City Paper is not for tourists
In six weeks on the job, D.C. summer workers discover bosses, drudgeryand the Pentagon City Mall.
By Elissa Silverman Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
The mercury’s hovering above 92 degrees, school’s still out for five more weeks, and Jay-Z’s on WKYS for the umpteenth time this late July afternoon. Angel Fussell, 16, cranks the volume on the silver radio. She shakes her hips, snaps her fingers, and sings out loud:
That’s the anthem get’cha damn hands up
H to the izz-o, v to the izz-a
The phone rings.
Not guilty y’all got to feel me
And rings again.
H to the izz-o, v to the izz-a
Angel looks around the deserted room and grabs the receiver. “Retirement Accounts Division,” she politely musters.
She listens for a few seconds, leaning over the top of the adjacent desk. “Yes, this is it,” she responds, her long braids draping over the work space. “How may I help you?” She checks a small piece of paper taped to the cubicle wall, hits a few digits on the phone, and watches until the red light blinks. Then she straightens up, briefly scopes out the office, and resumes swaying and snapping until the next interruption.
It’s 1:53 p.m., she informs the caller. The technicians won’t return from lunch until 2:05. In 12 minutes. Exactly.
Angel aspires to a career in medicine. “I want to be a doctor in the emergency room and put children in incubators,” she tells me. “I thought about day care, but that doesn’t pay much. I want a big house, a big carI have expensive tastes.” She laughs, then pauses for a second or two. “I think I would be a good lawyer, because I like to fuss,” she adds, with some seriousness. “That’s what my mother says. ‘Fuss Fussell.’ We like to fuss a lot.”
But first, Angel needs to graduate from high school. She spent her freshman year at Coolidge Senior High but got kicked out following an altercation with a classmate. “You know how immature little girls are,” Angel says of the incident, which escalated, she insists, after her nemesis hurled pennies at her in the school gymnasium. She studied sophomore year at Eastern Senior High, but she says her mother didn’t like the school very much. She’s looking forward to her junior year this fall, at Dunbar Senior High. “I got to find some activity to do, because that’s what the colleges look at,” she says. “I’m thinking about the flag girls.”
Right now, though, Angel’s involved in another high school résumé-building experience: a summer job, with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Financial Management and Policy (FMP).
Each summer, the D.C. Department of Employment Services offers District teenagers the opportunity to experience life in the working world through its summer youth employment program known as Passport to Work. The program places approximately 5,000 D.C. residents ages 14 to 21, regardless of income, in five-week subsidized jobs with District and federal agencies, as well as some nonprofit and private-sector employers. (The State Department hires its summer employees, unsubsidized, for six weeks.) The jobs pay between $5.15 and $10 per hour, depending on the work and setting.
The summer job is a rite of passage for many American youth, a crucial intersection between adolescence and adulthood, where being late or falling short suddenly carries greater consequences than afternoon detention. For most teenagers, a job first and foremost means a paycheck, which might be put toward a car or college savings or clothes that Mom or Dad refuses to buy. Yet advocates of Passport to Work say exposure to the working world offers much more: It imbues youngsters with character, imparts responsibility, teaches valuable skills, and drives home the worth of a hard-earned dollar.
Somehow, though, Angel and her summer colleagues seem to have missed out on many of these virtues.
An exuberant young woman at times, Angel possesses skills valuable in the workplace. She’s personable and witty. She interacts with adults without shyness. And she’s candid. “You wouldn’t believe how many people call here and complain about missed checks or want more on their checks,” Angel says one Friday afternoon as she answers the phones.
She reaches into her purse and unfolds a piece of paper. “Dear Sir/Madam,” the letter begins. “At the advice of Angel, with whom I spoke telephonically earlier today, I am writing to ask that you change the withholding tax on my pension as follows, effective immediately.”
She smiles as I read the letter aloud. “Angel was very helpful,” it concludes.
The FMP’s Retirement Accounts Division handles pensions and other financial matters involving State Department retirees. Aside from answering phones, Angel receives occasional assignments involving the use of a fax machine, a microfiche reader, or a typewriternot exactly activities that excite an impressionable young worker or endow her with valuable 21st-century job skills.
