“I can do this,” Teresa repeated to herself. “I can do this.” She squared her shoulders, certain the secretary was watching her, and went into the creative director’s office.
She’d seen pictures of Rayann Germaine in the trades, and she’d been warned that “presence” was an understatement. Nevertheless, she was unprepared for the lurch in her stomach when two piercing brown eyes dissected her with a dispassionate flick. More than handsome, this woman exuded purpose. She reminded Teresa of the Renaissance portraits of Italian matriarchs — iron under silk. The array of awards neatly arranged on the shelf behind the desk heaped fuel onto Teresa’s bonfire of insecurities.
She hoped it was a smile on her face as she crossed the room and sat down, relieved to find the chair wasn’t one of those head game short ones that made her feel like a dwarf. Her relief was momentary. When she looked over the woman’s shoulder the light glinted on a Clio award. Advertising’s highest achievement, apart from money, was staring her right in the face.
Her rehearsed greeting faltered in her throat. Ten seconds and her first meeting with the director was not going as she had planned.
“You have the storyboards, right?” Ms. Germaine gestured for the boards with the air of someone whose time was extremely limited. While it was probably true, it made Teresa feel like a delivery clerk.
Teresa handed them over. She was really proud of the way they had turned out, especially after having had to learn an unfamiliar system in the past two days. Between the time that she had accepted the job and her first day they had changed over their software to a package she wasn’t nearly so expert with. Her supervisor had said she’d catch on and she had. This was her first opportunity to show her results to the —
“This is not what the client wants.”
Teresa fought the urge to gulp. “I talked to them this morning. They’ve changed their mind seven times in the past two days, but this is their current concept. Mom in a white car, mom in kitchen, not baby’s room, product break, fade.”
“Did you talk to Artie?”
Teresa shook her head. She was too much of a plebe to talk to Artie.
The director seemed at the edge of her patience. “Artie wants car, product break, baby’s room, fade. As per two hours ago.”
“No one told me,” Teresa said. She wished the woman would at least look at her.
“Just do them over. Call Artie’s office and let them know they’re on the way.”
“Did he say how he wants to transition — ” The phone buzzed and Teresa swallowed the last of her sentence.
“When? No, that’s not what she wants. Listen to me. Listen to me. Do I have your attention? That’s not what she wants. How many times do I have to explain it? You don’t want me to stop by again, believe me.”
Geez, this woman was on some sort of power trip. Okay, so she was the head of the creative department at Hand & Hoke, one of the west coast’s most outré ad agencies. So she’d crafted the campaigns that made household names of new companies. So she’d won awards and made a lot of people a lot of money. But who would have thought she’d talk to someone on the phone like that? She was acting like some diva when she wasn’t ten years older than Teresa, even though the brown hair was flecked with gray. So beautifully flecked, in fact, that it couldn’t be natural, Teresa decided. Meow.
“I am not balking at the money. It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters except that everything be the way she wants it. And she wants the minimum, the bare minimum, and I want to be able to tell her truthfully that that is exactly what she’s going to get. If that is pine, then that’s — what? I don’t want to see it again. Look, you’re supposed to be providing the service here. Everything was already supposed to be settled when we bought the package and now you want more decisions. Christ. Okay. Someone — not me — will be by soon.”
Teresa knew not to say a word while the woman dialed another number. She’d seen her grandmother in too many towering rages to mistake one when she saw it. She’d been told this woman was nice, for Christ’s sake, one of the most influential people in advertising in the city and a lesbian, too. She had jumped at this job for exactly those reasons, even though it meant several years of menial graphic design. She’d been certain she’d learn a lot.
“Danny? Those assholes won’t finish unless someone actually sees the thing and approves it. I can’t go there again.”
Then she glanced at Teresa. Teresa didn’t think she’d ever forget it. She glanced, then closed her eyes and said bitterly, “She’s got me in exile. I’m surrounded by bumbling amateurs and I just can’t take it.”
Teresa sat there blinking, wondering if that remark had been directed at her. Of course it had. Amateur? Amateur? A Master’s in Fine Arts and this woman called her an amateur?
She had to be on the edge of a breakdown, Teresa decided. Rage was gone; now the manicured hand wrapped around the phone was white-knuckled. The other trembled on the desk. She was listening intently and Teresa knew her presence had been forgotten.
