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"What did you do to your hair? It looks good," Cheryl, a senior editor at Smack! magazine, squealed at me as she ran past my desk. Despite the backhanded compliment, I had to admit that I was having an unusually good hair day. Normally my hair misbehaves a few times a week, generally when I have a can't-miss cocktail party to attend. But that day my tresses looked fab. I chose to take my good hair as an omen.
I loved my job as associate editor for the magazine. Smack! is known in the rag trade as a general-interest magazine, but I'd been hired to give it specific interest: young and hip. In other words, it was my job to tell our middle-aged readership about what the pretty young things were drinking and shopping for, where they went to listen to music and get their hair done. I'd been at it for over a year. And while I was happy, I was beginning to want to move my work in another direction--upward, that is--but unfortunately I couldn't yet grasp exactly where up was.
Whack! Something walloped my desk with a mighty slap.
"Do you read Dudley's page?"
There stood John Bradley, Smack!'s editor in chief, the big boss, with a wad of rolled-up newspaper in his hand. I wondered if he was now going to swat me on the nose with it.
"He's funny. Your writing should be more like his. You know, chatty."
"But he's a gossip columnist."
"And I'm not." I tried not to sound annoyed, but lately Bradley seemed to find fault with whatever I did or didn't do.
"Well, if you'd rather have dull copy. Did you dye your hair?"
"No, it's just a good--"
Bradley hurried away, leaving the offending paper on my desk. Dudley's gossip column ran in a national newspaper. Since being on the job, I'd become an observer of sorts. Being out many nights a week gave me plenty of opportunities to people-watch. I'd met Dudley on many occasions and he was not what you'd call gentlemanly. I wasn't really on his radar--he would barely say hello to me. And now there was Dudley's sucky face sneering at me.
Truth be told, I hated his column. It was brash, tacky, and rude. He was not the sort of gossip columnist who lived to suck up to local celebrities, he was the kind of creep who wormed his way into parties thrown by the well known only to turn around and mock their choice of wine or fashion sense in his next column. But like the dutiful worker bee, I read Dudley's words, most of them meaningless drivel. Meaningless, that is, until I got to the last paragraph, which was horrifying: "TV producer Bingo Jones was all hot and bothered with local celeb news babe Muffie (first name only please) at last night's opening of the so-hip-it-hurts eaterie Spanks. If Bingo's regular chica, mag art director Elenor Brown, had eye-spied the duo giving each other a good tongue-lashing, it would have been spanks all right."
Now, I've never been a fan of Bingo. He was an ill-mannered lout, the kind of guy who took cell calls at dinner parties, was rude to waitresses, and, worse, was a terrible boyfriend. I knew this last fact to be utterly true because Bingo was in a long-term relationship, off and on, off and on, with one of my two best friends, Elenor. And the fact that Bingo was now a confirmed cheating bastard (during a supposed "on" moment) really riled me. As did Elenor's public humiliation at the keyboard of Dudley.
My first reaction? Poor Elenor! My second--I would never stoop to those depths in my writing! Bradley would have to find another writer to dish the dirt. The fact that I wanted to keep my job, however, prevented me from marching into his office to tell him so. I was hoping he'd just forget the entire conversation and continue with his latest idea for making over Smack!, which was more sex and gardening.
But first and foremost, I had to reach Elenor. She would need her friends. I called her work, her home, and her cell. No answer. Which meant one thing: Elenor had read Dudley's column. There was only one other person who might have known her whereabouts, our other best friend, Missy. I dialed.
I must admit Missy's revelation caught me off guard. Sure, we're all equally close, but I was mystified as to why Elenor would choose refuge in the suburbs over me. Why was Missy her first call?
At this point I should explain: Missy lived on the outskirts of the city. In a very big house with a 4-car garage. But Missy didn't drive. Her husband, Joe, had struck it superrich and Missy was still adjusting to her newfound wealth. This was becoming a bit of an issue with me. Along with the fatter wallet came a fatter head. In any case, it had taken a lot of effort for Elenor to get to Missy. I was a mere bike ride away.
"Elenor doesn't want to talk right now. Can she call you later?" Missy sighed.
I hung up the phone, still unsure of why Elenor didn't want to talk to me and further irked by Missy's tone.
"Did you change your hair?"
The question shook me out of my pondering. I contemplated shaving my head. A few more of my colleagues hovered around my desk.
"Just a good hair day."
Bradley hustled over with his coat on. "We're all going to lunch. Want to join us?"
I was dumbfounded. I mean, never once since my first Smack! day had I been invited to one of Bradley's lunch things. Naturally, I couldn't say no, no matter how ticked I still was at the Dudley incident--perhaps I was finally being let into the inner circle of senior editors. Don't get me wrong; people have been nice to me, but seeing as I'm so junior, the so-called real journalists had kind of kept their distance from me. I knew that they considered my pages the necessary but shallow fluff that kept advertisers happy. My out-and-about pages and the fashion and decor pages were the cute ghetto of the magazine. But then, an invitation to lunch. This was serious. We all headed out to Bradley's regular diner. Although my mind kept obsessing about Elenor, I tried to fit in with the group.
"We have to get that piece on John Daly in before next week."
"Who's John Daly?"
Bradley looked at me like I had asked him how to spell my own name.
"Um, he's probably going to be elected mayor," said Cheryl.
"Oh, that John Daly!" I lied.
For the rest of the walk to the restaurant I tried not to feel excluded from the conversation, but I was afraid to say anything else. I was positive that they were questioning Bradley's judgment in hiring me, let alone inviting me. I consoled myself with the knowledge that I was at the very least charming, and I vowed to be bright and witty at lunch.
Arriving at the restaurant, we were led to a large round table and began to fan out. I walked around the entire circumference and ended up sandwiched between Cheryl and the arts writer, Marshall, with big boss Bradley straight across from me.