And Angel’s six weeks within the walls of the State Department hardly offer the teen an intriguing glimpse into the exclusive world of international politics and diplomacy. FMP’s top-secret, security-clearance environment physically resembles any other anonymous, corporate accounting department, save the security apparatus in the lobby and “Unclassified” computers. Other summer workers at the FMP toil in departments that distribute the paychecks, pay the electric bills, reimburse travel expenses, and process other unglamorous paperwork to finance American diplomatic efforts around the world.
The lessons Angel and her peers glean from their summer buried in the deepest bowels of bureaucracy seem considerably more cynical: Work offers little satisfaction beyond a paycheck. When at your desk, always pretend to be busy. And don’t worry too much about productivity, because there’s little consequence to inefficiency.
In a bizarre way, it makes you think that more traditional teenage employment, such as fast-food or retail, may offer a more instructive environment. In these jobs, at least attendance and punctuality actually matter. Accountabilitymeasured in, say, a double cheeseburger with no onionsis very real and immediate. And most teen workers take such jobs for what they are: a temporary way to make money, not a grim foretaste of career drudgery and frustration.
Lesson 1: Work stinks.
The door to DF-609 opens, and supervisor William Jones walks out of his office into the Retirement Accounts Division front reception area. It’s midafternoon, and a handful of technicians who handle retirement accounts have congregated nearby, chatting about dinner plans and vigilantly watching the seemingly immovable hands of the clock.
“Come on, 5 o’clock!” chants one employee as she walks by the crowd.
Jones, however, still has work on his mind. He asks Angel to type up information on some 1090 forms having to do with distributions from pensions, annuities, and retirement plans. Angel hams it up for the receptive crowd. “Mr. Jones, do you see these?” she asks with a sly smile, displaying her tropically painted nails as if posing as a hand model on QVC. Yesterday was payday, and Angel rewarded herself by getting her nails and eyebrows done.
Jones stares for a moment as a few technicians shake their heads and chuckle.
“And that means what?” Jones harrumphs.
Angel saunters over to Jones, grabs the forms, and heads to the typewriter. An hour and several trips to the paper shredder later, Angel’s sitting quietly a few cubicles away from Jones’ office. She has her elbows propped on the desk, and her hands act as a pedestal for a frowning face. A nearby worker explains that Angel refused another typing assignment ordered by Jones, which earned her a five-minute closed-door session in his office.
“People try to tell me: He’s just trying
to show me what a real boss will be like,”
Angel’s hardly repentant, though. “I know I have a bad attitude, and he has a bad attitude, and something doesn’t connect,” she admits later. “The summer interns are just getting the work that they don’t want to do themselves.”
Lesson 2: Look especially busy, especially when you’re not.
Cheryl Howell, 18, points to the man in shirtsleeves and tie walking out the door. “GS-15,” she says.
“He GS-15?” asks Tramaine Whitehead, 17.
Bureaucracy speaks its own language, which the State Department’s summer employees have easily adopted. “GS” refers to the general schedule, the pay scale for civil service employees, which ranges from levels 1 to 15, with 10 steps within each level. Identifying a colleague as a GS-9, for example, really means you know that person makes somewhere between $33,000 and $43,000 per year. It’s a very quantitative way of denoting status. A GS-15, the highest level before reaching the top tier, Senior Executive Service, earns anywhere between $80,000 and $100,000 per year.
It doesn’t matter if the object is a form, a building, or a person: Everything has an abbreviation. Cheryl, Tramaine, and Bashiri Wilson, 17, work at “SA-1,” or State Annex 1, an office building at 2401 E St. NW hidden within a Foggy Bottom mixed development called Columbia Plaza. Secretary of State Colin Powell keeps his desk a few blocks away at “Main State,” the department’s headquarters, at 2201 C St. NW. Angel and nine other FMP summer employees work across the river at SA-15, which, in State Department slang, means Rosslyn, Va.
Almost everyone is a GS-14 or GS-15 up here in the Penthouse, the 15th floor of SA-1, where Cheryl, Tramaine, and Bashiri work for staff accountant Selwyn Brown. Brown has overseen the division’s involvement with the D.C. summer youth employment program for the past nine years. This year, he shares administration of the program with financial analyst Kenneth J. Harris, who works with the summer employees over at SA-15.