“Thank you,” she said, almost in a whisper. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Teresa couldn’t decide how to break the silence after the phone call ended. A cough was contrived. Perhaps she should just begin speaking? No, the time for that had slipped away. She shifted her weight and the chair creaked faintly.
The director jumped. “Weren’t we done?”
“Um, no, not quite. Did Artie say how he wanted the transition from break to home?”
“No, he didn’t. This is one of our biggest clients. Think of something . . . creative. This is the creative department. That’s what we do here.”
Teresa skulked back to her workstation. It was an hour before she stopped shaking sufficiently to handle more than just rearranging the art order for printing. She gulped down a huge cup of coffee while she worked. It didn’t help the trembling but it made her brain start functioning again. She decided to transition from the product description by zooming in through the product logo to the setting of the mother tidying up in the baby’s room. The deep green of the logo, recently freshened up by the folks across the hall in the sigils and icons department, could be carried over to anything in the baby’s room for visual continuity.
She left a message for the client saying the storyboards would be over right away. But she couldn’t send them without the director’s final okay. Her boss, Sandra, had been very clear about that.
Even though the secretary said it was okay to go in, she knocked and stuck her head in as if the door were a shield. Rayann was on the phone but waved her forward.
She turned over the boards without stopping her conversation, nodding absently. When she got to the transition shot she frowned, said, “Hold on,” into the receiver and covered it with her hand. To Teresa, she snapped, “We can’t send them something like this. Do it over. This client is a traditionalist. If you can’t think of anything else, use a fade to gray — side wash maybe. Indicate it as less than two seconds.” She glanced at Teresa, then back at the boards. “This is too art school.”
Teresa blinked at her, then her mouth took over. “I guess you’re right.” Her voice shook a little too much to be scathing, but she tried. “I’m just a summa cum laude M.F.A. with a piddly year’s study at the Sorbonne, and I’m sure that’s influencing my work.”
The director said into the phone, “Hold on one more minute.” Then she fixed Teresa with her cold, piercing gaze. “You want to be an artist, go be an artist. Been there, done that. But the truth is I’m here because I like advertising. That’s why you need to be here. Georgia O’Keeffe is my favorite artist, but I wouldn’t want her doing storyboards for baby food.” Back to the phone she went. “I’m here.”
Teresa made it to the bathroom before she dissolved into tears. Too art school? Just who did that — that bitch think she was? She had treated Teresa like a robot without any feelings or ego or experience or anything. She must have an incredible PR machine to have convinced the advertising community she was not only talented but nice. Teresa usually regretted moments when her mouth took over her good sense, and lord knows she’d had plenty of practice removing her size sevens from her mouth, but this time she was glad.
Hoping none of her coworkers would notice her red-rimmed eyes, Teresa finished the fade-to-gray storyboard and gave the bundle to the receptionist for messenger service.
She sat at her workstation and muttered, “I gave up an assistant curator’s position — a job actually relevant to my Master of Fine Arts degree — to be treated like dirt by some power dyke on steroids.” Christ, it looked like her father was right. His no-strings advice had been to forget the money difference, take the job her heart would be happy to go to every day. She’d told him she was going to have to start making her own decisions sometime. Ever so gently, he’d pointed out that independence did not mean she couldn’t agree with him. He had been right, she decided. Business sucked.
Sandra hurried into her cubicle with a breezy, “Knock, knock.” She continued in her usual breathy way, “The boards are on the way, right? I really have to apologize for giving you something so important. You just haven’t been here long enough to know all the ins and outs of the client.”
“Did she complain?”
Sandra seemed to understand who “she” was. “No, she just reminded me that our biggest clients should get our more experienced people. And she’s been under a lot of personal stress lately. But don’t worry, you’ll catch on.”
Teresa was sure that Miz High-and-Mighty Germaine had chewed Sandra out for letting the bumbling art-school amateur work on something “so important.” Hell, it was just the storyboards for a 15-second spot. Personal stress was no excuse for treating people badly, including that poor person on the phone.
When she got up the next morning, Teresa called Carla Hascom and asked point-blank if the museum job was still available. It wasn’t. She dragged herself to work, dreading anything that might cause her path to cross with the creative director’s. The woman had made her feel like a bug. No, less than that — like bug poop.