Monday, December 25, 2006

the devil and the dog

I received as a gift on Christmas Eve, "The Devil Wears Prada". I shamelessly begged for it. I usually, bashfully, refuse to answer the "what do you want this year?" question, but this year...not so much.

Aside from the sweeping and beautiful New York City shots, the kind of fashion/crafty dialogue reminiscent of Sex & the City and a deliciously devilish Meryl Streep in silver hair - there was something else that made me love that movie.

At my previous job, I worked for the devil. Willingly, but still... I did whatever she wanted, appeared when she beckoned, watched as she talked down to my mother one afternoon when she dropped me off from work - my car in the shop. I came in at seven in the morning and shuffled out the door at midnight. I nodded and obeyed, telling myself that I was a hard worker and forcing the phrase "kiss ass" out of my head - a hard thing to do - as so many were calling me just that.

When she said I had to fire a couple of employees...I took it on as an experience I'd be thankful for later. But in her eyes I could see the look of a woman who just tossed some fresh meat to a pack of wild, prehistoric wolves.

"Make it quick," said Ms. Human Resources. "No emotion. No questions." I fired them both in under two minutes. One just after her husband had died, the other a few weeks before Christmas.

Every year the furniture industry flocks to High Point, North Carolina for the annual Furniture Market. Working for a furniture e-tailer, we lowly sales-people and supervisors gathered around the catalogues and rep photos our president and ultimate boss would cart back with her. New lines of sofas and chairs and dining room tables that would soon find their way on the site.

I was more interested in finding out just how these furniture people partied. According to the devil - every Market was a big deal. All key players in the industry spend an obscene amount of money on showrooms catered with the finest foods, gifts for buyers, big fancy dinners etc. etc. etc. When we landed in North Carolina, the scenery was beautiful. When we turned the corner of what was the center of High Point - the scene was chaotic. People stood on corners passing out free copies of Domino Magazine and fliers and brochures. It was literally like a million people all on one road. I couldn't take the thing seriously. It wasn't like we were shaking hands with the craftsmen, whose hands would have been rough around the edges from hours of painstakingly arching those occasional chair seat backs. We were shaking hands fitted with gold rings of the sales people who were paid healthy for little work.

And we were escorting a Food Network star. I will say that it wasn't a male and it wasn't Paula, Rachael or Giada. But she wasn't exactly a treat. She was trapped in her own, two-bit cable TV stardom. She practically said so, over and over again to countless furniture people who didn't know the Food Network from MTV. I didn't even care about furniture and it was embarrassing. We sat in secluded conference rooms at the back of fancy showrooms to discuss endorsements and it was a thirty minute commercial for her show.

Her publicist/agent/rep was about as clueless as she was. Perhaps it was all the botox. Neither had noticed she left her "thousand dollar" coat at our first stop, six hours prior. I'd held my bladder for as long as I could and begged the devil for a minute. I'd been at her side all day, her ankle wrapped in gauze due to a fracture. They were supposed to stay where they were. Long story short - they didn't. I was completely lost, with no cell signal. When I got to the lobby, she reached me by cell and said she was on the top floor. "Food Network Star has forgotten her coat. Wait outside for it, Jim is going to drop it off." Jim never showed up. I went up to the top floor - and she was in the lobby. "Where are you!?" she said.

With my feet aching and my legs tired, I emerged from the lobby and the front door into 4o mph NC winds. The devil propped herself up against the front wall, giving her ankle a break, smoking a cigarette and yammering into her cell phone. The publicist paced back and forth tapping into his palm pilot. The star was nowhere to be found.

But there on the street, an arm held out a black, floor length coat. Due to all the chaos, traffic was being directed by police. If it was moving - it wasn't stopping. The arm and the coat were moving. The devil swung her head around and caught my eye. She pointed angrily and I was off...a dead run past busy shoppers and buyers and people and children and elderly and as quickly as possible - I snatched that damn coat from the greasy sales rep guy and returned it to its rightful owner.

It wasn't just that I ran. It was that I ran for a two-bit TV star. Some woman who carried her Louis Vitton in the bend of her elbow and popped Altoids into her mouth with manicured nails. And that it wasn't her creepy botox filled publicist guy who was doing the running. And that I was completely unimpressed by her and that she should have hoofed it up the street to get her own damn coat.

"Did you see that?!" exclaimed Botox Publicist Guy. "Damn, that was like a quick moving, kind of, retriever dog or something." For four months creepy publicist guy would call into the office and refer to me as "Robbie the Retriever".

I knew then, that even in terms of a career - integrity is not negotiable.

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