Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sailing down the Avenue

About 8 years ago I was an intern in the art department at a certain womens/lifestyle magazine in New York. I was their first intern. They were a new publication, all idealistic and clueless. And I was fresh out of art school, all idealistic and clueless. It was a terrible fit. The design and layout of this particular magazine is what initially struck me. I was in Barnes and Noble admiring its spare, well considered photography and quiet whispering fonts and my friend said, “Why dont you just send them an email and ask if they need an intern?” I love her for that advice. So I did, and there I was.

I was getting paid peanuts and my brother gave me the advice that I should not buy one new piece of clothing for this job, because I couldn’t afford it. And I wanted desperately to move out of my parents house as soon as humanly possible. So I was wearing some outdated baggy dresses that I was way too young and slim to be wearing with my long unstyled hair up in a clip from Duane Reade. Now I look back and I realize that I was in the dark about how New York really worked. I didnt realize that a new outfit was probably exactly what I needed in this environment to be taken seriously. Forget about practical, comfortable shoes, what I needed was something snazzy and overpriced. But I never got it, I just saved my money and shuffled around in those platform/elastic black sandle things that were in style a few summers before I was wearing them. And I worked.

The editor of this magazine was almost completely wretched. But she was actually an excellent writer. She was playing the part of a nightmareish woman in magazine publishing very well. I saw it in her eyes, that she hated herself and deep down that she knew she was being an asshole. But this is how it was done. “When in Rome” she probably told her-fucking-self. She would flit around the office shouting absurd demands that turned what had been previously agreed upon, on its head. Everyone hated her but no one said a word. She would occasionally stroke people, just enough to keep them working, like dogs, irrationally, at this poorly oiled machine of a publication.

One day I was working on designing an article that was going to be in the magazine. This was a big step for me. Prior to this, I was cutting up mock-ups and making copies, incessantly. Well, the editor came around to look at my computer and she told me she loved what I was doing. Then the art director told me she also loved it. I went home that day a little bit proud. The next morning, the editor whooshed past me and went into the art directors office in front of where I sat. She closed the door. I heard talking but no words.

The editor emerged and the art director, sweet person that she was, had a red face and came over to me and told me to stop working on the article that I was designing. The editor decided she didn’t want interns designing the articles. I was completely dejected and went over and made another cup of coffee with hot chocolate mix in it.

Then in about 20 minutes, the editor came over to me and asked me in a tone that dripped with sweet evil, would I be a doll and go pick up her shoes from the shoe maker? She handed me the tag and some money. I said, “oh sure”, in fake sweetness and even faker ignorance, and I smiled. She made it very clear where she wanted me. So I had to make it even clearer where I wanted me. I put her money and her shoe tag on my desk. It was around 1pm. Then, in a brave and radiant fury, I walked out of the building and I sailed down 6th Avenue a few feet off the ground and rising as I got further from the building. and I never. went. back.

There are many many things I love about this story and one of them is that about two years later, the art director tracked me down and called me and asked if I wanted a position as an assistant art director there. I told her I was working in a genetics lab and going back to school now and thank you for the offer, but no.


  1. Oh no! This is great! I love this; the part about the coffee mixed with hot chocolate really spoke to me. You were their first intern? That is amazing! I always imagined them as some huge conglomerate!! I imagine that they would be sweet evil, like an evil Betty White . . . You always seemed too sweet for your own good, whereas I have always been too bitchy for my own good. I would probably be bff with the the witchy editor.
    At least the sweet art director liked your work and wanted you to come back despite of, (or maybe because of?) you leaving. Hooray for you and angry storm offs!!

  2. Yes I was the first intern in the design department. They were huge, they are part of Time Life, but they were just starting out when I arrived.

    and I am SO not too sweet for my own good, I just hold in all the bitchiness until its too late and then poof!

  3. Like a serial killer, or a sniper in a bell tower . . . I can only imagine what it is like to work there now!!

  4. I love that I finally got to read this story that I have only heard spoken. Perfectly written. LOVED IT. SUCK IT SNOBS!

  5. Yeah! And I love "quiet whispering fonts"...gorgeous.