Thursday, November 19, 2009

THE CHALLENGER

“You’d like 100 more ‘Freeze Frame’ posters for your Athlete’s Foot store? Got it! They’ll go out on Monday.” I hang up the phone, returning the beige mouthpiece to its base, eyes resting on the cord that is so stretched and kinked it now catches in the wheels of my rolling chair. That’s okay, I’ve only been at NIKE a few months and I heard our whole department is going to move. I’ll get a new phone then. Probably a new chair, too. Maybe even a new computer that will make it easier to enter all the posters that everyone is buying. This one is so huge it needs its own desk. I hear that someday they are going to get so small they can fit on your lap. That will never happen.

I don’t even know who any of the athletes are that are in the posters I sell all day, but it doesn’t really matter. I’ve memorized their information so when anyone asks me I can tell them about Ronnie Lott on “Lotts Lot” or “Dr. K,” Dwight Gooden, from the New York Mets. Some people even still buy John McEnroe’s “Rebel With a Cause,” but mostly people just want the two we have of Michael Jordan. His first one, “Air Jordan” is really why I even have this job. The posters were selling so well and so fast that they couldn’t keep up, they needed to hire a whole new person just to manage the Retail Poster Program, and that’s me. I take home $723.43 a month and Michael Jordan, who is three days younger than me by the way, probably takes that home every day. Or possibly every hour.

It’s kind of funny since I got my only B in junior high in PE and I don’t have an athletic bone in my body, that my first job out of college is working here – where everyone is young, in shape, and spends their lunch hours running. I am young – 23 – but that’s it. But here's the thing, although I am an unlikely fit, I like it here. I love my boss, I love my co-worker, and I love talking to all the vendors that buy the posters, and my friend at the warehouse that distributes them. It works.

They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and that is true – at least for me. In this case I know Teri, the administrative assistant that works for my boss’ boss. We went to college together and ran into each other at a wedding.

“So, are you teaching?” she asked.

Staring straight into her bangs that looked exactly like a sausage roll, I answered, “Can’t find a teaching job in this entire metropolitan area, so now it’s just time to find a job, any job.” I caught an image of myself in the mirrored centerpiece and re-adjusted the bow I had tied around my neck – red, to go with my wide red vinyl belt I wear over my tight white, tea length skirt, and red patent leather flats. The DJ was playing Dionne Warwick’s, “That’s What Friends Are For,” I hummed along. I loved that song.

“Well,” Teri said, “you should apply at NIKE. Use my name. We’d get to work in the same department, it would be fun!”

And it was.

Then one day after we did move our whole department to another building, I drove up, turned off the radio that was playing Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know?” parked and went in. There was a huge screen set up in the common area, folding chairs all around. I went to find Teri in the coffee room and asked, “What’s going on?”

Teri had her head in the frig, pulled out some whipping cream, poured a dash into her cup and turned to me, “Want some?” she asked.

“No thanks, I’m good,” I answered. I could hear Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” coming from the speaker above our heads. “So what are all the chairs and that big screen doing in the middle of everything?” I asked, grabbing a package of hot chocolate and mixing it with a wooden stir stick in my Styrofoam cup.

“The Space Shuttle Challenger is going to launch this morning – you gotta come watch, they are putting the first teacher up in space, Christa McAuliffe – maybe you’ll be the second teacher up in space, wouldn’t that be cool?”

“Just getting a teaching job would be cool, but yes, doing something that had the whole world watching would be super cool.”

Later I pulled my chair up to Teri’s and we watched for 73 seconds and then all of a sudden the Challenger exploded. I was so shocked I felt nothing at all. No tears came. No words. No feelings at all – just disbelief. Don’t they test those things? I thought it was impossible that something that cost so much money and took so many years to build and plan, could just explode like that. Nobody knew what to do. We sat there in stunned silence. A woman that looked to be nine months pregnant began to cry.

Nobody got any more work done that day, we sat together, strangers and friends, Footwear and Retail Posters, afraid to turn off the TV, afraid to miss any details of the tragedy, afraid to go back to normal.


* photo from wikimedia.org

12 comments:

Michelle O'Neil said...

I was in high school. I heard it in the hallway at school. So sad.

What beautiful writing Carrie. Truly.

Wanda said...

Ditto, Michelle...only I was teaching high school...and the beautiful writing part? Definitely ditto.

jess wilson said...

Afraid to go back to normal.

Perfect.

Jamie said...

Wow.... I was really young, my parents taped it for me so I could see it when I got older, it was such a big deal. They didn't keep that tape...

Deb Shucka said...

I love the changes! This is a brilliant story about a terrible day that's burned into our souls.

Robin said...

I was in my first post college job too. Time and worked stopped while we tried to get a phone connection to someone with a television.

Tanya @ TeenAutism said...

I love what you did with this. Really drew me in.

Amber said...

Oh man, Carrie. Wasn't that so sad? I totally remember it like yesterday, too! I was in jr high, and our whole school was watching, because our science teacher made it to the last twenty teachers, or something like that. I was so upset, I had to go home :(

But you tell this with beautiful words. Very good.

:)

kario said...

The voice in this piece - wow! It's so perfectly "just-out-of-college" enthusiastic. I am impressed, girl!

Jerri said...

You got that "afraid to stop watching" think exactly right.

It seemed impossible. I watched the footage over and over, thinking something would change.

Elizabeth said...

I was at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when it happened -- working in the basement of the social sciences building as a transcriber, the year after I graduated from there. Michael Jordan was actually in my class!

Nancy said...

"eyes resting on the cord that is so stretched and kinked it now catches in the wheels of my rolling chair." You are brilliant with details...I can see the room.