I vividly remember where I was when I got the call from Sub Pop offering me the receptionist position. I'd just stepped out of the shower and heard the phone ringing. I'd been anticipating the call since the interview earlier that week, which had gone well. It included my in-depth explanation of my personal dedication to cleanliness, as well as a reading from a long list of reference quotes from other Sub Pop employees, Gerard Cosloy, my wife, and my mother. "We'd love to have you work at Sub Pop," Chris Jacobs and Megan Jasper, the label's general manager and vice president, said in unison over speakerphone. My heart exploded with joy. I had just landed my dream job! I was so elated that I didn't know what to say. Then came a moment of bad phone connection where we all talked over each other about what would happen next, awkwardly pausing at the same times. When the conversation went silent, I blurted out, "I'm naked." In that instant, it hit me: I had never worked in an office and hadn't the slightest grasp of office etiquette. I instantly worried they regretted their decision, but then Megan replied, "I'm shitting blood because I'm so happy to be working with you." Everything was going to be a-okay.
Having a meaningful day job that you love has got to be really high on the list of life's great pleasures. Aside from having to wake up at 8 a.m., there isn't a single serious drawback to being the receptionist at Sub Pop. Except perhaps the smell of the men's bathroom, which approximates a combination of beef stew and hot vinegar. Or when the digital asset manager, Meghan, convinced me that there was a rumor going around the office that I had really small hands. Or the fact that the nearby Ralph's grocery store is so overpriced that I once accidentally assembled a $25 container of lettuce and carrots from their salad bar. Or the time when a man who was clearly on drugs infiltrated the building and arrived at the desk with a 10-speed bike missing a wheel, who then handed me his demo CD with a hand covered in oozing sores. Luckily, these things don't happen every day, but here's a sampling of what does:
I usually get to the office within the 20-minute window that the particularly inconsistent number 11 bus drops me off near Fifth and Pine. On the days when it seems that I'm going to be on the later side, I like to reply to staff e-mails on the bus to give the impression that I'm already at work, typing away.
My first task of the day is checking on the state of the office. I usually start in the kitchen, where the previous receptionist (thank heavens) trained the night cleaning staff to empty the dishwasher. It's easily one of my least favorite jobs, as there are far more cups than will actually fit in the cupboard. I reorder popcorn if it's low—otherwise there will be hell to pay from Stuart M., the production manager. Carly, the marketing director, seems to be obsessed with Lysol wipes. Stuart F., the director of technical staff, enjoys a wide variety of tea. It's my job to know and love my coworkers, and to keep their secrets. Does everybody make a big deal over me having to buy huge boxes of tampons? You bet they do!
Another thing the night cleaning staff does: empty the trash cans. I realized early on that no matter how little garbage I throw into my area's can, it will be disposed of, along with the garbage can's liner. To avoid creating even more plastic garbage for the world, I've taken to squirreling small amounts of waste into my desk until there's enough to deserve a proper disposal, and then I dump it all at once. For this, I've nicknamed myself "Ol' Garbage Drawers."
Every morning, mountains of e-mails and voice mails await me. A majority of the messages are from people in bands interested in extreme fame. My favorites are from teenage R&B vocalists who have decided that they're ready for a music career and that Sub Pop is the right label for them. Another interesting tactic is just to send some lyrics and ask how much they're worth, which happens pretty often. A sample from one wordsmith included "YOU NO THAT I LOVE YOU SO COME TWERK IT RIGHT INFRONT OF ME *PAUSE FOR A MOMENT* YEA TWERK BABY GIRL TWERK BABY GIRL TWERK TWERK TWERK BABY GIRL YEA MMMMM." I spent some time writing back and forth with this person, explaining that we typically don't purchase lyrics. His response was simple: "HOW MUCH WOULD IT COST TO GET JUSTIN BIEBER TO SING ON THIS TRACK?"
Of course, it's not all laughs; this business attracts actual lunatics. There's the curious case of the woman from California who claims to be spiritually married to Robin Pecknold from Fleet Foxes. I've spent a lot of time on the phone with her; she's usually trying to get Robin's phone number. She claims to have had it before, but an attorney put a curse on a psychic who has blocked certain portions of her memory. The thing is, she's given me the names of the people involved, and they actually exist. I called the lawyer she mentioned, and when I tried to get more information, he hung up. Last week, a guy called looking for contact information for the 1990s band Seaweed. He kept stressing that he was "very concerned," and he needed to talk to them before he got the police involved. When I pressed for details, he only divulged that he was involved with one of their records and repeated that he was "very concerned." He then suggested that it would be easiest for him to come to the office and get the information "the hard way." I replied that all of the members of Seaweed currently live in Guam. Case closed!
It's pretty common to have brushes with celebrities from all tiers, if you know what you're looking for. William Bennett from Whitehouse came in shortly after I started. I've met Ross Reynolds from The Conversation, photographer Charles Peterson, and comedian Eugene Mirman. On the phone, I've spoken to Courtney Love, Boots Riley from the Coup, Deanna Ashley from Frightwig, and Heather Graham. Gary Gersh, the guy who signed Nirvana to DGC, called a few weeks ago. When I told him that Jonathan Poneman wasn't in the office (he wasn't!), he got quiet for a second. He obviously didn't believe me. "I'm calling about Soundgarden," he reasoned. I didn't quite know what to say after that, but I knew one thing for sure: I'M LIVING IN SEATTLE.