High-Rises, High Heels and Horniness: What a 5-Day “Succession”-Style Temp Job Taught Me About Desire

Illustration in pastel palette of a woman blending into her surroundings.
Dasha Burobina

As a writer I can be pretty heady. That can be annoying, so I’ve made a decision to start trusting my body more. I’ve thought enough. Now, I want to feel. With desire as my GPS, I am being guided to places more interesting than where I’ve been—or away from places dulling my soul.

Take last Friday. I was on a first date in a Lower East Side wine bar, my date took their phone out a few times to text mid conversation. When I asked if it was an emergency they said, “No…I know it’s sooo rude…Sorry…” Before quickly putting their phone away as if we were a scene on Super Nanny. Immediately my body knew this was not how I want to feel on a date. It was insulting, rude in a cliche way, and honestly, boring. In the past, my brain would have taken it personally, but this time, my body just felt the truth; this person was simply not in harmony with my desires. I’m not doing Super Nanny cosplay with your ass. At least not in public.

See, for five years I worked as a receptionist where I learned to anticipate the desires of others. While a conversation may be new to you, it never is for the receptionist. Commentary on the front desk candy options, the melodrama of closing a wet umbrella, commute complaints, the way the front door isn’t properly shutting…The same phrases were lobbed at me like a carnival ring toss as I remained seated (usually working on scripts, sometimes with the phone muted or one headphone in listening to Aaliyah) for eight business hours each day. No matter how much I liked the person I was speaking to, and I really like the people I worked with, the dynamic remained the same: they were in motion while I was not. The conversation ended when they desired to walk away.

Ironically, leaning into desire makes the absence of it palpable. So I asked myself, when was a time I was actually overcome with genuine arousal in everyday life? The answer, as they say, might shock you.

Some time ago, I took an office temp job at a Succession-style corporate real estate firm during a point in the pandemic where barely any offices were operating. I had no idea what to expect other than a good paycheck for a week of work as an executive assistant. Being that the pandemic was at the height of what I’d been calling BGDE (Big Groundhogs Day Energy) I was honestly just looking forward to having a to a new place to be and a new experience to have.

I arrived early on my first day to the Bryant Park high-rise with a cute knockoff Burberry trench coat, mentally preparing as if I worked for National Geographic. With a Lisa Ling/Anthony Bourdain sensibility I wondered, who are these people? What do they really do with their time all day? Knowing that I was there for a week as an essentially anonymous ephemeral presence freed me up and allowed me to zoom out as if I was watching my own nature documentary: Humans In Suits and Heels. That’s when the most fascinating thing happened—I was randomly overcome with desire. Damn. This was a first for a nature documentary.

I don’t know if it was the high-rise, high heels, or the high-stakes scenarios I eavesdropped on, but I was surprised to feel how much I was digging it. I finally understood the appeal of men in suits. Suits were always like biceps to me. Something I feel trained to enjoy but do not care about. Anyway, you can imagine my shock as I started to realize how the homogeny of these looks made me very curious about what these men were like outside of the corporate snow globe we were stuck in from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

By day two, I was flirting with Every. Single. Person. I started to wonder what the hell was going on with me, but I figured, why shouldn’t I be flirting, really? I was a complete unknown and scheduled to be out of there in five business days. That’s when I started to piece together something interesting: The desire was coming from the total relinquishment of responsibility. At the risk of sounding cliche, the once-front-desk-bound tigress was now free to roam the land. It liberated me to finally feel temporary in a setting where I was once such a responsible and sometimes maternal fixture. Fascinated by my findings, I waited for these execs to give me something to do. By some sort of cosmic miracle, they didn’t need much assisting at all. I was off the hook. A total first for me at a day job.

On day three, I found myself using the Xerox machine to print out a rewrite of my 23-page TV pilot. It was kind of a risky move, but I was clearly feeling freedom navigating the terrain. The printer jammed and I started sweating. When the IT manager arrived, she was calm and beautiful. She smelled like vanilla, too.  I leaned into my desire instead of my mind and just enjoyed being in her presence. She asked me about myself with direct eye contact and a smile. I only half trusted her interest as I had totally been in her position before. She was doing her job. As she hit a bunch of buttons and fixed a paper jam, I asked her a few pointless questions, specifically avoiding the ones people asked me when I was a receptionist. We were smiling and blinking a lot (flirting?) and both kept the pointless conversation going (flirting!?) It was kind of trippy. The rom com feeling came again, only this time, I was playing a different character. I saw myself on a different side of the dynamic I once knew so well.

By day four, just as I was beginning to think our Jim-and-Pam-esque glance exchanges might become more of a Roman-and-Gerri kinda thing, I noticed that she was kind of getting annoyed with me. Somehow in my newly liberated spell, I had lost my ID card which gave her a lot of admin to take care of. I felt bad about it, but also kind of annoyed that she was so annoyed. That’s when I realized something—I’d become the co-worker whose neediness annoyed the crush out of her. I remembered the countless times this happened to me as a receptionist. I wanted to apologize, but then I remembered how annoying an overly apologetic a co-worker can be by adding emotional labor onto an already annoying admin task. Maybe I was just projecting my past into her present. Is that empathy or selfishness? Kind of a fine line sometimes. I don’t know. Maybe a bit of both. Either way, the spark had faded.

When Friday rolled around, I woke up with a deep sense of dread. I hadn’t been given a single assignment all week, and the idea of sitting at the computer for the next eight hours honestly made me sick. Cough cough. I felt like I was wasting my time because I was. That’s when I made the decision: I was going to call out sick simply because I desired to. Sure, finishing the assignment held some value to me, but not as much value as my precious time. Besides, if I was going to be given zero responsibility for the first time, I was going to take it. I thought about my IT dream lover and how she might not even notice I was out. Or maybe she would? I’ll never know.

I called the temp agency and told them I was out. That was it. For the first time in a long time, the conversation had ended when I desired to walk away.

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Freelance PureWow Editor