Remember when Administrative Professionals Day was called Secretary's Day? I do. Around the time I was sending out demos called Diary Of A Mod Housewife, looking for a record company to put out my first solo album, I was working as a temp at Sony Music. Temping at a record company was good for getting free cassettes and CDs of new music - at the end of every week the hallways would be lined with bins of promo albums and employees were encouraged to help themselves.
And temping at a record company was good for the reasonably-priced Sony cafeteria that whipped up decent fare for anyone with an employee pass. I got bored of packed lunches everyday and eating lunch in midtown was expensive, so it was nice to have another option.
The Sony temp assignments were never too challenging. Unlike the law department at CBS where I'd logged many hours typing documents until my eyes crossed and I dreamt in clauses and legal boilerplate, there was often very little actual work to do for a record company temp, as if the finer points of the music business were simply too subtle to explain in the short-term. Behind my desk at Sony, I typed out lyrics and leafed through music magazines, trying to make constructive use of my time.
But temping at a record company was bad for self-esteem: free records were great but they weren't my record. Those artists were all busy riding a train I was helping stoke the engines for but would never be allowed to board.
And then I kept running into people I knew from my music life. I'd be on the elevator with an interoffice envelope to drop off on another floor and a manager or lawyer I'd met through years of going to shows and playing in bands would inevitably get on the same elevator, talking about this group or that artist he was representing.
"Don't let them see me, don't let them see me," I'd pray, scrunching down in the corner behind bike messengers and A&R guys ten years my junior. Trying to blend in, dressed in part thrift shop/part Strawberry, the store where midtown female office workers shopped for cheap serviceable garb. The manager or lawyer would sense the discomfort and turn around.
"Amy! What are you doing here?"
"Temping," I'd mumble, sure they must feel sorry for me. I'd probably sent them a cassette but never had the nerve to follow up and ask if they'd had a chance to listen.
I thought of all the things that had fallen in my lap as a young musician - gigs and press and recording offers. You heard that people began at the bottom with nobody interested and then through sheer hard work and determination got somewhere. But the world had been full of good will when I was starting out. There'd been loads of opportunities for the bands I'd been in. It was only now that I was older and going out on my own with a daughter to raise that I had to knock on doors. I wasn't very good at it. I imagined other people were.
Then one day temping at Sony I got a call from reception to come down to the lobby - there was a delivery for me.
"Are you sure it says Amy Rigby?" I asked. I was temporary after all. Even the phone extension was not my own.
"That's right," the receptionist said. "You are one lucky lady!"
Then the thought hit me: This is is it! I imagined a hand-delivered letter from a record label offering to put out my record. Yes, it could be my temping days were over. I hurried to the elevator.
When I arrived down at reception there was a gorgeous exotic bouquet spanning half the width of the front desk. A cream colored envelope lay nestled in the swirls and fronds of greenery, with my name in elegant script. Sure that life was about to change, I tore open the envelope.
"Congratulations Amy! You're the best." Signed, Rosemary Scott Temporary Agency.
Wow. How had my temp agency already heard the news about my record deal? Those guys, I thought. They've really been there for me, giving me work to keep me going. And here they are, the first to pat me on the back when I finally get what I've been striving for. I lifted the flowers onto the elevator and carried the bouquet down the hallway to my desk, head held high, for once not studying the carpet as I walked along.
I positioned the vase on my desk and sat down to see the voicemail button flashing red. I dialed and listened to the message:
"This is Rebecca from Rosemary Scott. Way to go, Amy! We are so proud of you."
Again, I wondered how they'd intercepted the good news from what had to be one of the many labels I'd sent my cassette to. I temped so often, the label probably had to track me down through the temp agency to get in touch.
Breathing in the flowers' scent, acknowledging the admiring looks from a trio of assistants passing by, I noticed a large manila envelope addressed to me on the desk. I slit the flap open.
Inside was an 8 1/2 by 11" laminated certificate with scrolled letters. It proclaimed:
"AMY RIGBY - TEMP OF THE MONTH. FOR EXEMPLARY SERVICE, WE THANK YOU. THE ROSEMARY SCOTT TEMPORARY AGENCY."
And a check for $50.
I treated myself to something at Strawberry.