“This is a good program. This program has saved us money for nine years,” Brown says. “It gives the youth a chance to see about government….And it has helped us in FMP clean up what we can’t do in the winter months. We don’t have to get contractors to do the work.”
Above all, Brown hopes to introduce the program’s predominantly African-American participants to civil service and the stable, middle-class lifestyle that accompanies it. Twenty-two years ago, Brown began his career as a payroll clerk with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Two years later, he moved over to the State Department. He has worked up the ranks ever since. “I’m the lowest grade on the floor,” boasts Brown, who moved to the Penthouse last November after logging close to two decades at SA-15.
With a shiny noggin and face resembling Louis Gossett Jr.’s, Brown sets himself apart at SA-1 in other ways. Whereas most of his colleagues leave work to spend their evenings with spouses and children, Brown often passes his nights with other people’s spouses and childrenwho happen to be in mourning: He’s a licensed mortician for the Robert G. Mason Funeral Home on Good Hope Road SE.
One day, Brown explains, he went into Mason to get a letter notarized. He asked if he could take a quick peek in the back. “I was hooked,” he says.
“What’s another name for lead poisoning?” Brown jokes in the hallway one afternoon.
Brown doesn’t keep his moonlighting under wraps. In fact, he doesn’t seem to keep too much of anything a secret. “I’m the loudest person on this floor,” he announces, with more than a touch of pride. When he first moved to the Penthouse, Brown tells me, his boss received numerous complaints about his vociferousness.
“Do you see the snooty dooties?” Brown asks me one day, as the Penthouse gathers for a baby shower. His colleagues sit along the wall of a large conference room with a massive table in the middle. It’s an exceedingly sedate affair, with very little chatter. In fact, it’s hard to believe that this same group of people works together day after day.
With few exceptions, FMP’s Penthouse-dwelling accountants work in individual offices, with doors often closed. So Brown and his boss, Christopher Flaggs, conceived a summer project to build some fraternity within the buttoned-down environment: Brown tasked Bashiri, Cheryl, and Tramaine to create short biographies of each Penthouse employee.
The project was not received well, initially.
Unlike their SA-15 summer colleagues, Bashiri, Cheryl, and Tramaine do very little grunt work such as answering phones, photocopying, or filing. Their primary project for the summer is conducting 10- to 15-minute interviews with Brown’s co-workers. Afterward, they type their notes into a formatted PowerPoint presentation. All three seem quite skilled at information technology.
So that leaves the three teens quite a bit of spare time in front of their computers. They chat on the phone to fill their days. “Anytime y’all get off the telephone will be fine with me,” Brown sarcastically reprimands them at one point, catching all three in personal phone conversations.
The SA-1 summer workers quickly perfect the art of acting productive. Bashiri mostly plays with his Cassiopeia, a pocket personal computer. Tramaine occupies herself with
e-mail. At one point, when Cheryl has problems using a spreadsheet program for another small project and asks Tramaine for assistance, she declines, telling Cheryl she’s too busy. Tramaine then swivels her chair back toward her computer and returns to Microsoft Outlook, the department’s e-mail program.
Almost every day, Tramaine eats her lunch at her desk, where she has a drawer for snacks and a Styrofoam cup with “TW” written on it in blue ink. “I got my work part and my eating part,” Tramaine explains. “I eat [lunch] right here, so I can run back to work when I finish.”
One quiet Monday, Tramaine opens her word-processing program and composes her own FMP staff biography.
Tramaine was born on September 26, 1983 in Georgetown Hospital located in Washington, DC. She was born to Lisa and Terron Whitehead. Her mother had her at 6 months so she was definitely premature. Tramaine spent 3 months in the hospital, recovering from several operations. The doctor said she wasn’t fit to live [….] She has worked at daycare for 6 years and she is now working at the State Department as an intern. She even bought her own car and plans to buy a cell or pager down the line. She is going to Prince George’s Community College. She wants to major in culinary arts, nursing, or cosmetology. Some day she will own big houses, have a lot of money, and 2 kids with a husband that will respect her and the family, as well as raise the kids and pay the bills.
