Freelance

Back again years later. Same place, physically. Different every other way wise. Lenny and I, we stand out of place. In that environment, where the exposed, scorched and shellacked oak beams thrust up the ceiling, in which success and youth and vigor thrum through the room, in that world, our unease is taken as aloofness, our silence as self-confidence. Expected cool from the geek boys in the information technology department, people guessed. Uncool people are not hired, therefore, they must not be uncool. Lenny and I pick out Camille and Alice, new media planners, young, fresh out of school, a contradictory-looking pair, one blond and petite, the other dark and curvy, matched like Bond girls. These two, we bring champagne: they still fight the battle against celebration cake, so decline, refuse the sweets. Ten minutes later Tony from Brooklyn, hairy like velcro, has them in a corner giggling. Lenny and I are technically on break and start in on the second case of champagne. Celebration of ten years, everyone says, though seems more like celebration of the first two creative, wacked years, and then eight years of inertia. When they would roll a martini cart around on Fridays, desk to desk. When they would plant mildly obscene tidbits about themselves in the gossip columns. When all the magazine covers lining the halls were shot. You may have heard about those times. The agency grew larger, it became less common to meet or socialize with Dick and Joe. In the old days, you might find yourself in bars, talking with them in the corner for hours, discussing all things. There was nothing to it. There was no ass-kissing involved, no real danger of having the conversation taken away from you. It was hard, in fact, for new employees to get a handle on this, that their working lives did not have to be consumed by endless rounds of self-promotion. Now, seemingly bored, resentful of success, Dick and Joe wander from person to person in a festive room, like ghosts, hunting. Hard from a day of handling phone calls—which amounts to putting off all of their attendant business until later—Joe hands drinks around like a highly-paid waiter, bestowing raised-eye smiles and drinks on surprised recipients, but no conversation. Dick glides from group to group, an assembly line of thought, hands clasped behind back, starting at one end of the room with a premise and ending up at the other with a conclusion. A broadcast email message is sure to follow.     The knack of advertising agencies to hire beautiful women and attractive women and at the same time competent and intimidating and with closets full of black and grey and clothed just about ten minutes newer than anything in the magazines women cannot be exaggerated. It’d be possible to file a class-action suit on behalf of ugly women everywhere claiming that only beautiful women (and also a fair number of tall, sharp-featured, slim men, like Tony) are hired in the business. Young, too, and stylish. Lenny said if everyone who wore a trim black leather jacket to work or had on black chunky boots were forced to leave the room, that’d leave him and me and the last case of champagne. His parents call him Lenny. His friends call him Lenny. Everyone here calls him Lenn. Two N’s, no Y. And it works both ways, the attraction: some of us in the department have fan clubs, groups of women who call only their particular man and want only his attention. In the department, seven guys and one female temp, there are idle spats over who gets to help certain desirables. It makes for office couples. On a certain day, in pursuit of certainty, Carl forwards all department phones to his line to guarantee a certain call would cross his desk. He answers 223 calls in three hours. Carl and Meliza start with a mail merge and end up on holiday together in Iceland. Come back married. They slip off that first night for mad sheet sessions and both arrive at work the next day looking flushed and clever. Two weeks later he’s broke and she’s getting physical therapy for dragging around a monstrous diamond. Or maybe from too much time in the bedroom, I don’t know, and it’s none of my business.

Posted January 12, 2000

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