When Veronica graduated with an MBA and dreams of saving the world, she never knew she would end up a corporate slave to the lipstick gods, in love with her playboy boss and in need of a gay best friend to make her feel fabulous. Straight out of school, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Veronica has her heart set on an honorable job, such as saving starving children. Instead, she accepts a job at Gisele, a global cosmetics empire that seems to mock her every value. Veronica struggles to fit in until she meets Stevie, a gay co-worker, who immediately assumes the role of fashion counselor and fabulousness. Under Stevie’s mentorship, Veronica flourishes as a vixen and marketing peon. But for Veronica to truly succeed at Gisele and seduce her boss, she must bequeath her soul to the makeup gods and sacrifice her friends in a ritual known as corporate brainwash. How far does Veronica go before she realizes she is losing everything she once valued, including herself?
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Why I Love My Gay Boyfriend
By Sabrina Zollo
Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.Copyright © 2012 Sabrina Zollo
All rights reserved.
My decision to accept a job at Gisele, a global cosmetics empire, was easy. Lack of options and desperation lead to swift decision-making.
After my first week of work, my three best friends took me out to our favourite pub, The Betty Ford Clinic, as consolation, rather than celebration. While settling didn't deserve a fist bump, it certainly served as a valid reason to drink excessively.
"Cheers to selling your soul!" A mixture of beer bottles and glasses clinked together in honour of my future at Gisele.
"Hopefully I'll just be selling makeup and not any souls," I replied after taking a generous sip of my gin and tonic.
"Gisele is a great resume builder," Calista said to offset Jackie's charming proclamation of the demise of my soul. Calista is doing her PhD in Economics and will soon rule the world. She is brilliant and the sweetest person I know, after my mom. "Two years at Gisele and Amnesty International will be begging you to come work for them."
Amnesty International was my first and only choice after graduating with an MBA. Gisele was on my Top 5, as in Top 5 companies I would only consider if desperate.
"I expect a lot of free makeup." It never fails to surprise me how successful Jackie is at getting what she wants just by asking for it. The one thing that she never has to ask for is a date. She has dated and dumped half of Toronto. Life is good for Jackie. "And I can teach you how to put it on," she offered.
"I think it's so funny that you got this job and you never wear make-up." Lindsay, my most practical friend, never wears makeup either. She works in environmental management for the city but isn't the granola tree-hugging type. She's refreshingly down to earth and still believes in true love.
In my eyes, my three best friends, Jackie, Calista and Lindsay, were wise old souls. They had been building their careers and lives for the past two years while I was trying to figure out my life's calling at grad school. The frustrating thing about a life's calling is that it's not prone to fall into one's lap. A life's calling should not be playing hard to get.
"So what are the people like?" Lindsay asked.
"I don't know why, but they all hate me. How could they hate me so much before they even know me?" This bothered me more than I liked to admit. I was still young and naïve enough to believe that my self-worth was determined by my popularity. "There's also something very strange about them. I don't know, maybe I'm being too harsh but they seem almost ... dishonourable. I don't trust them."
"But most importantly, is your boss hot?" Jackie interjected.
"What makes you think they're dishonourable? I mean, other than the fact that they hate you, of course." Calista asked, as we all ignored Jackie's question.
"Well ..." I paused to search for a positive spin but couldn't find one. "It's like they don't have any morals or human decency."
That began my dramatic description of my experience at Gisele, as I tried to capture the horror of my first day:
Gisele occupied the top floor of an imposing thirty-seven storey office building in the heart of Toronto's trendy Yorkville. The Gisele office was designed to awe and intimidate. As the elevator doors opened on Gisele's vast two-story lobby, I was greeted with what felt like a corporate glacier. The air felt icy and thin. The landscape was composed of towering mirrored walls, an expansive reception desk made of carrera marble, white limestone floors and white leather Barcelona chairs. If hell were frozen, it just might look like this.
