Everyone knows it's hard to land a job these days. But in the 1980's, it was easy. In "Iggy Gorgess," Iggy walks into Caterpillar clothing store and interviews for manager, Rosalie: "Have you ever worked retail before?" she asks him. "No," Iggy says. "That's alright. Everyone has to start somewhere." That's how it was back then during the decade Iggy lives in. Even so, for those of us lucky enough to have a job in this decidedly non-80's economy, we, and Iggy, still have a huge hurdle to jump over every day: Dealing with our co-workers.
We spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our family. So naturally, a hierarchy gets formed whether we like it or not. Think about it: your boss takes on the parent role; your closest co-worker friend takes on the sibling role; and everyone else takes on the cousin role. Sometimes there are much older co-workers at our jobs, and they take on the grandparents role. But just like a real family, you don't always get along. Iggy is naturally antisocial, and he believes the worst part of having a job (other than it taking him away from his real passion, novel writing) is to have to deal with his co-workers. First, he meets Janna, his spiky-blonde-haired supervisor, who he believes is lazy and shouldn't even be in that position. Later, he meets Robbie and Marta. He likes them but feels they aren't as mature and worldly as he is (after all, he's lived on his own in Germany for two years). He thinks his boss, Rosalie, is pretty, and he feels safe when he's around her (the parent role).
It's human nature to try and categorize the people we come in contact with in order to make sense of where we stand in the world. Especially when it comes to co-workers who are essentially strangers yet you're thrown together and forced to interact with each other eight hours a day, seven days a week. Iggy immediately analyzes his co-workers and makes judgments of them in order to understand how he measures up in a social situation he's never comfortable in:
Marta chatted with the two teenage boys who were looking at the rock pins. Iggy watched her. He thought she was too outgoing. Too happy and so young. Janna disappeared into the office. Iggy was confused about her. In some ways, she seemed friendly, but in other ways, she was cold. He wasn’t sure what to make of her. Rosalie was the nicest, he liked her. She was warm, he felt protected around her. But she was the owner and probably didn’t leave the back office very often. He wouldn’t see much of her. It was too bad though. She was the only one he felt comfortable around.
But by far, the worst co-worker he has to deal with is Craig. He's a tall, blonde-haired giant who Iggy meets on his second day of work. He comes off as a bully, and he used to date Janna who still fawns over him, which makes dealing with the two of them double trouble for Iggy. Here's another excerpt where Craig is leering at Iggy who tries not to notice:
“Did anyone tell him the 70’s are over?” the blonde giant said loudly. “Sid Vicious is dead.”
“Craig!” Janna said, laughing.
Iggy didn’t look up. He just steadily counted his nickels. He didn’t even lose count. But he’d heard what the idiot said, and he knew it was directed towards him. But what did he mean – Sid Vicious is dead?” He thought about it for a second. Oh yeah, the hair. Iggy jotted down the total of nickels onto his paper.There is nothing Iggy would like more than to be able to quit his job. But he doesn't want to end up like the homeless men he's befriended who he often chats with in Washington Square Park, so he sticks it out. He's just like the rest of us who have no choice but to try and get along with people who we normally wouldn't socialize with outside of the workplace. There are countless books on the market on how to deal with difficult co-workers. There have been times I've wanted to invest in one of these myself, but I've found that the easiest way to deal with difficult co-workers is to always be one step ahead. Know your co-worker's weakness (in Iggy's case, it's Craig's lack of intelligence) and use your sense of humor (even if only to amuse yourself) whenever possible:
“You live alone?” Craig asked Iggy.
“Yeah.” Iggy came back behind the counter and picked up the price gun.
“I live with my buddies. I would get so bored if I had to live alone.”
“I’d get bored too,” Iggy said.
“But you do live alone,” Craig said, looking confused.
Iggy peeled off a price sticker that got stuck inside the gun. “I mean, if I were you and I had to live with myself, I’d be – bored.”
Craig thought for a moment. “Is that some kind of crack or something?” he asked Iggy angrily.
Iggy stared down at the clothes on the counter and smiled closed-mouthed. “Can’t you take a joke?” he asked.
Craig relaxed. “Oh, yeah, yeah, of course."
"Iggy Gorgess" novel will be released in Winter 2014. Cover illustration by Dan Schurtman