We ordered. I assumed Bradley was picking up the tab and so went for a slightly larger lunch than I would normally have. Besides, half the table were eating steak, so my salmon wasn't the end of the world. But still, I was too intimidated to speak.
"I was thinking of giving the movie roundup piece to Stella," Marshall announced.
Bradley simply nodded. There was only one film critic in town named Stella, Stella DuBois, and I thought she sucked. She hated everything she saw, and her writing was grossly self-indulgent. Every review she wrote somehow came back to herself and some formative experience in her life. Finally, a topic I could get in on.
"No, you're not giving work to that hack?"
Marshall just looked at me in disbelief. I took this as a sign that few people challenged him, but I was aiming to prove I could hold my own in this merry group. I'd show Bradley I was no dummy.
"I mean she hates everything but has no critical eye. I read that she once tried to make a film but her script was so bad no one would touch it. She's just a frustrated filmmaker who takes her own disappointment out on the real artists. And don't get me started on her writing!"
I had never seen people so silent. Cheryl and Marshall smiled meekly. Everyone else stared down at their plates. Everyone except Bradley.
"She happens to be my wife," Bradley announced, as he stabbed his steak and tore it apart.
I wanted to quietly swallow my own head. How had I not known this? I mean, sure, Bradley kept to himself, and I was hardly his confidante, but no one had ever mentioned Stella and Bradley in the same sentence. I had a vague memory of seeing Stella at the Christmas party, but she had drunk too much and left early.
"I'm so sorry, I had no idea."
"They like to keep their personal lives private. You couldn't have known; only industry types would know." Marshall tried to make me feel better, but I was stung by the implication that I wasn't even in the same industry as the rest of them. It didn't really matter what I said now, my stiletto was in my big mouth and deep down I knew my days at Smack! were numbered. There would be no upward mobility for me. I finished my salmon in silence.
Back at my desk, I listened to my voice mail, trying to recover from the lunch debacle by being busy, too busy to listen to my colleagues' whispered comments. Most of my messages were from PR people pushing products that were of no interest to me. I dubbed these annoying phone calls "sevens," the number I pressed on my phone's keypad to erase them. This was also true of mean and nasty reader calls. "What do you know from a good bar? I read your piece on Dino's last month and you suck. It's the best place. My brother-in-law owns it so I know it's good. I think you should be standing under a cliff during an avalanche." Definitely a seven. But not a single call from Elenor. I looked at the clock: 4:57 p.m.
I was so glad it was quitting time. Despite my sunny outlook at 9 a.m., I was feeling deflated. I looked in my compact mirror. Even my hair had become limp. So much for having a good hair day.
Fabulous Girl as Big Girl
Finally, after years of Jill Jobs (those easy and meaningless jobs a girl does on her way to future fabulousness), the FG has made it. She's gotten to where she wants to be, or at least a lot closer than that temp job was. The Fabulous Girl with a career has to navigate a whole new professional landscape. Work is still one of her highest priorities and where she spends most of her time and mental energy. But if she's lucky, she's spending it doing something she loves. As a wise FG once said, "Find a job you love and you'll never work a day in your life."
In the early days of her career, a young woman's burdens are most likely to be boredom and frustration. She may get stuck with tasks that she feels are beneath her abilities. As her work life takes off, she'll have different pressures: keeping up a level of performance she has established for herself, the added responsibilities of her seniority, and dealing with the office politics that accompany a rise through the ranks. Even an FG at the top of her professional game can have a Bad Hair Day or a Fat Day. And while the FG thinks these are prime reasons to call in sick, her boss probably won't. But for truly bad days, the FG may have to pull out all the tools in her decorum arsenal or else risk turning into the angry, bitter, depressed type she shrinks from.
Assembly lines aren't exclusive to factories churning out widgets. In past decades the standard office environment consisted of row upon row of uniform desks and chairs situated in one large room. If that seems barbaric to the Fabulous Girl aesthetic, consider the current equivalent for cost cutters in corporate America--the open-concept workspace. Here the "cubicle dwellers" sit at their desks toiling away at their jobs. Love them or hate them, the little cubes are here to stay. For the FG, however, there are ways of coping with grace.
You're Stuck in Cube Country
Privacy--you really don't have any, do you? Staunch supporters of cube country suggest that what the cubicles lack in privacy they make up for in team building. Collaboration, it seems, is easier when you don't have to waste precious seconds picking up a phone or strolling to someone else's office to speak with them. Hey, we thought that's what boardrooms and luncheons were for. Apparently it is downright inspiring to have colleagues overhear your sales pitch or see what your presentation looks like on your computer screen so they can give you their two cents without your needing to ask. How convenient.
However, what all cube-country residents need to understand is that just because you don't have any privacy doesn't mean you shouldn't respect the illusion of it. Don't give your opinion on your colleagues' work unless you're asked for it; they may not be ready to share their work yet and may resent your butting in. Likewise for personal problems. If you hear Sue fighting with her boyfriend, you cannot say, "So sorry you're having problems, do you need to talk about it?" Pretend you heard nothing! Sue will confide if and when she wants to.
Did you hear that?
A voice that is obviously speaking quietly is one that wants to avoid detection. Take this as a sign to distract yourself with something else, say, your own work. And while no one really wants to hear you whisper sweet nothings to your accountant, sometimes it cannot be helped. If a call is very private, it's time to take your cell to the parking lot or use a boardroom phone instead.
Why shout? No matter how eager you are to express your enthusiasm to a new client over the phone, raised voices are very distracting to your colleagues in cube country. If you sense that coworkers are stuffing cotton into their ears, turning up their desk radios, or sneering at you, take these hints to pipe down.