Life-size backlit Gisele print advertising lined the walls like modern day gargoyles. The eyes of the skinny models followed me as I entered the lobby. They looked empty and hungry. As I walked towards the reception desk, the models seemed poised to leap out of the frame and devour me. At night this would be a scary place. An enormous HD television was mounted behind the desk, looping Gisele television ads with no sound. It was as if the models were trapped in the television like a bad dream in which you tried to scream and no sound came out.
My boss Savannah, a Marketing Director at Gisele, was away on a business trip, so my co-worker Heidi was charged with giving me a tour of the office and introducing me to my colleagues. I asked the disinterested receptionist for Heidi, who kept me waiting uncomfortably in the wintry lobby for twenty minutes. I heard the piercing sound of high heel stilettos punctuating the cold floor before I saw Heidi.
Heidi was a skinny, pretty girl who wore too much makeup and was dressed for Paris Fashion Week. Everything about her appearance was in excess, and a little inappropriate for daytime, from her Farrah waves to her smoky eye make-up. I knew she could not afford her outfit and Christian Louboutin shoes on our salary and speculated whether she moonlit as a high-end escort.
"Veronica?" She shamelessly looked me up and down. Twice. I wondered if it was her high-heels or my outfit from H&M that was making her grimace in pain. I could tell she hated me instantly.
"Yes, hi!" I said, attempting to be friendly, jumping up abruptly and holding out my hand for a handshake.
"I'm Heidi, the Assistant Brand Manager for Gisele, Lip & Nail." She gingerly shook my hand. She had long, fake nails that were painted black. "Follow me."
Heidi led me through the glass doors to the eerily quiet office and into a maze of generic, clinical-looking cubicles. It seemed like we were in the belly of the whale, where entry-level employees were swallowed whole, miles away from any natural light and any means of escape.
As we encountered the victims of the corporate whale, it was somewhat of a consolation that the head-to-toe inspection was part of Heidi's routine.
"Hi, how are you?" Down. Up
"Good, how are you?" Down. Up.
Heidi robotically repeated this exchange with everyone we encountered along the way, perhaps as a means of demonstrating her self-proclaimed popularity. The exchange seemed disingenuous as it was clear from their body language that neither party liked each other. The Heidi Inspection would end with a smug smile. She reminded me of a smiling shark.
Heidi did not bother to introduce me to anyone we passed. I suspected she was strictly and grudgingly following instructions to introduce me to my immediate co-workers. Beyond that, she did not feel it worthwhile to make me feel welcome. My first introductions were to Heidi's BFFs, Jasmine and Chloe.
Heidi stopped abruptly in front of a glass-paneled cube. "Jasmine, this is Veronica."
Jasmine was seated in her cube with her back as straight as a concrete slab. It was like she was so fiercely proud that she refused any support — even back support. She had a stern-looking face that seemed incapable of smiling. Her dark hair was pulled back in a chignon that was so tight it looked angry. As she stood up to shake my hand, her chin jutted slightly forward so that she could look down at me even though she was only five foot two. Despite her small frame, she was intimidating.
"Hello, Veronica. I am Jasmine Petite." She pronounced her last name quickly and with a strong, French accent, so that it sounded like "tit" to the unsophisticated ear, such as mine.
"Hi, Jasmine ... Tit?" I repeated to make sure I heard correctly.
"No," she replied haughtily, "It is Pe-tite." She enunciated the word slowly. "It is French for small. I am from France. I moved to Canada for my boyfriend." She added the last disclaimer as if it were the only plausible reason anyone would move to Canada.
Jasmine was fluent in English but over-pronounced her words like Madonna does trying to sound British, as if every word she uttered were a revelation. Unfortunately for her, she would always be Jasmine Tit to me.
"Oh. People must have trouble pronouncing your last name," I said in a gesture of sympathy.
"No," she lied. "Just you."
Yup, she hated me too. I wondered what was wrong with me. Did I smell bad? I tried to remember whether I put on deodorant that morning.
