Wednesday, July 06, 2005


Judy showed up at my desk this morning and said hello in that slow, "I have bad news" way.

Apparently she had mentioned to another associate (Todd Amstead, incidentally, of cookie package infamy) that one of the receptionists does freelance work for a local magazine and had interviewed her for an article. Todd reminded her of the firm's policies about talking to the media -- she was supposed to have cleared the interview with PR before doing it. This had actually occurred to me before our lunch, but I didn't mention it because I figured it would be a non-issue -- it's not like there's a good chance anyone at the firm would actually happen upon my little magazine and notice the article. But when Judy talked to the PR office they told her to call off the article altogether. I told her I wanted to talk to PR myself.

Judy left and I looked up the extension of the PR woman she had named. I was definitely nervous, but in moments like these I project an uncharacteristic calm in my voice and face (too bad this PR woman wouldn't be able to appreciate my deadpan facial expression over the phone). I perfected this steel demeanor during the tirades of my old boss up north. The first year I worked for him, my eyes would water whenever he yelled and I'd start babbling apologies or excuses. But by the second year I had learned to just stare hollowly at him, answering any questions he posed in a cool, even voice. I could tell that my manner freaked him out and always left him a bit confused as to whether he was sorry about the yelling or more angry than he'd been before. By the third year he had stopped yelling at me altogether.

After two rings, the PR woman -- Madeleine -- answered the phone. I introduced myself and she immediately knew who I was. She had one of those overly melodic receptionist voices and she cheerfully told me that they were sorry but the article could not run "at this time." I explained to her that this was not some investigative, exposé piece or anything -- I intended it to be a personal story of one immigrant's success. I didn't even have to mention the firm's name if that would help. She repeated that they could not let the article run at this time. I asked what I could do to make the article happen. "I don't see the article running at this time."

I hung up but didn't give up. I continued working on my article, figuring that I could type up a draft tonight and give it to PR tomorrow. Once they see how innocuous the article is, I thought, hopefully they'll change their minds.

Late in the afternoon, one of the secretaries on my floor stopped by and said she was there to cover my desk. I eyed her with confusion and told her Joan had already given me my break. "Oh, Shandace didn't call you? She told me to cover your desk because they need you in Human Resources right away." My stomach immediately took flight. In my many years of schooling I had never gotten called to the principal's office, but I imagine that this was what it feels like.

I headed to the 23rd floor and opened the HR door (clank). "Hi dear...they're waiting for you in Virginia's office." I hated that Susan was in on whatever was about to go down.

Virginia, who is Shandace's boss and the highest person in HR (damn, they're really pulling out the big guns), was standing at her desk. Two other women were already seated in guest chairs. Virginia motioned for me to sit in the third chair and then motioned for one of the other women to shut the door. I was introduced to the two women -- one was the sing-songy Madeleine and the other was her boss, the director of PR.

Madeleine was younger and less pretty than I had imagined. She wore lipstick and jewelry and a stylish maroon suit, but her face was ruddy and she was too pudgy for her clothes. I realized that she might have interpreted my "steel" front as hostility; she slumped slightly in her seat and gazed deferentially towards her boss. If this was the principal's office, she was the mildly-teased kid who had tattled to the principal -- and then showed up to his office with her mommy.

Virginia handled the talking. She said that while they realized my intentions were innocent, Judy should have cleared the interview with PR first. I apologized and assured them that I had not intended to skirt procedure. I then reiterated that the article would be a heartwarming personal profile and that I didn't have to mention the firm's name at all. Virginia said that this was an unfortunate situation but that they could not let the article run at this time. I said I would check back with them closer to press time to see if anything had changed. The three of them exchanged glances for a moment and then Madeleine's boss addressed me for the first time: "You'll need to turn over all your notes from the interview."

Are they kidding me? (p.s. Boyfriend is actually a real journalist and he is equally incredulous about this.)

I told them I didn't have my notes on me (a lie), but that I would bring them to work tomorrow. They instructed me to call Madeleine in the morning and she would pick the notes up.

So tonight I have to write up some fake notes. I did jot a few things down during Judy's interview, but I didn't write enough to prevent the PR folks from suspecting I had used a tape-recorder. And there's no way they're getting my tape.