IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Wore A B.O.-Reeking Dress To An Important Professional Event

I spotted the author. I presented him with flowers and a heartfelt embrace. I sensed a tangy fragrance in the air.
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Publish date:
March 13, 2015
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work, embarrassment at work, you don't smell good, body odor

After amassing an inbox full of rejections, the email I’d dreamed about finally came. Along with an interest in representing me was an invitation to a party that same night. The agent’s enthusiasm affirmed I’d chosen the right path. With my book proposal now in the right hands, success and appearances on The View would soon be mine.

Five years prior an editor friend said to me, “You’re a good writer. It’s something you should pursue.” This assessment was based on the emails we’d exchanged, and the suggestion came at the perfect time. I was on a temp assignment in midtown. A converted closet was my work space, and I shared it with dead bugs. I sat in a lopsided chair. I’d been laid off from my last music publicist position, after an unremarkable 10-year career.

With the zeal of a host on QVC, I set out to hone my craft. I took classes in creative writing, humor and memoir; personal essay, dialog and voice. New York Press was the first to publish an essay. It seemed the universe agreed with my plan. More submissions were made, and rejections received, but I didn’t let them slow me down. The next logical step was a book proposal, which involved more classwork, of course. I then hired a coach who encouraged me to “go deeper.” I told her secrets only my therapist knew.

“Your mother said that?” she said, “and then you did what?”

My soul poured onto the keyboard. Emboldened by our sessions, I had a story to tell! We met each week. She was my mentor and friend. Top billing would be hers on my acknowledgements page. After months of revisions the proposal was complete. Off I sent it to be copyedited, proofread and blessed.

When agents didn’t clamor to sign me right away, I referred to The Godfather’s Hyman Roth. “This is the business we’ve chosen,” he said to Michael Corleone. Rejection was implicit in my chosen endeavor like ordering hits on associates was in his.

“Thank you for your query,” the emails began. I learned appreciation of that sort is a bad sign. It seemed everyone in publishing wished me well, yet no one agreed to join Team Anne.

Then it came.

“This is good stuff,” the email began, “I’m interested. “ This was followed by the launch party invite.

The attached document revealed the title of the book, the venue and party time. The novel took place in the roaring ‘20s, and period attire was to be worn. It was now 2:00pm. The celebration started at 6:00pm. How was I to become a flapper in 4 hours?

A call to my best friend revealed, “You’re not.” At that point I’d been unemployed for 10 months and food trumps feathered headbands. So I dressed like myself, 45-year-old chic: smart boots, fitted sweater, and fake pashmina scarf. Then I practiced chatting up editors with my cat, Milo.

“Did you read that piece in the Times this week? It was erudite, pugnacious and sublime.”

Milo yawned.

The time came to leave for the party. This was my moment. I had arrived.

It was a February night. I exposed only my eyes, across Houston Street I shouldered against the wind. A half hour late I arrived, a bouquet in hand, to “The Sexiest Bar in New York City,” Madame X.

Across the very red room, I recognized my future agent. At over 6’4” Allan was easy to spot. He made up one quarter of the men in the lounge, none whom were dressed like Jay Gatsby. He must have noticed my "Are You My Mother?" face, because he nodded at me to join them.

“Yes,” I thought, "this is The One.”

“I’m sorry, your name again?” he asked. “Of course, Anne,” he said, “that’s right, Anne.“

Allan introduced me to his assistant, his college roommate and future brother-in-law. I listened politely as they discussed football scores. As a group we went to the next room. Seated on a velvet loveseat were two young ladies, both dripping with beads. The more decorated of the two wore a shimmering boa, the same color of her fringe dress. She was the author whose book release we were celebrating, a stack of her newly pressed novels close by.

“These are for you,” I said, offering her the bundle of mums.

She smiled politely, and asked me my name.

“Anne,” I told her, “A-N-N-E.”

“Anne, thank you for celebrating the launch of my book,” she wrote, her cursive impossibly neat.

The women continued their intimate conversation. I’d overheard the author was just engaged. Her future betrothed was also her agent, the same one who invited me. The guys huddled in discussion about the recent Super Bowl, a fraternity of which I had no part. So I stood there smiling, an ebullient outcast, until my face started to get sore.

