I've had a lot of crap jobs. I delivered auto parts, I worked at the Gap in the Short Hills mall (while rocking a mohawk!), I was an editor at High Times and spent three years following heroin addicts around. But no job came close to being as humiliating and all around demoralizing as my brief stint as a factchecker at Allure Magazine.
Let me set the scene. . . I was working at my heroin job, when my partner and I got a development deal with MTV. It seemed like a go. We hired an entertainment lawyer, we had a contract, we got paid. . . I was so on my way to becoming a TV mogul. So I did what any sensible person would do and quit my day job. I'm not sorry about that because hanging out with and observing heroin addicts 24/7 gets to be a little depressing after three years. It was time to go. But until my TV ship came in, I needed something to pay the rent. So a friend of a friend hired me to fact check at Allure.
Obviously, this was not an intellectually taxing job. Calling Revlon and ascertaining whether their new line of lipstics is called "Shiniest Reds" or "World's Shiniest Reds" is not brain surgery. But working at Condé Nast was worse than I could've ever dreamed. For one thing, all the women there are a size four or smaller. I am not. They're also hyper-well-groomed and wore makeup every day. Again, not me. As you might well imagine, there were other issues as well. So to keep my sanity, I started sending out daily email missives to my friends:
Subject: Another Condé Nast Feel-Good Moment
Date: Thurs, Dec 9, 1999
Today makes TWO Condé Nast editors who told me I smelled good. I believe today’s compliment—now I’m guessing here, but I think I’m getting it down—came from a Glamour editor—she wasn’t tall or emaciated enough to be a Vogue girl. Plus, she was pleasant. I was waiting for the elevator on the 22nd floor, after purchasing a yummy veggie wrap (mmm) and a Seagram’s Seltzer from the temporary cafeteria, when this nice young woman told me I smelled like Hawaii. Her woefully undertrained nose thought she detected gardenia (ha—it’s tuberose!). I am fitting in around here like a key in a well-oiled lock.
Subject: Today’s Eavesdropped Condé Nast Moment
Date: Fri, Dec 10, 1999, 10:22 AM
Overheard over the cubicle wall (so I don’t know who said it):
“Is the term ‘Jungle Bunny’ considered derogatory?”
Subject: A Festive Condé Nast Moment
Date: Thurs, Dec 16, 1999, 1:17 PM
Well last night was the big Allure Xmas bash at the fabulous Lot 61 that I’ve read so much about in the gossip pages. I have to tell you I was a little nervous, but mostly just terribly excited, as I touched up my lipstick (“Diva” by MAC, natch) and got ready to board the bus that would transport us to holiday Nirvana.
I sat with my supervisor Eileen (she’s going on vacation next week, but I’m not going to take advantage of that and I promise to be the same busy bee hard worker I always am—not one fact will go unchecked). The bus was an olfactory sensation—these gals (who I’m proud to call co-workers!) sure know how to pick the colognes and scented whatnots. As we cruised down the newly rejuvenated 42nd Street (so glad those nasty sex shops are gone!), I tried to absorb the beauty wisdom that surrounded me. I just knew tonite would be the night where I cemented existing friendships and made many, MANY, more.
I was practically trembling with delight as the bus pulled up in front of Lot 61—the only bad part was that the bar was closed to the public, so Kate and Gisele (our Feb cover gal!) and all their model pals wouldn’t be there. A potential source of new best friends lost, but I recovered quickly.
Eileen and I took a seat at the bar and waited for the fun to begin. The second disappointment of the evening was Lot 61’s overly tasteful take on holiday decorating. Nary a red or green light in sight. Oh well. The foxy bar staff —who looked as though they might perform as a boy band on their off hours—were attentive and quick with the drinks. (Strangely, they seemed to be quicker to pour my cocktails than my cuter and better-dressed Allure counterparts who apparently hadn’t been hipped to the whole tipping thing that the service professionals enjoy so much. I may send out an informational e-mail before next year's bash.)
One of the first things I noticed after starting at Allure, was that everyone always comments on everyone else’s appearance. So in the bathroom I told an associate editor that I liked her shoes. (I did actually like them, but I only said so in a desperate bid to fit in.) It worked like a charm and she smiled at me. Score!
