Soviet Spy

It's been a tough year - decade, in some respects, while of course it always could have been a whole lot worse. I have been meaning to express some of what follows for a while, wondering how not to come across as whiny or complaining. I might sound like it anyway, so here it comes anyhow.

August of last year I walked out of a job my once best friend and client, with whom I had a falling out twice, had offered me repeatedly. My friend had become a lawyer after a decision at the ripe age of 48 that followed having gotten pissed off at not receiving a bonus she believed she richly deserved from her boss, a lawyer she had worked for. My friend needed to complete required college courses first then had to apply to law school twice and graduated as a senior to opened her own law office soon afterward. Eventually, I was no longer in a position to refuse her offer to help her out. I managed to play secretary for her for a full three years.

Those years reminded me strongly of my teens when I worked for an important lawyer in Zürich, Switzerland. Our office was involved in the creation of a third pillar to the Swiss national retirement program. I was in training then, a common work/study practice in Switzerland. After a false start of working in the fashion industry (beauty had been up and foremost in my early teen mind) and after I had taken a sabbatical (as an au-pair in the French-speaking part of Switzerland) I had emerged as a more serious teenager, eager for more meaningful work, such as I imagined happened in law offices. 

Never would I have imagined that after only three semesters I would have become a Soviet spy suspect! My conventional Swiss boss, the highfalutin lawyer, could not fathom why else I would wear my handmade, bright red, cotton cap to and from, but never at work. (I was in the process of becoming a Swiss-style hippie, it was the early seventies. World-travelers, hippies would stop over in Zürich, their mystique was infectious!) The reason for having become the object of suspicion was that the new secretary had figured out that I no longer lived with my parents and tattled on me. True, at age 18, I had the audacity to embrace an opportunity to move in with my dear friend, not lover, Joe, an exquisite artist and dear soul under the roof of a patrician house. My hometown gave me a stipend, unasked for as I recall, but on the urging of a social worker, with which I managed to live on my own, prematurely, according to the working class conventions of those times.

I had worked hard, and I thought good, at playing secretary at that office. I had kept records on petty cash, put out mass mailings, wrote letters by dictaphone according to standard procedures clearly outlined. I typed pages over and over until they were perfect and took notes in shorthand. I was a good secretary-in-training (Lehrling) especially during the absence of our real secretary due to illness. But when her replacement took over, my troubles started. My budding career as one of so many 'Büro Gummies" or pencil-pushers in Switzerland came to an abrupt halt, I was fired. No doubt this experience contributed significantly to my flight from my country of origin, Switzerland, and to my eventual immigration to the United States of America.

So here I was back at a law office four decades later, but this time with barely any formal education in the English language, much less familiarity with the customs,  not to speak of those at a law office. I worked for a woman that once had been my best friend and my client but I had more than one falling out with, who had become my boss. I worked for a woman whose approach to life was in many ways opposite to my own (astrologically thinking Leo versus Cancer, fire versus water.) Amazing that we lasted 3 years, the experiment should have come to its natural conclusion after 3 months, not 3 years. One day, I walked away, never ever to miss the work at that office, ever. What I do miss since is income!

Part 1 of more to come

2 comments:

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