Bashiri, Tramaine, and Cheryl all just graduated from Eastern Senior High School and spend their Sundays in the pews of Union Temple Baptist Church, which is led by the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, Bashiri’s father. Brown also happens to be a member of Union Temple and leads its senior choir.
Cheryl began attending Union Temple after she started dating Bashiri, she says. She met him at Eastern, where she transferred after spending ninth grade at the School Without Walls. “I wanted to go to Eastern or Wilson, because you have homecoming and football games,” Cheryl confesses. “I wanted to experience high school like it’s on TVand Walls wasn’t like that.”
Cheryl has an Ally McBeal sense of fashion, which she explains was not the prevailing style at Eastern. Take the classmate voted Best Dressed by this year’s graduating class, for example. “He was a thug. They gave him Best Dressed because he wore certain names, but he had no style,” Cheryl says. “I’m looking forward to meeting a new class of people.
“When is D.C. going to rise above go-go, ignorance, and ghetto life?” she adds.
Lesson 3: Clout gets you only so far when it comes to the D.C.
After 11 weary days in the federal workforce, Bashiri and Tramaine end up in an unlikely place: the District government’s welfare offices. “EBT is coming,” reads the Scotch-taped sign greeting entrants this particular Tuesday morning to the lobby of 611 H St. NE, “the new way to get your food stamp and cash benefits.” A woman sporting rainbow-colored ripped jeans and sunglasses blows through the crowd like a drunken tornado. She performs a concise, curse-filled soliloquy on EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer), a debitlike card that has replaced government checks and coupons. The man behind the desk points her down the hallway on his right.
He later directs Bashiri and Tramaine to the room behind him, where some 40 African-American teenagers sit uncomfortably on metal folding chairs waiting to watch an instructional video. Almost half an hour later, at 11:13 a.m., another man presses Play on the VCR and closes the doors.
“Hi, I’m Mayor Tony Williams,” the videotape begins. Several teens growl, having awaited this anticlimactic moment since before 9. “I’m very proud of your commitment to work,” says the mayor, with very contained enthusiasm.
The summer jobs program has always been a favorite of D.C. politicos, especially former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr., whose early political career in Washington was catalyzed with Pride Inc., an employment program targeted at young black men. Youth employment always remained an important cog in Barry’s political machine: In his first summer as mayor, in 1979, Barry started a summer youth-employment program called Summerworks. Many D.C. residents credit Barry with having given them their first jobsand some, at least, many more thereafter.
The mayor’s summer jobs program got D.C.’s predominantly African-American youngsters on the city payroll early. Barry’s approach to District government as a publicly funded jobs programin addition to the large federal government presencefueled the growth of a large, dynamic black middle class in Washington and the surrounding suburbs. Just ask the employees at SA-15: Many of the office’s African-American workers grew up in D.C. and now live in middle-class neighborhoods in Prince George’s County.
And it’s not hard not to see the summer employment program as an introduction to that way of life for new generations of District residents.
This year, the teen summer workers are getting paid through EBT, instead of by check, just like those District residents who receive public assistance. After Williams’ cameo on the video, WPGC radio personality Chris Paul, surrounded by a multicultural montage of smiling teenagers, explains how the card works: On the three designated pay dates, D.C. will electronically transfer each worker’s earnings, minus taxes, into an account. The teens access their pay with the EBT cards at Riggs and Citibank ATMs. If they exceed two withdrawals per pay period, they get charged an 85-cent transaction fee. Say you earn $5.15 an hour and work 25 hours, Paul explainsthat’s about $90 of stone-cold cash!
“That it?” shouts one teen, wearing a skull-and-crossbones handkerchief on his head.
If it seems odd that teens being introduced to the world of work are being funneled through a system designed to distribute welfare, nobody here seems to mind. Williams and Paul happily detail the benefits of work: Dependability. Punctuality. Teamwork.
It’s a shame the summer youth employment program itself doesn’t exhibit those qualities.
When Bashiri, Tramaine, and Cheryl signed in and sat down in the waiting room this morning, Brown disappeared somewhere within the youth employment program’s offices at 625 H St. NE. Moments later, a man in a pinstriped suitDepartment of Employment Services Director Gregory Irishappeared to speed the process. The youths quickly discovered that it’s good to bring a reporter along on any journey into the District’s bureaucracy.
