Thursday, February 03, 2005

BoozeAnne and the kitten drawer

BoozeAnne was briefly my boss, in between my years at International BrandCorp and my stint at their competitor, CrazyCo Hellkins. She recruited me into her agency, where I lasted about three months.

Sadly, we weren't secret agents, or double agents, or high-powered talent agents. No, she ran a one-woman temp agency, and I was going to help her expand her business. It was my Big Chance! I'd be in on the Ground Floor!

I got in on the ground floor, and also got off on the ground floor.

I don't remember exactly how I met BoozeAnne; I did occasionally hire temps while I was working at International BrandCorp, but I tended to hire them from the agency which had originally placed me in that job. But BoozeAnne came into my life somehow, and somewhere along the line convinced me to come and work for her. If I remember correctly, IBCorp had undergone its biannual bloodbath, where a new creative director would come in and all the executives would depart in haste. It had gotten to the point where only the receptionist, the office manager and the computer guy had been there longer than I had. We held the bottom rungs of the ladder firmly in place. So, going to an exciting new start-up must have seemed like a good idea.

BoozeAnne represented certain types of computer programmers and also graphic designers. The CD-ROM field was just taking off, and everyone was looking for people. My job, since I was a Macintosh guy, would be to find and interview more Mac-oriented types. At that time I was very proficient in most of the desktop publishing and presentation software for the Mac, so I would also do training for those who didn't have Mac experience.

I should have known that there were problems ahead when I realized there wasn't actually a Mac anywhere in the small office I shared with BoozeAnne. I could have one, she told me, when I had "grown that side of the business" enough to the point where she could afford one. But ... I wondered how I was going to train anyone, with no computer to work on?

That was negative thinking, she told me. Okay.

BoozeAnne had had a very colorful life. She had been some sort of an agent for the artist Peter Max, and had clearly fried her brain to a crisp in the seventies or eighties. It took a while for me to learn how to decode what she said: she spoke in sentences composed of words, but it wasn't always clear what those words added up to. True to my core belief that somehow I can understand and communicate with any person, no matter how crazy, I hung in there and somehow bonded with her.

She had been a top agent at a very fierce temp agency. I didn't quite understand the details of the falling out she'd had with them, but there was tension there. Her agency was in some way related to the Fierce Agency - we were in the same building, and the phone system was connected to theirs, although I didn't know the specifics. I got paid through that agency as well.

She did a lot of things for me; when I took the job with her, I was in the process of getting a new apartment. She wrote me a great recommendation letter which clinched the deal and convinced my landlord to take me. When I had no furniture at all, she gave me a lightweight foam-futon couch (only slightly stained.) She was always interesting. She was planning an empire. She would be the Empress. I would be Captain Important. The world would be ours!

But soon the stresses began to show. After one long day, she popped open a beer and sat by the window.

"It's five o'clock. I should be able to have a beer at the end of the day, right? I mean, I'm the boss."

"Sure. Beer is good."

"I really need to smoke. Is it okay if I sit by the window and smoke?"

"You do what you want, I don't mind."


"Can you run down to the corner and buy me some rolling papers?"

I did run down to the corner and buy her some rolling papers. She rolled a joint and smoked it by the window, sipping her beer. She was the boss.

Part of the job involved carrying a beeper, since we had several clients who operated around the clock, and might find themselves needing someone at 2 a.m. We took turns taking the beeper home. On the nights when I had the beeper, BoozeAnne began developing the habit of drunk-dialing me around midnight, just to "check in."

"You're the only pershon who really understands me. Why izh that?"

Oh my god, if I knew that, my life would be so, so, so different.

I came in one day, and BoozeAnne, who was normally on the phone engaged in an all-day series of hyperanimated calls trying to drum up business, was sitting silently. She motioned to me.

"Don't use the phones today."

"Are they broken? Do I need to get a repair person here?"

"No, no. Don't use the phones. They're listening in."

I assumed by "they" she meant her enemies at the Fierce Agency. She was convinced they were trying to sink her by any means possible.

So, I stayed off the phones (with a great sigh of relief, since I hated making cold calls.) I played a lot of solitaire that day.