Next up was Chloe, the Assistant Brand Manager for GiGi, the edgier, lifestyle brand of Gisele. In fact, everything was edgy about Chloe: her demeanor; her angular face; her asymmetrical bob hairstyle and her bony frame. It was also hate at first sight for Chloe.
Heidi introduced to me to Chloe. "Chloe, you'll need to add Veronica to The Tracker."
"OK, what's your story?" Chloe asked as she opened a spreadsheet on her computer and promptly began interrogating me.
My background volunteering as a Marketing Coordinator for the Sierra Club grabbed Chloe's attention. "Charity work? Why the hell do you want to work here?"
"Uh, it's a great opportunity." It was a weak response and did not appear to convince her.
"OK, I'm putting you down last on The Tracker," was Chloe's swift decision.
"What is The Tracker?" I ventured to ask.
"It's a list of all the Assistant Brand Managers, their internal and external work experience and their performance rating, listed in descending order of estimated promotion," Chloe explained.
"How did you get all that information?"
"Chloe knows everything and everyone," Heidi replied in solidarity of The Tracker.
"The Tracker has never been wrong," Chloe affirmed.
I looked at the seventeen or so names listed before me. Chloe was first, followed by Heidi and Jasmine. "Well, I have a long way to go," I joked. There was a tense silence. So far, no friends yet.
Heidi then introduced me to Matt, one of the only heterosexual men who worked at Gisele. He was a good- looking guy until he opened his mouth. It became immediately clear that Matt joined Gisele to pick up hot chicks. He figured his chances were good in a company full of beauty-obsessed women and gay men. Matt had Hot Chick ADD and couldn't talk to you without wandering eyes lest he miss any sight of tits or ass. Quantity, not quality, was his objective. He had more testosterone than I believed to be normal. After speaking to him I felt like taking a bath in Purell.
"Hi, I'm Veronica Lopez," I introduced myself.
"I'm Matt, but you, Miss Lopez, can call me Mateo." He did not appear to possess a drop of Latino blood.
"So, Savannah's your boss?" Mateo asked. "I hear she's psychotic."
"Actually, she seems pretty cool," I replied from what I recalled from our coffee chat after I landed the job.
"I love crazy chicks too but I wouldn't work for one," he grinned.
"That's not what I meant," I said, almost recoiling with my growing disgust for him.
"Well if you ever need any advice, you know where to find me," he offered with a slimy wink.
"Uh, I won't need any help, thanks."
"Savannah is very fashion-forward ... for an older woman," Heidi said to us on a completely unrelated note before she led me to Sydney's cube. Based on my guesstimate, Savannah was in her early thirties, and hardly classified as an "older" woman.
"Sydney's a slack-off." Heidi warned me as we approached Sydney's cube.
"We all work our asses off and Sydney has figured out a way to leave by five o'clock everyday and not get fired." I got the impression it was not the first time Heidi had shared her highly esteemed opinion of Sydney.
"I'm in a cube, I can hear you," Sydney said. She swiveled in her chair to face us. Sydney was a tall redhead with a perfectly pale complexion and piercing blue eyes. She seemed unaffected by Heidi's rant. In fact, it seemed that not much would rattle her steely disposition.
"This is Veronica. She's new but they haven't figured out where to put her," Heidi said.
"Hi Veronica. I'm Sydney. By the way, the work day ends at five so that's when we're supposed to leave."
"If you want to get ahead at Gisele, you have to work crazy hours." Heidi corrected Sydney.
Calista interrupted my story, jolting me out of my dramatic rendition and back to the comforting reality of the pub. "It sounds like Heidi is giving you good advice, even though it's probably not what you wanted to hear."
"Yeah, and Sydney doesn't seem that bad." Lindsay's optimism had apparently taken over her judgment.
"No, she's a bitch too." I clarified.
"Because she hates you, too? That doesn't make her a bitch, it just means she has bad taste in people." Jackie said in support of my congeniality.