Bashiri and Tramaine breeze through the process and are quickly escorted through EBT training. Despite the interminable wait to view the six-minute video, they will be the first to receive their EBT cards afterward.
Cheryl, on the other hand, never hears her name called to watch the video. She won’t receive her EBT card this day, because her name doesn’t appear in the program’s system. For more than two hours, Cheryl will wait, along with another young woman wearing a black cotton tank top, pink pants, and gold hoop earrings with “Angel” written in cursive across the diameter.
Angel and eight of her summer colleagues made their own pilgrimage from SA-15 to H Street NE for their EBT training the previous week. But when they arrived, five of the workers discovered that they, too, were unknown in the summer youth employment program’s EBT system, even though all had received notices from that same office about their work assignments weeks earlier.
The youths whose names were missing were told to come back today, when the mix-up would be resolved. Angel has been waiting since 9 a.m., and, fortified with a small plastic bag containing cheese puffs and other goodies, seems in no particular hurry to leave. She’s officially on the clock, after all.
After she returns from the video, Tramaine chats with Angel about their first two weeks on the job. Tramaine brags that she and her cohorts have been tasked with projects the entire time.
“We ain’t doing nothin’,” Angel boasts in reply.
She then spies Brown, who has returned after his absence. “I hear you workin’ ’em,” Angel remarks, quite loudly. She smiles at her FMP colleagues. “Sorry for y’all,” she says.
Later, when the SA-1 workers return to their desks for lunch, they discuss the morning’s trip. “I know they hated us,” Tramaine tells Cheryl. “There were all these people waiting, and then they called me and Bashiri’s name.”
“I know they all hated us,” she repeats.
Cheryl mentions how Angel sat in the waiting room, as well. “I told her we were real busy. You know I was playing her,” Tramaine remarks, shaking her head. “She smelled like steak and cheese.”
“Some people can eat carryout all day,” responds Cheryl disapprovingly. Brown’s workers have reason to feel superior about their paychecks, as well: While SA-1 workers make $9.15 an hour, SA-15’s summer employees earn only $8.
Two days later, Cheryl, Bashiri, Tramaine, and Brown trek down to H Street NE yet again. Today is payday. And the waiting room is filled with summer workers and their parents who could not access their payments electronically. Apparently, many more teenagers besides Cheryl, Angel, and their colleagues did not make it into the right computer file.
“Today is the first pay period,” explains parent Sheila Davis, on the sidewalk outside. “And my daughter’s not in the EBT system.”
Other workers complain that they began their jobs a week lateJune 16 instead of June 9and now they’re not even getting paid for their efforts. D.C. summer workers are used to these kinds of problems, though. “Last year, everyone got paid once, and I didn’t get paid at all,” remembers Andrea Fussell, Angel’s 15-year-old sister, who’s also working this summer at FMP. “I was real mad.”
Lesson 4: Take the full lunch hour (and then some).
Each morning, SA-15’s summer employees sign in for work on a sheet in Harris’ office. At the end of the day, some even sign out.
Courtney Jones, 17, often signs in first, before the official start time of 8:15 a.m. But Courtney is often hard to find once he signs in. Finally, one Tuesday morning, Harris inquires about Courtney’s whereabouts. He finds out that Courtney’s supervisor hasn’t seen him for hours.
Harris confronts Courtney the next morning. Harris advises Courtney that he needs to work a full day to receive a full day’s pay. Courtney ‘fesses up and promises diligence.
A few days later, he’s up to the same old tricks. “The sad part is, he’s getting caught,” says Harris. “It’s like me and the HOV lanes. I got a ticket and for five months, I was doing great.” Harris laughs. “Now I’m cheating again,” he says.
At least Courtney shows up every day. Other summer workers have decided to take their own days off, almost always failing to inform Harris of their absence. They later explain that they had family emergencies, of which there seem to be quite a few this summer.
Program supporters such as Brown argue that summer jobs expose teenagers to new worlds. Which is certainly true in Angel’s case: During her summer at the State Department, she’s been exposed to the world of the Pentagon City Mall. She’s been taking two- to three-hour lunches and traveling a few stops on the Metro to Pentagon City with some of her summer colleagues.