The second thing I noticed after starting at Allure was the art director. He has a shaved head, usually wears a leather jacket and on occasion, sunglasses—even indoors. He always looks like he’s in a bad mood—I even heard him yell at someone once. As much as I try to repress the old, cranky pre-Allure me, this guy brings it out. I was immediately the smitten kitten. Meow!
Well, tonite he just walked up to me at the party and introduced himself by asking if I would go talk to Linda, the editor-in-chief with him—he didn’t want to go talk to her by himself! I was in heaven—we’d never even been formally introduced and already he was already fucking with me! I’m in love! I told him that under no circumstances would I do such a thing and we had a funny talk. (Unfortunately, now he smiles when he walks by my cubicle—which is nice, but frankly, I miss the scowl.)
Anyway, he eventually escaped my world and the party went on. As I sipped my Stoli and cranberry and munched on a variety of tiny snacks (Japanese eggplant and mozzarella, veggie samosas, and bruschetta—yummy!), I looked around the room for more new friends to make. Luckily the pressure lessened as a wide-eyed woman in a blunt cut ran over and seized my hand in a firm and friendly handshake.
“Hello, I’m Erika Bartman—I’m the publisher of Allure!” she announced brightly.
I was so bowled over with emotion (star-struck, I confess!) that my voice shook as I told her my name. She kindly told me that she was embarrassed to say that she didn’t know what exactly I did for the magazine. My head bowed as I informed her that I was merely a lowly fact-checker and there was absolutely no reason that someone of her stature would know who I was.
“Nonsense!” she barked. “Fact-checkers are very important to the magazine. What story did you work on this month?”
It was at this moment that my mind went completely blank. “Uh, the Kevyn Aucoin piece,” I finally managed to stammer. (To those out of the lipstick loop, Kevyn was an internationally famous makeup artist who has since passed on to the salon in the sky.)
“Kevyn’s great. Have you seen him?” she asked.
Seen him? I wasn’t sure what she meant and the pressure of talking to the premiere power broker was getting the better of me. I was suddenly overcome and for some inexplicable reason decided that now would be the time to break out my fake hillbilly accent. “Only on the tee-vee!” I guffawed a little too loudly.
She looked confused and slightly alarmed at this turn in conversational tone and quickly fled.
That blunder aside, there were many more tiny triumphs last night, but I’ll spare you. Let’s just say that there are a lot of warm smiles going ’round the office today and I can FEEL the LOVE that’s out there. Long live Allure!
Subject: Today’s Devastating Condé Nast Moment
Sent: Fri, Dec 17, 1999 11:53 AM
Remember Erica Bartman? The Publisher of Allure who was so effusive in her hellos and handshakes at the Christmas party??? Well today she walked by my cubicle twice (and it’s not even NOON!) and both times looked right THROUGH me! Like I don’t even exist! I’ve been snubbed! My calves are black and blue from kicking myself with my new knock-off Prada pumps. Why did I use the hillbilly accent? I should’ve gone with my fake French accent! Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Overheard elevator conversation of the day:
(Spoken by a blonde woman wearing an alarming amount of orangeish foundation—obviously not an Allure reader or she would know that we are all about conservative use of concealer, not full facial foundation, duh.)
“My millenium plans—etched in stone,” she assured her equally blonde friend. “The Doral with the parents—do the Golf Thing, then Austria with Bill—do the Austria Thing.”
Her friend nodded knowingly, but I’m stymied as to what the “Austria Thing” might be and whether or not it involves a special outfit and/or trying to wipe out an entire race. If anyone out there has any idea, please inform, as my brain is a little over-taxed from all the important facts I’ve been checking.
Subject: Today’s Small-But-Still-Important Conde Nast Moment
Sent: Mon, 20 Dec 1999 10:07 AM
Linda Wells (Editor-in-Chief, Allure Magazine!) shot me a brief, but very warm smile as she hurried past my cubicle this AM! The snuggly feeling I’m now enjoying (gracias, Linda—I’m proud to call you “friend!”) is sure to keep me toasty through the entire holiday season!
Subject: Today’s Pensive Conde Nast Moment
Sent: Thu, Dec 23, 1999, 11:50 AM
First, I would like to apologize for being so lax about sending out my updates of late. I have been in a bit of a state due to a minor career setback (MTV decided not to renew my development deal). Obviously I should have known better than to look outside of Allure for professional fulfillment. Rest assured, I will NOT be doing that again.
