was radio still so important to me? As a 37 year old woman, it comes time to answer those questions. Radio is my passion, but it’s not the only definition of me. If I am labeled as a disc jockey, writer, lover, friend, daughter, or yes, temp, it doesn’t matter. A title does not define the essence of my soul. I recently discovered that I can walk down the hall of my office and enjoy hearing the radio. The pain is gone. I now smile when I hear a funny announcer or a favorite song. As a matter of fact, I’m usually the one why says “Great music. Turn it up!”

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