“I’d never been to Pentagon City before,” Angel says after her first lunchtime jaunt. Her eyes have a silvery sparkle, courtesy of Victoria’s Secret Beauty, a cosmetics store. “It was a nice time. I’d like to go again.”
Angel mostly stuck to the freebies at the mall. But, after spending her first paycheck getting her nails, eyebrows, and hair done, she spent her second largely on Miss Cleo, the television astrologer, racking up $280 in phone bills in the space of a month. “I had to give my mother money for Cleo,” Angel admits with a smile. “I called just to see if she was real, and then I got hooked to it.
“That was like worshipping the devil, so I don’t call anymore,” she says.
Today’s three-hour lunch doesn’t sit well with her colleagues in the Retirement Accounts Division. “I have to do something, or they’re going to put me on the eighth floor,” Angel confides, worried.
I find out why she fears the eighth floor soon enough. The eighth floor is where N’Diya Pinkney, 18, toils for the summer. A three-year summer veteran at the State Department, N’Diya will be attending Clark Atlanta University in the fall.
“My first year, I mainly photocopied. Last year, I hardly did anything,” N’Diya says of her previous tenure on SA-15’s fifth floor. “I just mainly sat on the phone and slept last year.”
But the eighth floor is something else again. One morning, I find N’Diya staring at a black screen filled with small green numbers. “I’ve been working here for three years, and I’ve never seen screens like this,” N’Diya tells me. “I didn’t even know people did this.”
“Now, this is going to take a lot of concentration,” warns Sheila Chavis, a full-time FMP employee who is supervising N’Diya as she attempts to fathom the arcane task of entering invoice information into the computer system.
“Do I have to hit ‘Home’ first?” N’Diya asks her.
“What do you think you should do?” Chavis shoots back.
N’Diya first types the number 360684013 in the vendor code box. Then she tabs to the document total and inputs the figure 1760.00.
“No, look what you’re doing,” Chavis warns.
N’Diya checks the documents next to her computer. Then she looks at her screen.
“Home ‘Q’”? she asks.
“Why are you going to ‘Q’ it?” Chavis replies.
“New?” N’Diya suggests.
“Why are you going to ‘new’ it?” Chavis says, before leaving for a meeting.
It’s an excruciating 20-minute exercise that ends when N’Diya accidentally signs out of the invoice program. While we’re waiting for Chavis to return, I ask N’Diya whether she thinks her eighth-floor colleagues enjoy their work. “I can’t really tell,” she responds. “I don’t think they do. I think it’s something they have to do.”
She’s quite sure of something else, however: “I know I don’t want to do this when I get older,” N’Diya tells me. “I don’t want to do anything like this.”
A few summer employees have matriculated in the full-time State Department workforce. Harold Brown was a D.C. Summerworks employee in 1993. Now he’s a GS-12. “That’s why we participate in the program every year,” explains his former supervisor, Janet Brooks. “We’re hoping to find another Harold Brown.”
Recalling Brown’s summer experience, Brooks says: “He had a very strong work ethicand fit in like a normal employee. I don’t want to say he chained himself to the desk, but that’s somewhat true. I remember saying to him, ‘You know, you can get up and go to the restroom.’
“He was never missing,” Brooks adds. “We never had to look for him.”
Lesson 5: Tend your office romance.
On their last week of work, Angel and Courtney confess a mutual attraction. They spend much of their final days together, sitting on the benches outside of SA-15, where employees talk, smoke, and try to make the days pass a little quicker. Angel rests her head against Courtney’s chest. She talks about her mom. “When you meet her, don’t get scared,” Angel warns. “She’s gonna give you a test.”
Then she adds: “And you gotta pass.”
Angel then quickly picks her head up and sits straight. “So how many girlfriends have you had?” she asks her new beau.
Two, he replies.
A few minutes later, Angel’s cell phone rings. She listens for a few seconds. “Who dis?” she finally asks. She smiles and moves her eyes away from Courtney. “Derrick? How you doin’?”
Before Derrick has a chance to respond, Angel quickly interjects. “I’m with my boyfriend,” she tells the caller. She hangs up a few seconds later.
