Many people ask us what it's like working for the Big Empire. Most people say, "Wow, I bet that's fun." Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. The fun part is making our readers laugh. The lousy part is living on subsistence wages under the constant fear of being fired.

We don't really know how much money Randy has, but judging from the amount of gold-plating on his 1988 Cadillac Eldorado it must be a lot. He tells us that he earned his money in real estate, but he doesn't say much more than that. And he gets a lot of mail sent to the office addressed only to "#13808."

In 1995, Randy was inspired by an article about Internet commerce he read in the "Thrifty Nickel" and he decided to start a web site specifically designed to make money. First, I was hired because I lived next door to Randy and he knew I had a computer, which meant lower start-up costs. Out of boredom and spite, I brought in my friend Mark. And when I married my mail order bride Amy, Randy said I would be fired if she didn't come to work for him and add a feminine touch to the site. After all, Randy said, "women are notorious for buying stuff."

The Big Empire has never made a profit, according to Randy's accountant, but we're getting closer. Randy just says we need to keep a closer eye on expenses.

Our office "complex" is nowhere near as glamorous as you probably think. In fact, it's a dump. Of course, Randy perpetuates the myth by calling out two dank rooms above a diesel mechanic shop the "complex." Often, we're asked exactly where the Big Empire offices are.

In the failed prospectus Randy sent to investors when he wanted to go public he called us "the International Leader in Online Stuff You Should Buy." Actually, the only reason for the International part was because our one-night-a-week janitor Giancarlo is from Italy, but he only stays on because Randy threatens to have him deported. Other than that, we only get as international as the red burritos Randy sometimes buys himself at the Taco Bell.

The offices were once a two-bedroom apartment. Randy's brother Shane, the brains of his family, is an aspiring independent contractor, and he converted the apartments into office space. Considering it was his first job ever, he did pretty well. If you ever visit, don't lean against the western wall. Because it is an old building, much of today's standards for sound insulation and toxic fume abatement do not apply. That's not as bad as it sounds, though. I think that in the four years I have been with Randy I have only passed out from diesel exhaust inhalation three times. And, Randy has gotten us a frequent visitor discount at the medical clinic down the street, so it doesn't cost us much to get better and get back to work.

There are a lot of great reasons to work in our office:
1. The workspace is mostly carpeted; we have windows.
2. Randy only charges a dime per page for personal copies on his photocopier, and a nickel per page for work-related copies.
3. The Texaco next door just fixed its coffee vending machine.
4. We get the rum balls Mrs. Shandis thought were too ugly for her friends as our Christmas bonuses.

A day at the Big Empire office begins early. The three full-time employees, Mark, Amy and I, usually race each other to the office. We all hope we're not the last one there because there are only three chairs, and one of them has a sharp piece of metal in that back that stabs its occupant. After we have all arrived, we play a quick game of Ro-Sham-Bo to see who gets to tape today's "Dilbert" and "Mary Worth" to the office fridge. Well, actually, it's a coke vending machine and not a normal refrigerator. But, we have figured out a way to cram our lunches up the delivery chute and they keep pretty cold.

By eight a.m., we are all hunched over our computers, quietly working away under the inspirational sayings our boss posted on the walls. I have "How Can You Soar With Eagles If You Should Be Making Randy Money?" Mark has "There's no I in Team, but There's a U in Slum." Amy got "What Part of Randy Don't You Understand?"

Randy leaves us each a demanding "to-do" list every night and if we don't complete the tasks, we get fired, just like Joey and Althea did. Today, my list from Randy included sending an irate e-mail in his name to the Post telling them to stop throwing his damn paper in his bushes, developing fourteen new pages of Vegas content, updating our budget spreadsheet and cleaning up the "mistake" in his bathroom, among other items. I was lucky, Amy was directed to bathe Randy's cat, Billion Dollar Baby.

On the days that Randy comes to work, he arrives in the early afternoon. If Mrs. Shandis calls earlier than that we are directed to tell her that Randy is having "stomach problems" again and is in his john. When he is at the office, he locks himself in one room and we are stuck in the other. I'm not sure what he does in there, but I do know it involves a lot of yelling into the phone. He also holds office meetings, where he sits in a chair and we have to sit on the floor. Here is what Randy says to us, "I am disappointed in you. Who cut one?"

My favorite day of work ever was the time we peeked in his desk and found a pack of adult diapers. We each put on a pair and ran around the office, pretending we were him, shouting "I'm Randy Shandis, blah, blah, blah" while wetting ourselves. That was a good day. My second favorite was when Randy won $500 on a lottery scratcher. He took us to the lunch buffet at the Happy Teapot Chinese restaurant and let us eat all we wanted. That day was bittersweet, though, because he then made us eat more than we wanted.

Normally, we get a half-hour for lunch. We usually eat at our desks and search the web for sites to steal ideas from, and we test each other with Star Trek trivia. None of us watch Star Trek, so we mostly get those wrong.

The actual maintenance and creation of pages for the Big Empire takes each of us less than six hours a day. That's good because we are also required to log six hours cold-calling senior citizens from the town senior directory and informing them that they have won lottery prizes, but cannot have any more information until they pay us a $99 processing fee.

Around nine p.m., as the lights fade over our little city, Mark, Amy and I lock up the office, walk out to catch the 52 bus and go home. We load up on Ramen noodles and Pabst Blue Ribbon and fall asleep to visions of Randy running roughshod over our lives. Tomorrow will be another day in the Big Empire.

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