There was not a lot she wanted from life. Something stable, preferably higher than minimum wage, not too far from the apartment she shared with two other roommates. Maybe room for promotion.
The Big Greaser was so not what she had in mind. Long hours on her feet, horrible managers, punching a time clock, obnoxious customers, and, needless to say, all the grease. Sure, there was free food...if you could call it food.
It wasn't that she hadn't tried for other jobs first. She'd worked in a mail room, a department store, and tried being a switchboard operator, but didn't care for the pace. She even got hired at a big trading firm, Jackson Steinem & Co., as a secretary…but she was laid off before she made it through the first year. They were 'reducing staff' and she hadn't made the cut because she only had a high school diploma. So it was the hamburg heaven for the time being.
She hadn't expected to be exactly nowhere at 25.
"If you want my advice," Mom said, "You'll pick up a class or two in Secretarial Services at CCNY."
"Great, Mom. And just when do I have time to do that?" And where do I get the money? she thought.
"Well, there are night classes."
Janine fixed Mom a glare over her plastic-rimmed glasses. "Mom, the Greaser is open until 11 p.m."
"I know that. You think I don't know that?” she grumbled. “Tell your manager you want the same night off every week; go to class on that night. This is not rocket science.”
"If it were rocket science, I might have a chance at a better job," Janine responded. It helped not a bit that she thought her mother was probably right.
It had taken some doing, but she found the clause in the Big Greaser Employee's Manual that addressed "Employee Development" and explained to her manager that taking the administrative courses would help her career at the chain. He didn't seem to buy it completely, but he didn’t have the clout to deny her request. Luckily, he also didn’t seem to care enough to take it up a level when she casually mentioned that she had the company policy on her side. Grudgingly, he arranged the schedule so she could take her classes.
The lessons weren't difficult, though finding time for the homework assignments could be a challenge. What no one told her was how hard it would be to find work once the course ended. There were columns upon columns of want-ads to pore over, endless resumes to print, cover letter after cover letter to type. It was almost as exhausting as the burger joint. When she did land an interview, she had to fit them in around her work schedule. She actually scored interviews at Trask Industries and three other companies around Whitehall and State Street, but heard nothing else until the rejection letters came weeks later. More than half the time, the manager interviewing her tried to make a pass at her. Which was flattering, maybe, but not a strong indication of a great work environment. Janine wanted to be taken seriously.
She had half made up her mind to accept the first offer that came along, no matter what it was for, even if it was with a dirty old man manager, when her eye fell on a small ad: "WANTED: Secretary for office in growing industry: paranormal pest removal. No experience necessary. Must be willing to answer phones, type invoices, and maintain files. Applicants MUST believe in ghosts!"
It was too weird to ignore. What did they mean saying that paranormal pest removal was a "growing industry"--she'd never even heard of it before. But the rest of it sounded fine. And if there was one thing that qualified her, it was that Janine did believe in ghosts.
Oh, she wasn't one of those meshuga girls who thought they'd been Cleopatra in a past life, or who claimed to have slept with an alien like you'd see in the Daily News. She'd never had an encounter, or been to see a medium, or held a seance. The closest brush with the supernatural that she could claim was a few slumber parties in her pre-teens, when she and her girlfriends played around with Ouija boards and tarot cards. She had felt goosepimples then, and a sense of something otherworldly in the room, but in all honestly, she thought, it was probably just the collective overactive imaginations of half a dozen 12-year-old girls all working on their psyches.
Nonetheless, she approached the question with what she viewed as perfect logic: It just stood to reason that there was more to the world than one single physical plane of existence.
So the ad had intrigued her, but something made her hold back from applying, at first. Maybe it was the idea of having to tell her mother that she worked for a pest removal company, paranormal or otherwise. Maybe it was the thought that anyone who claimed to do that for a living had to be scamming their clients. She even wondered if the business was some sort of front to launder illegal money from drugs or organized crime. She'd heard of stranger tales, businesses that had no hope of succeeding if they hadn't had a way to funnel in the money from something else. Mostly, the ad itself seemed a little underwhelming. Also, it hadn't mentioned anything about the pay. She moved on.
"Janine Melnitz?" the receptionist called.
"Yes!" Janine hastily rolled up her magazine and threw it into her portfolio. She clambered to her feet, juggling coat, hat, briefcase, and purse. One of her heels bent on the tile floor and she stumbled, regaining her footing quickly. "That's me, I'm here."
The receptionist smiled in that fake, uptown way. She was gorgeous, blonde, leggy--all the things Janine knew she wasn't. She hated her instantly, but made a mental note to remember the way the woman smiled. It simultaneously said, "We're glad you're here" and "You smell like last week's dog food, post dog."
"Mr. Ambrose will see you," the receptionist told her. She led her down a brightly lit hallway, heels clicking on the smooth linoleum until they hit a carpeted bullpen. Janine glanced down at the rows of secretaries, all typing swiftly on boxy, white computers. "We're an IBM firm; are you familiar with the operating system?" the woman asked. It was by way of small talk, but there was a challenge in the question, too.