Confession time: It is with great trepidation that I approach this holiday weekend. True, I’ve only been part of the Condé Nast Empire for three short weeks, but in many ways it seems like I’ve been here forever. The friends I’ve made, the camaraderie we enjoy . . . . and now I’m facing three and a half days without it all! I’m not ashamed to say that I feel a little lost. Sure, I’ve got friends and family outside of my Allure familia, but it’s not the same. For one thing (no offense), none of the “old crew” are half as well groomed. For another, you guys aren’t nearly as fashion forward as these madcap gals up here at the “Big A,” as we in the know sometimes refer to our home away from home. . . .
It’s only Santa’s impending arrival that keeps the tears from a-flowing down my face (well, that and the fact that there is NO WAY IN HELL I am going to ruin a perfectly flawless face of makeup). Anyway, my dear friends, I bid you adieu—til next week. Have a festive and happy holiday—don’t forget to moisturize, exfoliate and—if you’re gonna binge, don’t forget to purge. As a wise man once told me, you can never be too thin or too festive.
Subject: Today’s Slow Conde Nast Moment
Date: Tue Dec 28 1999, 1:00 PM
Unfortunately, things are a little slow around the office, what with the holidays and all . . . Most of the gals are somewhere fab like Telluride or Paris, so only a skeleton crew remains. One good thing about having only a skeleton crew is that I know that there’ll be plenty of yummy low-cal wraps to choose from in the temporary cafeteria.
Subject: A Frenzied Conde Nast Moment
Date: Jan 5, 2000 11:30 AM
Happy New Years!
Well the office is abuzz with busy little beauty bees tap, tap, tapping away on their keyboards, just so the world won’t be without important cosmetics, fitness, and fashion facts in the new milennium.
Yes, the gals are all back and it’s GREAT to see them. I’ve noticed quite a few tans and one of my favorite assistant editors (I won’t name names, but I’m positive she’s going to be SUPER important one day because she won’t ever talk to me unless she DESPERATELY needs something and there’s absolutely NOBODY else around) has taken to wearing a scholarly specs. This combined with her ever-present, dog-eared copy of Nelson DeMille’s latest has combined to turn her into a package that is not only pretty on the outside, but surely very clever on the inside.
Subject: A Blasphemous Conde Nast Moment
Date: Thu, 06, Jan 2000 09:06:28 PST
Okay, perhaps I’m taking my foray into the world of beauty products a little too seriously (my now some-might-call-excessive selection of haircare products, eye shadows, concealers and various cosmetic application devices has finally exceeded the shelf space in my apartment and has neccessitated the rental of a small storage locker just to hold the not-quite-essentials), but this website really made me see red.
In a nutshell, what this person (liar!) is saying is that lip balm is not only NOT necessary, but that it’s addictive and wrong! All the gals ‘round the office rely on balm (especially Kiehl’s #1 Lip Balm) to keep their kissers kissably soft. This is an outrage. I’m in such a state I may commit the ultimate Condé No-No and take a hit off that bottle of Goldschlager in the bottom drawer! Big-Balmed Kisses to all!
Subject: A Star-Studded Conde Nast Moment
Date: Fri, Jan 7 2000 3:53 PM
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a mere fact-checking gig—even if it is with the finest cosmetics mag in the biz (Allure, duh!)—would lead me to rub elbows with one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
As I was dutifully checking super-important facts for an article on celebrity beauty secrets, I came across the phone number of one of my screen faves (and I’m sure one of yours), Susan Sarandon. Now I don’t really know how she puts up with that smug bastard Tim Robbins, but she’s a GODDESS!!! So I innocently call the number I was given so I could check the spelling of her pilates instructor’s name (Mac Chambers, fyi). At first I get a machine and then as I go into my spiel, the phone picks up. I’d recognize that Academy-Award winning voice anywhere! The same voice that brought me to tears in Stepmom is now spelling out the name of her fitness guru! Kill me now, because I can go out with a grin!
Subject: An Absentee Conde Nast Moment
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2000 11:00 AM
I am so afraid. As my time here grows short, the old me is creeping back into my psyche.
