I am the least fashion-conscious person you'd ever want to meet, so I'm a bit embarrassed to tell you that I am watching Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. I don't like the movie because of the fashion but because it reminds me so much of my first job right out of college. Like the protagonist, I too, got a degree in communications and journalism and hoped to get a writing job. What I found in its place was a position as a go-for in a small advertising agency. It was owned by a man and a woman who were not married to one another but who had worked together at another agency. They quit their jobs on a Friday and opened the doors to their new agency the following Monday, having taken with them most of their former boss's clients.
When I saw the character of Miranda Priestly (played by Streep) I couldn't help but think I had seen the reincarnation of my old boss, complete to the gesture of throwing her coat on my desk and expecting me to hang it up for her.
The man who owned the agency really liked me and demonstrated a lot of confidence in me. The woman, however, was another story. I soon learned that she fired every single administrative assistant they had hired for her, and I would be working chiefly for her. She spoke quickly, didn't like to repeat herself, and expected you to read her mind. She would also swear she told you to do something when in fact, she hadn't. This was in the days before email so leaving a paper trail to cover for yourself was virtually impossible.
She had been married three times already and it appeared to me that her current husband was hanging on by even less of a thread than I was.
The agency handled mostly fashion accounts. What did I know about fashion? Not much, but I had to learn quickly. I never knew what I could be asked to do from one day to the next.
"Go out and buy the jewelry for the fashion shoot."
"Call the agent for Spandau Ballet and see if they would be willing to do a photo shoot"
"Take the 7am Amtrak to New York and pick up the clothes from the garment district"
"Come pick up Maggie (her English Sheep Dog) and bring her to the photo shoot"
The last command was one of the most humorous. Maggie was unruly on the leash and dragged me down Chestnut Street, where the photographer's studio was located. I remember having to brace myself against a subway alcove to get her to stop dragging me. The wind was blowing and I had a billowy dress on that nearly traveled with it and by the grace of God I caught it at the last minute without losing my grip on Maggie.
No matter what I did, it was never good enough, fast enough or thorough enough. The other partner loved me, but he confessed he had been powerless in the past to save anyone he liked from getting fired because eventually, his partner would get around to it.
In August, he came to me and said he was going on vacation and it had been nice having me work for him. Joan, he explained, had a knack for waiting until he went on vacation to fire people.
"You think she's going to fire me?" I asked incredulously. I did everything she asked for, including working weekends for special promotions at one of our retail accounts.
"She's done it before, she'll probably do it again."
However, the grace of God was with me again. While the one boss was away, the vice president quit, very suddenly, and there was no one to take his accounts - except me. So I survived not only that week but the next 7 years. I went from gopher to senior account executive and got to write copy and even design some ad campaigns.
That partnership was the craziest I'd ever worked for. After Caitlin was born, I felt I wanted to do something more altruistic with my life, and I made the decision to go to nursing school. They didn't take the news well and did everything to keep me, including offering me a vice president position and a sizable raise. Sometimes, when I look back, I think of how uncomplicated my life was when I worked there compared to now. But it was the right thing to do. Nothing I did made an impact on anyone's life in a meaningful way.
Anyway, the movie brings back memories of photo shoots in New York, expensive dinners, wining and dining clients and of course, being dragged down the street by a photogenic but ill-behaved dog. It all seems so shallow and meaningless, because it is, but it's still humorous to remember it all.