January 4th, 2011
Back in my 20s, I worked for an ad agency off Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. Every morning I’d take the bus from my Lincoln Park walk-up to a busy stop across the street and up a few from Henri Bendel, then ride the elevator to four floors of the most self-absorbed, morally corrupt, home-wrecker establishment for at least 3,000 feet in any direction. I gotta tell you, I had the high times at this place, but if someone wasn’t leaving his or her spouse for a nubile receptionist every couple of days or so, there was a magnetic disturbance in the sleaze force.
I’d come to the agency from another one — brought there by a woman my age who I assisted with assorted PR detritus. One day, I entered her office to give her a fax, and found her sobbing at her desk. We’d never really talked much before — I found her icy and off-putting — but I am human after all, and so I put my arm around her and asked what was wrong. After a few prodigious nose blows, I discovered that our mutual superior fired her because the boss lady was threatened by pretty, strong females (I may have postulated that). I listened to my newfound friend describe the injustice of her dismissal for several long minutes and wished her luck. I knew she’d be OK. She already had a job after all. Hired right back at the agency she’d come from a few months prior.
Well sure I heard the news of how she’d come to my agency. A 25-year-old secretary who had an affair with the married CEO, instant promotion to Director of Communications, wife who threatened to take the kids if the other woman didn’t leave. So now here she was, about to go back to the scene of the crime. And if you must know, I didn’t believe the story anyway. I thought people didn’t do stuff like that. I really and truly believed that the affair and all the accompanying juiciness was a rumor; a story spread by jealous people. I mean if it really happened, the CEO wouldn’t be so daft as to hire the mistress back. I know. But what can I say? I was a Catholic schoolgirl to the bones and thought people weren’t jerk-offs.
So off she went. And about a week later, I received a phone call. Would I want to come work with her? Did I want to leave the mean girl-hating boss who currently employed me? Was I ready to take my partying to the next level? I couldn’t believe my luck. A better position, more money, opportunity for advancement. And all because I was nice to someone and she remembered! Catholic schoolgirls rule!
Boy was I in for a surprise.
I showed up for the interview inside a glass-enclosed, modern-esque office with inhabitants that looked like the set of Friends bred with the set of Melrose Place. Blonde bots patrolled the halls, Rachel haircuts were de rigueur, men had names like “Dash” and “Phillipe.” I believe I wore a mini-skirt to the interview, which naturally meant I got the job. Later, I discovered that the crying woman who’d worked with me at the previous agency — let’s call her Trissa — insisted the HR lady give me the position. She could do that see, because she was the “Director of Communications.” All 26 years of her. And sure enough, I started at Snobs and Daft a few weeks later, assisting both Trissa and Trip, the Director of Global Client Relations, with PR and administrative tasks.
I sat outside the CEO’s ample office, which I noticed Trissa visiting often, always closing the door behind her. An hour or two later she’d emerge, looking ruffled, but still I thought the two of them were going over the latest ad campaign or maybe heatedly discussing client billing. I didn’t dare ask the CEO’s standoffish, but ultimately loyal, assistant because she was good friends with Trissa and I didn’t want to overstep any boundaries. So on it went. Trissa showed up to work in Ann Taylor suits, drove a Jaguar, and had French manicures. She lived with her boyfriend in a hip part of town, but I never saw him save for once. (Imagine the appearance and demeanor of Mutt Lange.) Meanwhile, I’m traipsing up and down agency floors in gold hoop earrings and chunky heels, eating left-over client lunches and surveying the Dashes and Phillipes.
In my elevator travels, I discovered that probably a full one-quarter of the agency were cheating on their spouses or had just left a wife or husband for someone they worked with at Snobs and Daft. The CEO’s assistant was dating an account supervisor who was in the midst of divorcing his wife, another account supervisor left his pregnant mate to be with yet another account supervisor, and so on and so forth. Nearly every day some new illicit affair would reveal itself, almost as frequently as the agency had parties, which was frequent. Being that I was not married nor in a relationship, there was much fun to be had. I recall “picking out” my new boyfriend; a sandy-haired specimen who worked as an account executive. One day we took the elevator together and I thought, “Hmmm. Seems athletic, has a nice smile, is tall. I’ll take him!” Maybe he noticed my eager beaverness and mini skirt or maybe he felt sorry for me. Either way, we began to date — becoming yet another Snobs and Daft relationship, different only in that we both were single when we got together.
I think it was after the legendary Snobs and Daft Holiday party that I began to feel icky. Respected agency personnel got blind drunk, fell into lobby Christmas trees, and went home with other people not their own. I began to coin the agency “Sodom and Gomorrah” in my head because it was so hedonistic and antithetical to my Catholic leanings. But darn it, sometimes a young gal’s got to spread her wings, you know? So I continued to work and date and avoid church.
Some months after I joined the company, I stopped by Trissa’s office to drop off a fax and saw an enormous bouquet of white tulips on her desk. She looked at me shamelessly and said, “You know, right?” And that’s how I came to know. Yes, she was indeed sleeping with the CEO, yes, his wife did give an ultimatum that she would take the three kids and herself and leave him if he took up with Trissa again, yes, those mid-afternoon office visits were more than heated client billing discussions. Holy holy. Not only was I upset that she and he were doing this to their loved ones, but also that she undeservedly climbed the ladder from secretary (his, natch) to “Director of Communications” simply because she slept her way to the top.
Now, I was in it. Since my desk were so near to the CEO’s office, I was privy to it all. I heard his wife call, smiled at her as she visited her husband, and listened as the CEO’s assistant made a reservation for him at the Four Seasons for “an extended stay.” Once even, the CEO gave my boyfriend and I his seats at a Bulls game and the next day, I was embroiled in controversy as the wife thought I were Trissa and my boyfriend a decoy. All day, the CEO’s wife called and demanded explanations. I had to prove my identity and non-Trissa-ness and holy cow, it was all getting so old.
Then one day, after an all-afternoon street festival, my boyfriend and I did something horribly, terribly wrong. I’ve never ever told anyone about it because we hurt the wrong people, but it was a knee-jerk, drunken reaction to all the sneaking around and lying we’d witnessed.
TO BE CONTINUED here…Please get the password from me