I wish Jennifer would come back to work.
Children can have imaginary friends. Why can’t grownups? Not a friend in my case (I’m blessed with real ones), but the assistant I crave when personal business gets messy: billing errors to correct, records out of whack, phone calls on endless hold, websites that malfunction. If it starts to overwhelm, I sometimes conjure up Jennifer to give me a break. My alter ego slogs through the pile with mechanical detachment. She doesn’t relish the tasks but hey, it’s a job. When Jennifer is done, I come back ready to face the world again.
Much we do now with push buttons and keyboards once involved interacting with humans, from the switchboard operator to the kid who pumped my gas. I don’t mean to romanticize the old way, which rested on low-wage labor. For routine, standardized transactions, the shift has brought us speed, efficiency, economies of scale, and nowadays the safety of social distancing. When matters get more complicated and live help is hard to find, I’d prefer a personal assistant take over.
A couple of Novembers ago I wrote how things kept breaking. Does more go wrong as the days get darker, or does darkness make frustrations feel more pervasive? This year even Jennifer doesn’t want to come back to work. Imaginary characters, like the rest of us, may have a will of their own.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.