"Oh, yes, of course," Janine lied. CCNY had been lucky to have three ancient mainframes. But she'd read somewhere that the IBMs were actually easier to use than DEC-10s. Again, she regarded the women in the bullpen with curiosity. One in three were wearing glasses, but they all seemed...glamorous. They were wearing skirts and tight-ish blouses. They had on pots of makeup. They all wore fixed stares, as if the noise and pace and attitude of the place were sucking the very air out of the atmosphere.
Janine wanted to turn on her heel and run for the exit. This place was nothing like the other large firm she'd worked at before. But, she had read in all her interview prep books that it's always best to go through the interview, even if you've already decided not to take the job. It would be good practice. So she walked alongside the pretty receptionist and half-listened and made responses that sounded reasonable.
Mr. Ambrose greeted her with a firm handshake. As they sat, Janine felt a draft prickle the back of her neck. "I'm sorry, before we start, would you mind turning your air conditioning down?" she asked.
He looked confused. "Our air's off, Miss Melnitz," he said. "But I can bump up the heat, if you like." He adjusted the thermostat and then came to his desk. "So, why do you want to work for Manhattan National Trust?"
Janine launched into her prepared research, but again, she felt a chill. Doing her best to ignore it, she sang the company's praises, and mentioned how useful it would be to work in a firm with strong corporate values and a clear career path. Ambrose's phone rang less than two minutes into her spiel.
"Do...you need to get that?" she asked.
He looked at the blinking line. "Actually, if you don't mind…?"
"No, not at all," she said with a shrug.
He picked up the receiver. As he talked to the caller, she craned her neck to get a better look around his office. It was small, with a single window overlooking another skyscraper. The October morning was grey and foggy, and it would probably rain before she got back to Queens. She was just wondering whether she ought to stop at Bonwit's on the way home--a coat she'd had her eye on was on sale this week--or just get back before it started to storm, when Mr. Ambrose's letter tray flipped over onto the floor.
"Oh! My goodness, here," Janine said, bending forward to pick up the tray and put the letters back in the box.
"Hold on," Mr. Ambrose said to his caller. "What the hell did you do that for?" he asked.
"I didn't!" Janine protested. "I wasn't touching anything. It just fell over."
"Hm. Must have been too close to the edge or something." He went back to his phone call.
Janine felt another blast of cold air at her back. She twisted around to see if maybe there was an air duct or something causing the intermittent draft. She could see a return high on the wall adjoining the next office, but there was a far more obvious source. Plain as day, a young woman stood behind her chair. No. Floated. She didn't have feet--her form seemed torn away in silvery shreds. Mr. Ambrose had an abstract sort of framed print on the wall, and the young woman tapped it with her fingers. It swung on the wire, see-sawing wildly from side to side on its hook.
"Hang on, hang on," Ambrose said again. "Hey!" he said irritably to the woman.
At least, Janine thought he was addressing the woman. "Do you see her too?" she asked softly.
"See who? Look, Miss Melnitz, if this is how you behave at an interview…."
"Her!" Janine pointed. "Right there!"
"I don't see--"
The young woman chose that moment to glide (yes, glide) over to Mr. Ambrose. She passed by him and swept her arms over the surface of his desk. Papers flew, the phone fell to the floor, framed photos tipped over.
"What the hell was that?" Janine asked.
"I could say the same to you, Miss Melnitz. You've got exactly five minutes to leave this building or I'm calling security."
Janine was only too happy to grab her things and head for the nearest exit.
So much for Manhattan National Trust. A couple of days later, she was not at all surprised to see a small piece in the Post that Mr. Reginald Ambrose died of a heart attack in his office. Whatever that apparition was, it did not have any love for the man. Janine considered herself lucky, in one sense, but in another, she was disappointed. That was the first real interview opportunity she'd had in weeks. She consoled herself by remembering how soulless the company was, and how sure she had been that she never, ever wanted to work in a box like that place.
She was flipping through the paper when she saw the ad again. "Secretary for office in growing industry: paranormal pest removal. No experience necessary. Applicants MUST believe in ghosts!"
This time, she applied.
Astonishingly, she got a phone call within two days of mailing her application. They must have called her the same day they received it.
The Ghostbusters headquarters was anything but a big box in a skyscraper. It was an abandoned fire house down on Moore Street, a couple blocks away from Canal near Pier 25. The building looked like it was about the fall down any moment. The interior was little better. Someone had furnished the huge, open chamber with old church pews and what looked like it might have been a courtroom barrier. The glassed office beyond had filing cabinets pushed up against its windows. A brass sliding pole near the middle of the room connected through an intentionally open hole to the second floor, but sadly, it was not the only hole in the ceiling.
"Hello?" she called, stepping over the raised doorframe.
A man stood up behind the windowed partition. "Yes?" he said, sauntering forward.
