Friday, April 24, 2009

The Help

We're between publishing seasons right now, wrapping up the summer sell-in and having just completed a teleconference to review books coming out in the fall. In a couple of weeks Gianna and I will hit the roads once more to sell the fall books, and what an amazing list it is--E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Kathy Griffin (LOVE HER!!), and a terrific novel from Dan Chaon on Gianna's side, and great books from Jonathan Lethem, Margaret Atwood, Richard Russo, John Grisham, and, ahem, DAN BROWN on my side of the company. But that's a couple of weeks away. Right now we're sorting through mountains of material so that we can pretend to know what we're talking about when we walk into bookstores. These are office days. Our offices are located in our homes, and that means that we "enjoy" the company of our office mates. Mine is Zorro, the 25 lb. feline taskmaster who keeps me screwing everything up.
Teleconferences tend to last for several days, and we're on the phone all day. It's exhausting and I'm a bit phone-phobic (which is a handicap considering my job), but the saving grace comes in the form of a headset. I cannot imagine sitting for four days on the phone without one. I may look like an idiot from Star Trek with the thing hooked over my left ear, but I'd beat myself unconscious with the phone if I didn't have it to free my hands and shoulder and neck from the strain of 6 hours per day with a receiver held to my head. The only problem with my headset, though, is that the office mate, Zorro, seems to possess a bizarre headset fetish. I keep it out of sight when I'm just normally working at my desk, but I have made the mistake, on occasion, of leaving it out overnight between two sales conference days. Zorro likes to play with my headset. He likes to hide it (which is fairly remarkable, considering how lazy he normally is, and such devious actions require, well, action). One morning I dialed in to the call, reached for my headset, then discovered it missing. I found it, with just a minute to spare before a full day of title reviews with publishers, in my kitchen sink. First, it's amazing that the cat can even jump up to the kitchen counter. Second, why would he drag a headset to the kitchen, and in particular the sink? It's weird. I also found it buried in his litter box once...and replaced it with a new one that day.

Most of the time Zorro sleeps in his chair in my office, where he is now. (He snores.) He likes to play in the boxes that arrive, and chew on the bubblewrap and plastic packing material, and he LOVES the UPS delivery guy, running to the door to greet him. Trying to keep books and files organized is nearly impossible because of his "help," which usually involves sitting on things I need, or jumping in a box and clawing me when I attempt to remove the contents from under his girth, or shoving advance readers off my shelves so that he has the room to nap. What's worse, I confess I'm a bit scared of my cat. Most of the time he's sweet, and I will say that his ample posterior makes a great bookrest when he's sitting on my lap, but the cat has a bit of a violent, psychotic streak. He clawed my eyeball once in the middle of the night, which is a freaky way to wake up. He also has a nervous tic, where if you scratch his back right above his tail, he neurotically MUST lick his front paws. It's crazy. My sister will send me emails at random points throughout the day that say simply "Make Fat Zorro lick his paws!" (She calls him "Fat Zorro" but his name is just Zorro. What I call her dog's politically incorrect and I won't repeat it here.)

Zorro also loves when I'm on the phone in the morning, when he's most likely to be conscious. Every Friday our division of reps has a conference call to go over business. It's how we function (as best we can) as a group when we live all over the country. Anyway, Zorro will hear my voice and waddle over, then jump into my lap...which is a bit like dropping a bag of rocks on your lap, held to your legs with 20 claws. I feel like I must gasp in pain quite a bit on the phone. He will sit on my lap purring, loudly, and rubbing his cheeks against the phone. Sometimes I'm saved when the UPS guy shows up, but most calls involve a point where I try to convince my companion that proper office conduct does not include sharpening his claws in my thigh.
Am I alone in my devotion and indulgence of an unhealthy office environment? Definitely not. My boss has a Jack Russell terrier, Bonnie, who yaps like the building's on fire during at least one call per week. Gianna has a herd of dogs, one of whom ate the leather cover off of her Sony Reader recently. I rarely had to worry about an officemate plopping down in my lap before I joined Random House (though it actually did happen a few times before, weirdly enough), and I certainly never had to worry about the IT department yelling at me for the amount of grey and white fur in my keyboard. And while my previous colleagues threatened violence, they never actually cut me. It's a tough life we lead, and I'm getting to the point where I'm ready to hit the road again. A four day road trip might be time enough apart to put the cat in his place.


  1. And yes, Zorro does have a double chin. Don't hate me! He's on the special diet food!

  2. His name is Fat Zorro!