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“I don’t normally do this,” she said smiling conspiratorially. “But I’m giving you the job!” She punched her fist into the air in excitement and looked at me expectantly.
“Ahahhh!” I tried to make a noise that would mirror her enthusiasm.
Wendy did PR for boutique hotels and I was going to be her new protogé. A silver-bobbed vixen, she’d teach me what she’d learned in her “30 plus” years of experience and take me to Art Basel in Miami where we had a property.
She’d be like my classy older sister and before long we’d be partners. I imagined us with Martinis at the all-white bar of some property in Los Angeles.
“He likes you,” I’d nudge her elbow and we’d smile coyly and raise our glasses at some foxy older gentleman holding a tumbler of very old whiskey in one hand while spinning the keys to his yacht seductively on the opposite index finger.
I called my mom immediately to tell her I would never again ask her for money. As of today and I was going to be fine. More than fine. I would be a career woman.
What this meant precisely I was unsure of. But I knew it had have something to do with owning shoes with non-broken heels and spritzing myself with understated perfumes in the morning. I would finally have a chance to follow all of the unused career advice from the piles of women’s magazines I’d digested in the prior decade.
That weekend I bought myself a new purse, which I promised myself I would keep clean and organized. No more bits of crushed cigarette or receipts so old they had turned back into solid white slips of paper. Not this time.
My main task would be writing press releases. I got to work immediately. I would be the best press release writer in history. Our main project was in Tuscany, a former home to Machiavelli (“Poor man, misinterpreted,” said Wendy) it was now a 10-room luxury accommodation with a swimming pool overlooking a vineyard and owned by a white African man with a dubious past.
The wine produced on the estate was bottled and distributed under the name for a special African elephant named Charlie whom the Estate’s owner had taken a personal shining to and paid a legion of workers to nurse back to health. The proceeds of the wine went to support Charlie and his other elephant friends at a Ugandan rehabilitation center.
“Highlight that in the release,” Wendy told me. “People love elephants.”
That first day, we ate seared tuna and a glass of white wine for lunch at an outside table in Nolita. We clinked glasses like in my fantasy.
Days 2 and 3:
The next several days of working in PR were completely unlike the first. It had been clear from the start that Wendy did not understand the Internet nor its place in her work, which was a bad sign as it was 2008 and the Internet would have been integral to her job for well over a decade. She became irritated soon after I arrived in the morning. I think it had to do with me knowing what viral marketing was.
She sighed often and forwarded me hundreds of emails demanding to know if I’d read them seconds after they appeared in my inbox. I ate take-away salad at my desk.
Day 4The fourth morning I had trouble finding an outfit to wear, which used up too much time so I couldn’t straighten my hair.
In the afternoon, Wendy and I went to her apartment for a business meeting with the African who owned both Machiavelli’s house and the Elephant sanctuary. She lived in a new built highrise in the East Village that had been the site of anti-gentrification protests even while the movers unloaded her low-sitting modernist furniture.
As I stood gawking at her sweeping views, she began to have a meltdown.
“I can’t get the Internet to work,” she moaned. “Do something!” I looked around helplessly.
“Find me a pen!” Wendy yelled.
I dug around in my new purse and came up with my fingernails full of lint and dried-up cookie crumbs.
“A pen!” Wendy shrieked.
I dashed around her apartment, scanning all of her smooth spotless surfaces for writing utensils. Just when I discovered a cup filled with matching silver pens, the buzzer rang.
I opened the door for a thick, very tanned man. He wore a white shirt, which hung open at the neck, exposing a tuft of bleached chest hair and a thin gold chain. His head was large and arrogant. He held out his sports coat for me to take. Two Versace bags dangled from his wrists.
“For the wife,” he said, handing me these as well. Fitting, as I had always considered Versace to be a brand especially suited to the spouses of Third World dictators.
Wendy had settled in at the kitchen table with her notebook.
“We have also small game reserve for hunting trips I’d like you to promote,” he said, his eyes achieving a rehearsed far-off quality as he spoke. They finished the sentence for him. In Africa, they said.
I snorted in shock and looked to Wendy who gave me a severe glare and looked up seductively at Mario.
“What do you hunt there?” I asked ignoring her.
“Big game mostly,” he leaned back and laced his fingers behind his neck. Wendy looked at me nervously.
There was an elephant in the room. It’s name was Charlie.
“Do you hunt elephants?” If Wendy had been closer she would have kicked me.
“Yeah, some of those.” He said, not catching on. “Rhino, antelope, you name it.”It was the final piece in my puzzle. It had become clear to me that the game reserve and the elephant sanctuary were one and the same. I felt like Monk.
The Spaniard from the Marbella property arrived in the morning and we met him at Grand Central for lunch. He sat next to me at the restarant, a move that divided the three of us into sides that clearly made Wendy uncomfortable.
After the meeting we walked him back up Madison Avenue and they began to talk politics.
“Obama is just such a nothing,” she said. “I don’t see what all of the fuss is about.”
“I wish people would just give him a chance,” I piped in. I was high on hope.
“This is not the place for politics,” she hissed at me, “No one asked for your opinion.”
“You were expressing your opinion and I expressed mine. Surely there is no need to be upset.” The implication that she was the one out of control infuriated her even more. She gave me one more hateful glare then pivoted on her Laura Ashley heels and stalked back to the Spaniard.
There was a construction project ahead with a temporary wooden wall that jutted out from the sidewalk. I could see Wendy waving her arms above the Spaniard’s head, probably apologizing for her stupid help.
I could still catch up and save my life of pencil skirts and trips to Miami.
As they continued down the street, I made one a big step to the right so that I was blocked by the construction. I leaned against the wall and breathed deeply, then I turned and walked the other way down Madison Avenue.
I walked all the way back to the office where I left a note apologizing for the misunderstanding. Hopefully, this will have taught us both something about what we want, I wrote and slipped it with the key to the cubicle under the door.
Later that evening I received an email from Wendy. You are selfish and irresponsible, it said. I should never have hired you. Don’t expect me to ever recommend you for another job. She may have been right. Even so, I knew what to do.
I picked up the phone.
“Yes, PETA? I’m calling to report the abuse of some elephants.”