"I'm Janine Melnitz, I have an interview…?" She took in the man's rumpled shirt, his slack expression. "Are you the person I spoke to on the phone?" she continued doubtfully.
"Is that today?" he asked. "Oh! Yes. Miss Melnitz, of course. Yes. I'm Dr. Peter Venkman. Thanks so much for coming in."
He quickly seated her in the open area behind the wood counter. "So, uh, what experience do you have?" he asked.
"I've taken a course in secretarial services at CCNY and I had a 3.5 GPA in high school," Janine told him. Before she could get to her next sentence, he cut her off.
"Oh, I'm sorry…I meant experience with the paranormal."
"Are you asking me if I believe in ghosts?" Janine clarified.
"Yes, Janine, I am."
"Well, yes, Dr. Venkman, I do."
Dr. Venkman held her eye for a moment. She probably shouldn't have mimicked his tone, but he was so smarmy it was difficult not to hand it right back to him. But evidently, she passed some kind of test, because he said, "Good! Excellent, that's a requirement here, you see, because we'll be getting all types among our clientele. And as a paranormal psychologist, I can assure you that ghosts are real."
"You said you 'will be getting'?" Janine asked.
"So...how many clients have you already helped?"
"Uh, well, business has got off to a bit of a slow start, but it'll pick up. We're working on a TV spot."
"Let me get this straight. You're a paranormal psychologist and you get rid of ghosts for people. What do you do, you...you talk to them, resolve their problems so they'll move on to wherever they're supposed to go?"
"Uh...not exactly. We aren't psychologists for paranormal creatures. Our plan is to trap them."
"Yes. My colleagues, Dr. Stantz and Dr. Spengler, are designing a state-of-the-art containment system. By the way, I thought I was supposed to be asking the questions."
"What was your personal experience with a ghost?"
She told him about the incident at the other job interview. His only reaction was, "Do you think they'd hire us to come get the thing?"
"I have no idea but I'm not here to give you a business referral. I came here to interview for a job. Don't you have any questions about my skills?"
"Oh. Sure. Uh… Well, how many words per minute do you type?"
"Sixty-five. How many other applicants have you had for this position, Dr. Venkman?"
He blinked. "What, including you?"
"Well, uh… there's… you. And, uh...well, we did interview someone last week, I think."
"Two. You've had two applicants. Your ad's been in the paper for over three weeks."
"Yeah. Well, in our defense, we had other interviews scheduled but--" he leaned forward--"Can I be honest with you? Janine?"
Janine was about two seconds from picking up her bag and walking out. She knew in the first thirty seconds of the interview that he did not find her attractive, but here he was, hitting on her anyway. "I don't know, can you?" she asked. She was breaking every rule, she knew, but this Venkman was really getting on her nerves.
"Well, Janine...you're only the second person who's actually shown up."
"Probably because they took one look at this place and figured it had to be a joke."
He smiled. "You know what? I like you."
"Well, that's nice. Look, I think you've got an interesting opportunity here, but, may I say something?"
"This whole...outfit...well, it certainly doesn't look professional."
"That's just what I've been saying!" Venkman agrees. "I think we need someone to help us put a professional face on our product. You'd be the first voice they hear on the phone."
Janine was about to open her mouth to say no, no way in Hell would she be connecting a used car salesman like Venkman to unsuspecting New Yorkers, when the door opened. Two other men walked in.
"Oh, hey, guys! Come meet Janine, uh…"
"Right, Janine Melnitz. Janine this is Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler, my partners."
Janine sized them up. They were both tall, but the smoker didn't interest her much at all. The dark-haired, bespectacled one, on the other hand….
She had always considered herself a feminist. She didn't need anyone, least of all a man, to feel whole or fulfilled or even pretty. She was not seeking an M. R. S. degree, as her mother would have put it.
But one look at Dr. Spengler's chocolate brown eyes, and she felt like she was drowning. It was stupid, it was storybook, it was hopeless, and worst of all, it was stereotypical. But it was the most powerful attraction she'd felt in a long time. And that included Tommy Greenberg, the second boy who'd asked her to prom.
"I'll take the job," she heard herself saying. Wait--what? Take the job? They hadn't talked about hours, support, systems, or even pay!
"Oh, excellent," Dr. Spengler said. "Could you start right away? We really need our cue cards typed."
"Of course," Janine said. She still didn't trust this Venkman character, but the other two seemed sincere enough. Dr. Spengler in particular struck her as highly competent. And they needed someone. It wasn't all the things she wanted--it wasn't stable, it probably didn't pay much, and it was way further downtown than her apartment. Well, one couldn't have everything. It was obviously not a front for drug money. No one trying to filter illegal money would put it into a dump like the old firehouse. As for room to grow, it was about as "ground-floor" as a company could get. But that didn't matter. She knew ghosts were real, so even if they had no clients yet, it had to be only a matter of time. Once calls started to roll in, and she was confident that sooner or later, they would, this place would be infinitely more interesting than a greasy burger joint.