Last night I dreamt that my hair was a mess and my hair stylist (I think it was Garren, of Garren New York, hairdresser to Amber and Shalom) told me that I had product buildup and that nothing could be done with my hair until I gave it a thorough scrubbing. I informed him that we could get rid of the greasies by simply soaking a cotton ball in perfume and dabbing it along my part. I awoke shaking because I have obviously retained this and other knowledge. I KNOW that you're supposed to apply a new coat of topcoat every day after a manicure. I KNOW that eyebrows are most important because they frame the face. I KNOW that lips need to be exfoliated (along with every other part of your body). I am fully aware that green and purple concealers don't work and every skin tone looks good in yellowish concealer. (Speaking of concealers, nobody wears a full face of foundation anymore—so nineties).
I am afraid. What will I do when I leave here? Where will I go? How will I know what the new spring colors are? Will this knowledge leave me? I am so troubled that I called in sick today.
Subject: A Politically Correct Conde Nast Moment
Date: Tues Jan 11 2000 03:22 AM
It has just come to my attention that the nice folks here at Condé Nast have given us Martin Luther King day off! My eyes brim with tears when I think of how proud the slain civil rights leader would’ve been had he been able to hear this news. True, the only Black people who work here (André Leon Talley aside) seem to be relegated to the mail room, the reception desk, and the maintenance crew—but hey, Condé Nast is TRYING! And that sure counts for something!
We here at Allure SHALL overcome (ingrown hairs, unsightly blemishes, and cottage cheese thighs, that is)!
Subject: A Sensitive Conde nast Moment
Date: Wed Jan 12 2000 12:10 PM
Overheard on the elevator:
(The speakee was a young man dressed in one of those jackets designed for wearing while performing extreme sporting type activities in sub-zero conditions.)
“Okay, so you’re homeless—why the hell don’t you just move to Florida? It’s too cold in New York to be outside all the time.”
With insightful problem-solvers like this on the payroll, it’s no wonder that Si & Co can afford such a spiffy new office building. Can’t wait til that new cafeteria opens! (If you’re starving, why not just eat a yummy wrap?)
Subject: A Catch-Up Conde Nast Moment
Date: Fri, Jan 15, 2000 4:40 PM
I’ve been getting some complaints about slacking off as far as my output of special moments goes, so I’m going to get you all up to speed.
My partner in fact-finding, Jeffrey, and I have named today “Dum Dum Friday” because neither of the girls who normally sport those non-prescription, don’t-I-look-smart eyeglasses are wearing them today.
Just came from a meeting with an editor who has a mirror attached to the side of her computer monitor! I guess it comes as no surprise that there’s never a hair outta place on this gal! Now I know why. The thing is, this mirror looks as though it were specially manufactured to go there. I’ve never heard of such a thing, but I’m impressed.
FYI, only four-and-a-half more days to convince the art director to fall madly in love with me. I’m wearing my special red patent leather shoes AND a push-up bra, but so far he’s proved immune to my charms. If anyone has any suggestions, please advise. Time is running short!
Subject: A Warm & Fuzzy Conde Nast Moment
Date: Tues Jan 18, 2000 2:41 PM
Yes, it’s about four degrees outside, but according to the Alluring (get it!) Linda Wells, this winter is all about bare legs. That’s right. You heard me correctly. If you’re truly cool (chilly, really), you do NOT wear stockings, no matter what the wind chill factor is. Linda has been going bare-legged, her feet stuffed daintily into a pair of Manolos this entire season! This fashion revelation was so startling that yesterday’s NY Post devoted two pages to the phenom! Of course, Linda points out that the implication is that only the fabulously wealthy can “afford” to go hose-less. It’d be pure folly to go sans stockings if you actually had to walk (ewww!) anywhere, or worse, (double ewwww!) ride the subway. Rumor has it that during a recent storm she had the Managing Editor come down to her town car parked out front, wrap her in a Louis Vuitton tarp and then throw her over his shoulder (Bend from the knees, Andrew!!), so she didn’t have to negotiate the puddles in the four feet of pavement between car and Condé.
In other warmth-related news, I am proud to report that my fabulous new rose pashmina has garnered more than its fair share of compliments from the gals in the fashion department. My co-worker Jeffrey reported mumblings of “one of us,” from certain corners. I could not be prouder!