"How's your boss?" Lindsay asked.
"I'll let you know about that when she's back from New York. I've been warned about her by more people than just Mateo."
"Don't let people psych you out," Calista advised.
"Maybe they're threatened by you because you're different," Lindsay suggested.
"I'm not that intimidating," I laughed.
"Maybe they judged you as quickly as you judged them," Calista added. "Give them a chance. Try being more open-minded."
"For example," Jackie said, "I came here with an open mind and I see a lot of good things. Is it just me or are there a lot of hot guys here tonight?"
"I'll drink to that!" I raised my fourth glass of gin and tonic in honour of hot guys. "Calista, I will accept your challenge, because you are a wise Yoda Zen master. However, I'm pretty sure it's a lost cause."
"So do you want to lay a wager on how long it takes Veronica before she turns into a bitch too?" Jackie joked.
"On her fourth glass of gin and tonic!" Lindsay laughed — pointing at my three empty glasses.
"I'm a lovely drunk!" I protested.CHAPTER 2
Dream in a Bottle
So how did I end up in this unlikely conundrum in the first place? I was beginning the second year of my MBA when I stumbled across Gisele at my university's fall recruitment fair. I was completing my double major in non-profit organization and marketing and had high hopes of working for a respected global non-profit organization such as Amnesty International.
I had had very little sleep the night before because my boyfriend had predictably broken up with me. I say predictably because according to Calista, I'm attracted to men who are emotionally unavailable, or, as I like to refer to them in retrospect: douche bags. I had stayed up all night begging my latest douche bag to reconsider, stripping myself of any self-respect in a display of desperation that set the women's movement back seventy years. Needless to say, this was not an effective strategy in retaining any man, let alone a douche bag. Thus, that day I was sans douche bag and not feeling particularly fresh.
I was not inspired to put on a power suit and my best game face to show recruiters my eagerness to slave away the best years of my life. You spend your MBA bonding with your peers in team-based projects (i.e., pulling last minute all-nighters) and social events (i.e., drinking games at the campus pub) only to be pitted against one another in competition over the few promising jobs available during campus recruitment. As I entered the recruitment battleground, my new frienemies were nodding emphatically, smiling toothily and vigorously shaking hands. I could imagine what they were saying:
"Yes, I would definitely stab my friend in the back for the promotion! I'm so career-driven and ambitious that the only friends I have are people that I can use to further my career! I'm completely shameless and transparent!"
"I would absolutely risk divorce by prioritizing my career over my husband and delaying childbirth until all my eggs rot!"
"Hi, I spent my MBA partying incessantly because I knew I would have to give up any notion of a personal life once I started working for you! Don't worry I don't need any sleep. I've learned to survive on Red Bull and coke ... ha, ha Coca Cola, that is!"
At least seventy companies across several sectors (consumer packaged goods, banking, accounting, consulting) had booths set up, espousing corporate rah-rah and scouting top talent. I was on the lookout for not-for- profit companies when I approached the Gisele booth. It appeared that Gisele's Human Resources Manager had been trained to project the warmth of a cold, hard bitch because she was doing an exceptional job of it. Despite her smug look of superiority and disdain, she was being mauled by a clawing army of fashionable women and gay men.
I was inflicted with temporary post-break-up insanity — a combination of hyper denial and ADD. I stopped to make completely un-MBA inspired conversation with a short, chubby man standing at the outskirts of the Gisele booth. He reminded me a little bit of an Oompa Loompa from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, I was in need of male attention and he appeared to be interested in my unorthodox approach.
Excerpted from Why I Love My Gay Boyfriend by Sabrina Zollo. Copyright © 2012 Sabrina Zollo. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Ms Zollo's debut novel is a witty look at the liptick industry and everything it offers seem superficial in comparison to our socially conscious writer's values and expectations. A must read for any individual who struggles to fit in the corporate world and somewhere along the line loses themselves but is smart enough to know better ...i can't wait for her sophmore entry..