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“You’ve got to get me out of there, Jan. Please.”
Jan had been hiding in her office as much as possible on the day that the interviews were scheduled. When the tentative knock at the door finally happened, she checked her lip gloss, ran her hand through her hair, and opened the door, steeling herself for a confrontation with Michael. “I will not cry in front of him,” she thought to herself.
She had been shocked, confused, and simultaneously relieved and disappointed to see Karen Filipelli standing nervously in her doorway.
Karen had started out calmly, explaining that she, too, was here to interview for the open Sales Strategy job. She had acknowledged that Michael and Jim were both strong candidates with more claim, perhaps, on Jan’s recommendation. She was hoping, though, that Jan would consider putting in a good word for her, based on her strong performance, her loyalty to the company (as demonstrated by her move to Scranton), and, to be blunt, her identity as a young women in the company who looked up to Jan as a role model.
Jan had agreed to do what she could, but she told Karen that she really didn’t have much pull. As the line manager of all three of the top candidates, Jan had been excluded from the final decision-making to avoid any conflicts of interest. Karen had not taken it well.
Jan was surprised at Karen’s outburst, and at the look of utter desperation on the younger woman’s lovely features. “What do you mean, “get you out of there”? Has something happened in Scranton? Has Michael--?” Jan didn’t actually know what she was about to accuse Michael of, so she trailed off.
Karen leaned forward in her chair, tensely gripping the armrests. “No. I mean, yes. I don’t know…It’s just…Scranton is like…like a circus. It’s like this weird three-ring circus, and Michael is the ringmaster. It’s insane there, all the time. And everyone just marches in circles like trained elephants, and they act like it is normal to just dance around the craziness. And I…I thought I was prepared? Everyone who works for Dunder Mifflin has heard rumors about Scranton, and then Jim had told me stories...” She slumped back in her chair, her hands moving into her hair. Normally unflappable, Karen seemed officially flapped.
“I wasn’t prepared at all. I thought…I thought I’d go see the circus. That Jim and I would go and be spectators and I’d get a few laughs and do a good job and we’d have a life…but instead, I find out that I’m part of it. I’m walking the tightrope every day, and I’m dating one of the clowns.” Karen was talking faster and at a much higher, less controlled pitch than she normally used.
Jan was stunned. She knew the feeling; after all, she had dated, and been dumped by, Michael Scott. Her life had definitely felt like it should be taking place under the Big Top for the past several months. It was unnerving to see her own feelings blazing out from Karen’s eyes. Suppressing the urge to wallow in anti-man solidarity, Jan cleared her throat. “I didn’t realize you were unhappy in your new position, Karen,” she said crisply, hoping to bring the conversation back to a more professional tone.
Karen ignored the hint, instead breathing out a short, bitter sort of laughter. “You know, I didn’t realize it either,” she said. “I thought maybe the dizziness was from…I don’t know, from falling in love, maybe. That things would settle down eventually. But then Pam the Fire Walker decides to put on her little show, and I realize that I’m about to tumble off the tightrope and there’s no net…How do you compete with someone who walks on hot coals, Jan?” Karen’s question was nearly a wail.
“Wait, who…what?” Jan was able to maintain her professional half smile, but she was becoming confused.
“Pam. Pam Beesly, the receptionist …she walked on fire! She gave this speech about how she misses him and called off her wedding for him. And she called everyone out about ignoring her and skipping her stupid art school open house but she didn’t seem mad…and you should have seen the way he looked at her. Not that we all weren’t staring at her, and of course she just had to look all pretty and brave in the firelight…” Karen’s voice had gone flat. She was staring at her hands, resting now in her lap.
“The firelight? I’m not…I’m not following you, Karen.” Jan was completely lost but found the sensation comfortable. Maybe she had gotten something besides excellent sex from her relationship with Michael.
“Yes, the firelight, Jan. Pam did the firewalk.”
“At the circus?”
“No! No, the firewalk part was literal.”
“There was a literal…firewalk?” Jan closed her eyes briefly. “I suppose Michael arranged that?”
“Was it…was it in the office?” Jan wasn’t sure she wanted the answer.
Karen actually laughed. “No. Not that I’d put it past him. It was at our beach day camaraderie event. It was a test to see who could replace him as the manager. Only Dwight and Pam managed to do it.”
Jan nodded with relief. She thought that sounded about right. Dwight was fanatical, and Michael always seemed to make Pam do the most ridiculous things. She made a mental note to check into Pam’s salary. She turned her attention back to the woman in front of her.
“So, you and Jim…?” Jan knew it was unprofessional, maybe even tacky, to ask, but she couldn’t resist.
“Nothing’s definite, yet, but I don’t see it lasting much longer. She just…she got to him first. Moving to Stamford, dating me- I’m not sure any of that will matter in the long run to him. It makes going to work a little difficult.” Karen smiled at the understatement.
Jan smiled back in sympathy. “Karen, I’m sorry your, um, personal situation has made things uncomfortable. I’ll do what I can, but I can’t promise you anything. Like you said, Jim and Michael are strong candidates.”
Karen nodded. “Thank you, Jan. I just…I thought you might understand. I really don’t think I can stay there, so…” She stood to go. “It was…it was nice talking to you.”
“You, too, Karen,” Jan said. “Good luck.”
Karen smiled slightly and walked out of the office. Jan quickly sent an e-mail to the HR director extolling Karen’s virtues as an employee, casually referencing Dunder Mifflin’s abysmal track record at employing women and minorities in management positions. She thought it would do the trick. After all, she’d helped Jim run from Scranton when he needed to escape from love- why not help Karen, too? She wished she’d been as wise about her own heart.
Jan spent the rest of the afternoon wondering if Michael would stop by and pretending she didn’t want him to. She only left her office once, to grab some peanuts from the vending machine. It seemed like an appropriate snack.