With only three days and less than one hour left in my tenure here, I am saddened to note that the art director is still NOT in love with me. In fact, he’s barely acknowledging my existence. But being the spunky gal I’ve become in these past seven weeks, I am not tossing in the towel til 5:30 PM Friday.
Subject: A Contemplative Conde Nast Moment
Date: Wed, Jan 19, 2000, 03:18 PM
As I wind down my tenure here at Conde Nast, I’m finding time to reflect on all I’ve learned. . . . ah, it’s too much. . . too deep, really, to communicate via e-mail, so I’ll just share a couple items:
After Monday's triumphant two-page spread in the Post, Linda Wells (editor-in-chief who declared she would go bare-legged all winter no matter how low the temperature dropped) came into the office today sporting a pair of black opaque stockings! I was shocked! I wonder if it’s that sarcastic bitch Maureen Dowd’s snarky piece in the Times today that made her renege. Or is it simply that once fashion reaches the masses (and what readership is more mass-like than the Post’s?) it’s no longer fashionable. Unfortunately Linda studiously avoided meeting my eye during our brief elevator ride yesterday, so I don’t think she’ll be open to my queries.
I’ll leave you with one last little tidbit of overhead elevator conversation:
“Sometimes it's okay to splurge on yummies!”
(I'm gonna miss this place.)
Subject: An Irritating Conde Nast Moment
Date: Thu, Jan 20, 2000, 04:26 PM
This afternoon—I’ll admit it—I got a little teary as I surveyed my surroundings and mentally started saying my goodbyes. To keep from getting all worked up into (yet another) hysterical crying jag, I decided to take a bracing little walk to pick up my paycheck. (Hell, I’d do it for free, but if they’re willing to PAY me for the pleasure, who am I to turn it down?) So I pick up our checks (thanks, CareerBlazers!), stop at the bank, and grab some soup at the Hale & Hearty (yum yum!). So I’m walking back to work when I see a familiar face strolling up 42nd Street towards me. It’s the curiously monickered assistant editor, Freds Snackerby*. (I say curiously because although there are no visible signs of a Siamese or vestigial twin, there must've been some good reason for his parents to name him a plural.)
So as I paste a smile on and raise a hand in greeting, I notice that Freds is looking right through me! My smile goes unnoticed, my “hello” goes unanswered! SNUBBED!!! It’s as though I don’t even exist! I notice a piece of the old me emerging as I start to raise my hand for a slap this boy will never forget. I quickly stifle the urge and my open palm falls to my side. Instead I decide to feel really bad about myself. Aaah, all is right in the world.
*name changed to protect the snippy
Fri, 21 Jan 2000 17:19:01 -0500
Subject: A Final (Sob) Conde Nast Moment
As I sit at my freshly organized desk at five minutes to five, I feel like a big door is closing behind me. Only 35 more minutes and I will no longer be an Allurite. . . . aah, what a trip it’s been. Why just today, two of the beauty editors called me into their office for advice on their book proposal (which will no doubt garner them a guest spot on "Good Day New York" and maybe even Regis). I feel certain that the combination of the pink pashmina earlier in the week and the fact that I haven’t eaten solid food in two weeks in a desperate attempt to move out of the double-digits, size-wise, have made them desperate to befriend me. But alas, it’s too late. I’m outta here.
Even though it’s beyond frigid outside, editor-in-chief Linda Wells is back to her bare-legged self, so I don’t feel quite so moronic for wearing a skirt the size of a postage stamp in a vain attempt to lure the curiously still-immune art director to my side (of course she has a car and driver to take her home, I’ve got only my stubby little legs to rely on). Then I notice that my tights are the kind with the really long suck-you-in panty which ends inches below the bottom of my skirt. Why couldn’t I have spotted that this morning?
Andrew (the Managing Editor) is acting all pissy towards traitorous me, but his barbs are intended only to hide his tears. That man is gonna miss me! Be brave, little soldier—be brave!
My co-fact-finder Jeffrey Dersh got me a going away present that I must say is one of the finest gifts I've ever received—a Billy Clyde Tuggle coffee mug! Yay, Jeffrey. I’m sorry I won’t be around to compare concealer notes, but I’ll think of you every time I sip a non-fat latté!
And though I’m loathe to end this missive on a sad note, I must report that the Art Director has remained steadfastly (is that a word?) utterly uninterested in my sweet lovin’. Sigh.