“Oh, that’s my uncle,” she says, with a wink.
Lesson 6: Good is good enough.
The Penthouse averages only one or two parties in an entire year. So it’s unprecedented that two are thrown this summer. On Aug. 17, everyone on the 15th floor gathers for pizza in honor of the summer employees whose last day has come. It’s as somber as a wake.
“They throw quiet parties over here,” Brown whispers to me.
Brown delivers a brief speech. “In the beginning, it was a little rough, but I think it worked out real well,” he tells the crowd, referring to the small uproar on the floor over the biographies. He then asks Bashiri, Cheryl, and Tramaine to offer their own polite remarks. “I want to say you all made this an enjoyable experience. This is my first time in an office,” Cheryl tells everyone. “And I was a little scared.”
Brown praises his three summer workers, but as the afternoon comes to an end, it’s clear they have yet to complete their major task of the summer: the biography project. The three students scramble to finish it in their final hours.
“They’re trying to torture us on the last day!” Bashiri repeats occasionally. “Amazing. We work the hardest on our last day!”
“I ain’t doin’ no more,” Tramaine seconds, as they put together the two dozen biography packets. “This is too much!”
Cheryl proofs the biographies as they staple. “Puerto Rica?” she reads out loud from one.
“It does not have to be perfect,” responds Tramaine. “It is the end of the day.”
A few days after her summer job ends, Cheryl will move to Atlanta to begin her studies at Clark Atlanta University, where she plans to major in broadcast journalism. Bashiri will attend Morehouse College, also in Atlanta. And Tramaine will continue living at home and start at Prince George’s Community College.
Lesson 7: Don’t burn your bridges.
Angel’s summer ends less dramaticallyand a day earlier. Angel decided a few days ago that Thursday, Aug. 16, would be her last day, and on the appointed morning, she signs in at 8:45 a.m. Angel’s worst fears about being banished to the eighth floor did eventually come true. “I kirked out on Mr. Jones,” Angel says frankly, recalling an episode when she yelled at him.
Now she sits at a cubicle, tearing papers from travel voucher files and putting them in a cardboard box. She works on her files until noon, when she heads to Pentagon City with Courtney. They return to Rosslyn about 2:15 p.m. to eat lunch.
Angel and Courtney sit on the benches outside SA-15 for an hour and a half. At 4:30 p.m., Angel takes the elevator to the eighth floor to pack up her desk. “You still here?” asks an eighth-floor colleague as Angel walks to her cubicle. “You still here?” questions another.
Angel grabs her Styrofoam lunch container, gently brushes off the desk, and takes one last look at the stack of folders she’s leaving behind. All packed. She walks over to one of her neighboring cubemates, who asks about her plans for next summer. “Nope, I’m not coming back next year,” Angel tells her, with some glee.
Angel says that she and Andrea have already lined up jobs for next summer at Camp Brown, a Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Club overnight camp in Scotland, Md. She thinks working at a camp will be fun. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m half-grown, and I’ve never really been to camp,’” she says.
“‘Bye everyone,” Angel announces to the floor as she triumphantly walks through. “Today’s my last day.”
Near the elevators, Angel runs into her eighth-floor supervisor, Tina Harrison. “Thank you, thank you very much,” Harrison says. “Have a great year and come back to me next summer.”
Angel explains that probably won’t happen. “If you change your mind,” Harrison says, “you come up here and work for me!”
A few moments later, on the sixth floor, Harris embraces Angel. “Tinashe was glad to have you,” he tells her. “You take care of yourself. Be cool, my dear.”
Angel, Andrea, and Courtney head out of Harris’ office, and Angel makes a left toward the Retirement Accounts Division. Her sister warns her to stay away, but Angel hesitantly walks down the hallway and opens the door. She gives her regards to others in the office and then turns around and stares at the closed door to Jones’ office. She knocks softly.
A colleague buzzes Jones that Angel’s right outside. The door opens quickly. “I just wanted to say ‘bye,” Angel says from a few inches outside the door frame.
“Where’ve you been today?” Jones bellows. “What happened to tomorrow?”
There’s a moment of silence. “Well, have a good life,” Angel replies damply.
“You, too,” says Jones. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Darrow Montgomery.