I was quickly finding that the part of the job I wasn't so good at was the salesmanship and the hucksterism. I quickly developed relationships with all her existing clients - they preferred dealing with me, since I could actually string words together to form sentences that contained meaning. I had a hard time whipping up new business though, which she constantly pressured me to do.

I also found that I was good at interviewing; having been through so many horrible interviews myself, I wanted to offer people a better interview experience. What I was realizing was that the top level of talent was not likely to sign on with such a small agency unless they really liked us personally. I found that I could manage to get people to really want to come and work for us, because I didn't put them through the interview bullshit power-plays that every other agency liked to torment people with.

One day, I had a woman coming in who had a really strong background in CD-ROM design. We were trying to fill a position at one of our client firms, and if we got this woman in there, we could land a huge commission. So, it was crucial that we get her to sign on with us.

I came in that morning, trying to straighten up the place and make the place look a little less desperate. While I was tidying up:

"Um... BoozeAnne? Why are there ... kittens?"

There, in the bottom drawer of the filing cabinet, was a mess of mewling kittens. BoozeAnne had unexpectedly come to be the owner of a litter of kittens, and she certainly couldn't leave them at home. They were very young, just separated from their mother. So why not bring them to work? And hey, why not slip them into that drawer? It was their little cave. They loved it.

Yes, a drawer full of kittens.

Well, I certainly love kittens, and I would have loved to have been on the floor playing with them all day. But first, I had to convince SuperDesigner that we were an agency who could land her a great deal, and that we were not actually two insane people with kittens in our filing cabinet.

The interview comes. The kittens seem to be sleeping, and are tucked away in R-Z. I am forging a bond with the designer. She has had some offers, but is still looking for the right position. I'm describing the job that we're trying to fill, and she seems interested. I'm painting the picture for her, reeling her in. She leans forward, interested, crossing her legs. Then:


Suddenly, hanging off her expensive hosiery, is a kamikaze kitten.

I try to explain that, well, yes, we're a little untraditional around here, ha ha (this was before the dot com boom when every office was running amok with pets and so forth.) And doesn't everyone keep kittens around? Who doesn't love kittens?

I plucked the kitten from her leg; her hose were ruined but no blood had been drawn. She was polite. It was no problem, don't worry about it, it's fine. Who doesn't love kittens?

That was the last we heard of her.

BoozeAnne was spiraling downwards. I occasionally went to the men's room to hide. The midnight calls were more frequent. No Mac ever appeared in the office. I came to find out that the couch that BoozeAnne had given me was, in fact, not really hers, but was in the apartment she was housesitting for a friend who was in Europe for an extended time.

Finally, one of our clients began to secretly try to convince me to leave BoozeAnne and come and work for them as a production manager. I tried not to act like a desperate rat leaving a sinking ship, but the minute I could decently leave, I ran.

Once I was in the new job (at CrazyCo-Hellkins), I hired a few temps from BoozeAnne just to make sure there were no hard feelings. I believe her agency finally folded. I ran into her on the streets of the Upper West Side maybe a year later. She was doing something else then, and we chatted pleasantly, the alcoholic midnight calls forgotten, the pot-smoking at happy hour a thing of the past.

Of course, she had a cat in her purse.


Blogger David said...

I think this is how some people see our relationship, as well: the moon bat and the sane one. Of course, we keep things interesting by switching roles often.

7:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You have a big future in writing children's books. "BoozeAnne and the Kitten Drawer" can be followed by "BoozeAnne and the Rolling Papers," and then the very special activity book, "Drunk Dialing with BoozeAnne".

I wish we had a Kitten Drawer here at my workplace. Can you imagine the morale boost? And if a patron was unhappy, I could say, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that--here, why don't you have at the kitten drawer for a while." Customer satisfaction would SKYROCKET.


1:01 PM  
Blogger jwer said...

I want a kitten drawer.

5:01 PM  
Blogger crumblord said...

"The moon bat and the sane one." The thing is, I agree, but I have no idea which of us is which.

Next up: "BoozeAnne and the People Listening In."

8:49 AM  

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