Notes from the Underground
Updated: Jul 24, 2021
B & W Staffers break the ice and tell you what we did this summer.
I worked in the London PR department of ‘a major international auction house,’ which is the language used to refer to the two others who snap up the best stuff. But employees stay upbeat with that English attitude that makes everything seem like a farcical old play.
Nipping down to the supermarket to buy materials for a caprese salad is a lunchtime ritual; my colleagues debate vigorously the relative merits of the 89p (‘fibrous and wooden’) and 99p (‘stringy but yielding’) avocados. A press release for an antique table is written and saved as “Horrid Table.” The sound of a phone descending would be gleefully followed by the words, “What a ghastly woman!” or “What a tiny man!” or, once, “Die in a ditch!” We had fun.
I told people I liked the auction business because at least it’s dealing in tangible things. The business model, and the main houses, were established in the eighteenth century, and there’s still something rakish and buccaneering about it. “If you like things so much,” said an Oxonian I told this, “why don’t you go work in a factory?”
The restaurant that just opened in the salerooms gets surprisingly good reviews, and is nominated for a prize called Young British Foodies, which my boss refers to consistently as “young, black, and fabulous.” Everyone briefly daydreams about doing away with the auctioneering thing altogether and “just making it a brasserie.” “Or,” counters another colleague, “let’s just make it a bank.”
I spent most of the summer reading Gawker and getting blocked by media Twitter. I got a lot of free soap and ice cream, so it was like Fight Club, except I gained weight instead of being injured. There were some good quotes:
“Bankers love Iceland…they all go to Iceland and snort cocaine.”
“I’ve never read Marx, but I think Malcolm Gladwell is genius.”
“I enjoy learning about corporations.”
I saw a fully nude homeless man in Port Authority while drinking a can of Bud Light Lime from a cup at Au Bon Pain.
I was an RA for high schoolers at a pre-college summer program. We followed the same curfew as the students and were required to be sober except on our one night off every three weeks. On my night off, I took some coworkers out for a birthday party. Her less than sober musings included:
1) “You are so tall! Never let anyone tell you that you’re not tall!” (to another coworker who is 6’1”)
2) “I did not pray for this! New York just needs some Jesus in its life!” (she is not religious)
3) “Why are you guys so damn shady?” (as she tried and failed to adjust the blinds)
Also, one of the students jerked off into his roommate’s sheets. It took the roommate three days to notice.
I worked at a start up this summer. I was not entirely passionate about the company itself, but it paid well, I got to work from home (i.e., watch TV while making spreadsheets), and my boss was desperate for interns. This last one is important because I was highly unqualified for the position. Sure, I have “marketable skills” and “English majors can adapt to any job position,” but I didn’t really understand the work that I—or the company for that matter—was doing.
This was not for lack of trying, but it’s hard not to be lost when your boss constantly says things like “disruptive technology” or “omni-channel consumer experiences” or, “You’ve got to be the first to make it so that you can win it.” (What exactly is “it”?) Part of me wondered if this all was techy lingo that I had just not been exposed to, but most of me wondered if he actually knew what he was talking about—the phrases could really mean anything.
I found myself using this terminology whenever I explained my internship to people.
Sometimes I would follow it up with a shrug and a conspiratorial “whatever that means,” but there were a few times when the person with whom I was speaking took that as a sign of humbleness and was actually impressed with the work. Seriously, though: has no one read Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language”?