It might be a good time to leave.

I said my goodbyes. The agent said, “Call Friday around noon.”

I flew home on a cushiony breeze.

On Friday I recognized Allan’s voice on the phone, it was not that of short man.

“Hello, this is Anne McDermott,” I said with a bestseller-flair, and was met with deafening lull.

“Anne McDermott, from the book release party?” I went on.

“Oh yeah, Anne,” he said, “hold on while I pull up your … what’s it called again?”

When he got back on the phone he told me the title “sucked.”

I took in a deep breath and assumed my mafia posture. He went on to say the proposal was well put together, but to give him a call once I go “viral.”

“Viral?”

“Yeah, you know, like Gangnam Style,” he said referring to the Korean pop-singer whose video had over 1 billion views.

“Okay!” I said, encouraged by the guidance.

“Keep me posted on your progress.” He said and hung up.

Six months later I hadn’t gone viral. So I took another class.

The teacher was a nexus of publishing. There was no editor, agent, or writer more than two degrees separated from her. She was generous with her counsel and threw book release parties too. This one took place in July.

With a steady job and more time to prepare, my arrival at this party was well-planned. I’d twice read the memoir, considered the author a friend. It was just down to two dresses, each recently purchased. The sleeveless yellow polka flare dress was classic, and dare I say, literary. The other choice was a sexier, off-white macramé; subtle yet less-writerly. “Literary” was, I feared, a scene-stealer and “Sexier” was just that. I took my chance at stealing the scene.

My thick frizz-prone long hair required one hour to style, such was the humidity of that deep summer night. At the last possible second I stepped into “Literary.” On the sidewalk I was cloaked in a sticky mass.

In spite of the excitement swirling beneath my coiffed hair, I tempered my gait so as not to perspire any more than I had to. I made it to the N train, which was mercifully cool, and got out at 8 street, steps from Washington Square Park.

The doorman guided me towards the elevator bank where I was met by 4 others; all on their way to the same bash.

“My name is Anne,” I said, “I’m a student of Sue’s.”

We all had the same relationship to the host.

The elevator doors opened, we could hear revelry; already there were more than 7 guests!

We entered the apartment, modern and spacious. It was a proverbial library, a labyrinth of books. Sue invited us to jump in. I spotted the author, and recognized his parents from his book. I presented him with flowers and a heartfelt embrace. I sensed a tangy fragrance in the air.

Across the room I saw a woman from my class. She’d just signed a book deal based on her Pacific Crest Trail hike. Her writing was poetic, fluid and deep. I admired her vulnerability and grace.

She introduced me to her husband, whom she’d met on that same trail. As we hugged a whiff of foul air swirled past my nose.

These earthy types are hygienically lax.

The agent who taught my book proposal class appeared. He inquired about my progress while he draped an arm on my neck.

Oh no, not him too.

That scent again reared, I knew it was hot, but this guy was so prep-school WASP. More unrepresented writers surrounded the agent. We competed for his audience with canny bon-mots. All seemed enveloped in the same odor.

Do all these literary folks lack dignity?

I slipped into the bathroom, the stench was too much. I closed the door and took in a huge breathe.

Oh my God, the smell is coming from me!

I sniffed under my arms, and discovered the culprit.

It was the delicate dress I called “Literary.”

Upon closer inspection, the dress had been previously worn, and likely returned for a full refund. And I’d just blasted the party with an offensive aroma. I had to get out of there.

With my elbows pinned to my hips, I tried to make my escape, but ran right into the effusive host. She was talking to another agent, whom I’d never met, and insisted on making introductions.

I wanted to apologize, “It’s not me, it’s the dress.” Because who wants to represent a stink bomb?

Once home I dove straight into the shower, hoping to wash off my shame.

With a towel wrapped around me I sat on my bed, looked into my closet and thought, “I should have worn the sexier dress.”

It then occurred to me that the dresses were the same size, from the same rack, bought at the same time.

It couldn’t be.

I brought my nose to the frock and discovered I’d been duped not once, but twice.

As I climbed into bed I was forced to consider, was it I who was duping myself?

I’d heard that an overnight sensation takes 20 years. Perhaps it’s time for another class.