For Lisa Millar . . .
(Me in typical work mode -- at a desk)
All right, I know my last entry in the blog was sequential -- at least, chronological -- but as time and space are arbitrary on the page and as a creative person I can do anything now I choose. . . I choose to flash forward twenty years, from 1981.
It’s 2001, and I’m working at a pretty rough desk job -- as the “admin” (administrative assistant) for an entire media planning department at Ogilvy & Mather in NYC. Only, the company has now split into a new company called “Mindshare” and if truth be told I’d call it “Mindf**k” for reasons that shall become obvious.
I started the job as a temp in late 1999, filling the proverbial shoes of my longstanding predecessor (was there eight years?), who worked as the assistant to Beth LeMasurier, a high-up VP at Ogilvy & Mather in Media Planning. The department worked the American Express account -- not in creative, but in planning what kind and where the media advertising money would be spent.
If you’re a Mad Men fan, it’s the job that Harry kind of invented for himself. But he saw a place for it in TV advertising (wasn’t Joan great at figuring out ad placement during Days of Our Lives??). The O&M Media Planning dept. we worked for did TV, radio, and print media. I believe we had approx. 25 people in the Amex account dept. (Next door to us were the IBM account media planners, who kind of stuck their noses up at us, maybe out of flawed personality rather than philosophical differences.)
So. My boss, Beth, was considered brilliant but eccentric. Her commodious office was crammed with clutter, and you couldn’t really see the surface of her desk or any other surface, for that matter. She wasn’t communicative in the least, and instead of calling me in to her office for a face to face or to update me on the work, I’d get piles of stuff with cryptic postit notes -- or emails.
The second-in-command or the VP under Beth, Nancy Tortorella (“torture-ella” I thought of her as), was a very snobby, self-righteous, double-talking bitch. There, I said it. If she reads this, fine. Every time I am on the Metro North train and go through Darien (where she lived in 2001), I call it “de rien” or “Derrieren.”
Nancy T. and I did not get on famously. At first, things were all right & she seemed to be nice enough, but after a few months, there was no love lost. I hated her false laughter and her attitude of “Snap to it -- make it right, right NOW!” So what if you were asked to do something one way one day, and then the following week had to do a total 180. And don’t you dare ask any questions.
Eighteen months into my job, I finally got a review. My understanding when I took the job was that reviews came regularly and with a raise in salary. So as time went by, I pushed and pushed until they deigned to review me. That wasn’t my first -- or last -- mistake. My first mistake was taking the job. . .
Anyway, one tepid August morning when most of the staff were out on vacation or at a meeting (interminable meetings in that office!), I was called in to Nancy’s office for my review.
If I’m feeling brave someday, I’ll fetch that foul piece of paper and try to refrain from burning it and laughing, fiendishly.
My favorite quote from the review went something like “uses too many exclamation points in emails.” As a result, I was being put on notice for 30 days!! My performance was deemed sub-par on account of my uncommunicative boss who wasn’t happy with the way I carried out her cryptic commands. My under-boss, NT, didn’t like me at all (Darien snob!!).
Well, rather than crying at my computer, I emailed a friend who was in a pop band with me, Ken Anderson. He and his wife, Rebecca Hall, worked at the United Nations. He had often nudged me, “Come on, work at the U.N. with us!” I emailed him to say, “I’m ready to work at the U.N. with you.”
A month later -- when my second and probably terminal review was slated to occur -- was the morning of September 11, 2011. Fifteen minutes in to work, everybody was corralled up to the reception area with the two big screen TVs and we watched the World Trade Towers being struck by planes in instant replays and I swore I saw people jumping out of the buildings. Horrible, horrible.
The people at American Express were down at the World Financial Center, which was of course evacuated. For many months, they were in flux and my department hardly knew which end was up. My follow-up performance review never happened -- was swept under the table, so to speak.
. . . Of course I found a job at the U.N. and by that December, gave my notice. There was no love lost -- and I have to thank a terrible tragedy for delaying a certain humiliating final review. . .
So, Lisa, that’s my horror story for you, another possible (but hopefully not) victim of a toxic working environment!