Sal Story #12: Vodka Two Fingers

It was one of those afternoons that started to look like night around 4:30pm. I had been left to my own devices, relatively untethered by Sal and his nonsense for most of the day. I was working on another endless project of creating color boards out of nothing.

“Katelin!” I heard him yell. It shattered my thoughts of poppy rouge and cerulean blue. Why he didn’t just open the doors and politely summon was beyond me.

I got up, paced quickly around the corner to the second entrance of his office, which was ajar, and peeked in. He was entertaining two grey-haired (greasy, I might add) gentlemen about who-knows-what. The women’s shoe business, oddly enough, seems to turn on the axis of carsalesman-like elderly men.

“Pour me a drink.” he said. “A vodka- two fingers on the rocks.”

Sure, take the girl from Texas Christian and have her bartend. I saw where this was going. Along with my complete inability to understand drink orders, I was puzzled with a little bit of “why me when his assistant is here?” and “why not take drink orders for his guests?” But whatever.

First, I searched everywhere for the vodka, starting with the fridge (I know…). I wasted my lifeline on his assistant, asking her to help me find it. Begrudgingly, she pointed it out via a case in a cabinet and walked away annoyed. I didn’t have time to configure the whole fingers part. I did my best at pouring in what I thought might comprise a couple of shots, then added a bunch of ice.

I tip-toed lightly back into his office, set it on his desk quickly, and turned to get the freak out of there.

“Sweetheart,” he said. I turned slowly. “Does this look like two fingers to you?”

There was a shrill sweetness in his voice that somehow collided gallons of condescending feelings with a healthy dose of unrighteous anger.

I was burning up inside. On my account, he was lucky I even attempted it. That’s what his assistant was for, and she boozed enough for all of us.

“The ice displaces the vodka,” I stammered. Meanwhile, the two greaseballs just looked on, smirking, as if they were enjoying his display of a-holeness.

“Why don’t you take this back into the kitchen, pour half of it into another glass, add some seltzer water, and give it to Mel (my on again off again intermediary boss). Then bring me the rest back.”

I did. Mel refused my cocktail at that hour in the afternoon. I dumped it down the sink.

Looking back, I should have had the vodka myself and then chucked the deuces…my own interpretation of his order.

Sal Story #11: Judging the Shoes

Shoes, like books, are meant to be judged superficially.

I can still hear the french door set clammering, ringing echoes through what would normally be a beautifully sunlit mid-town apartment.

Sal was on a “sexy shoe” kick. Whatever was hot, suggestive, edgy, raunchy…that’s what we were going for. Just the sheer fact that my (apparently) vanilla taste was interested in high heels over my typical flats was a major sign the tides were changing.

How many times we sat there, diligently working hard on the highest heels, the sexiest silhouettes, and bondage-style booties, only to be interrupted.

{insert shattering door sound noted above}

Out he emerged, breaking the peace, waving a ridiculous jungle-looking shoe above his head. As our eyes strained to fixate on the object of his angst, he yelled.

“Would you **** a girl wearing these shoes?!”

Considering we were all women- and were all straight women- we weren’t a fair population to survey. But regardless he went around the room asking for individual opinions. Most of us tried to answer the invisible question of “would I wear these?”

But that was it. That **** factor was the tipping factor. Does the shoe make the collection, or is it garbage? Is it one-night-stand worthy? If not, it’s not Sal-worthy.

Still, when I shop for shoes in department stores, I almost, almost, wonder this question aloud.

Sal Story #11: "N" is for "Nudes"

I found the nudes.

Among other things, I filed the torn fashion pages that cluttered my desk every morning, compliments of Sal. I had developed a categorical system to neatly tuck them away underneath my desk in the appropriate tab: open-toed flats, closed-toed flats, ballets, oxfords, mary janes, mid-heights, platforms, stiletto’s, wedges, boots, etc. He would use these as inspiration, as competition, or simply to be aware of what was going on in the industry. He would occasionally throw in a French or Italian travel article that I would have to interpret and file in the set of travel tabs.

One particular morning, I waltzed in with high spirits, ready to tackle the pile in front of me. To my surprise, I instead found these (which have been dressed by me in fabulous white feather boas). Nudes. Nude women, not even wearing shoes. No design inspiration, no industry awareness, just…competition? I remember staring at the heavens and asking ‘why?’ Several of us nearly threw up. It almost appeared to be a staged presentation to announce that, no, he was not seeing men.

I walked into his office with “W” magazine in hand, littered with the nudes inside. I boldly asked if he would like for me to file these as well. It may have been the only time I’ve seen him turn shifty. He stammered out a bunch of statements about how they weren’t ‘dirty’ pictures. I questioned whether his recent eye-lift surgery was playing tricks on him. I took my moment and walked back to my desk, pulling out an empty file and a sharpie, which i labeled, “nudes.”

Sal Story #10: The Indian Chef Salad

One afternoon, when Sal’s assistant was out for a doctor’s appointment, he called me into his office. It is safe to say that at this time, I carried the title, “Assistant Creative Director,” which, as any young aspiring creative will note, is something one may or may not ever accomplish in their lifelong tenure. With my overconfident title and an uncomfortable pair of Sal’s latest shoes (which we were forced to wear), I opened the door. Without a moment’s hesitation, he started with, “that little Indian place over there [pointing somewhere in the direction of NE], I want my regular chicken dish and Herod (the company president) will have the chef’s salad. Herod was not in the room. I raised an eyebrow. He ushered me out with the deadline of forty five minutes.

For starters, there are an infinite amount of Indian food places anywhere to the northeast of us in Manhattan. I think it is the island of Manhattan that is said to be home to more Chinese restaurants than the capital of China itself. Somehow I navigated through to find the one he referenced–someone else had seen the logo on a bag in the trash at some point or another. Then there was the whole ‘chef salad’ thing. I’m not a fan of Indian food, but I felt pretty confident that they did not, in fact, offer a ‘chef salad.’ Chopped ham and eggs on lettuce? I think not. They also thought not. I perplexed them so much with my order I had to speak with two thick accents in a period of about two minutes. What I returned with was a measly lukewarm salad in a foil tin with a few cucumbers on top…and ginger sauce.

Just in time for my ‘deadline,’ I knocked on Sal’s door. I brought the bag of food, complete with cutlery and napkins from the adjacent kitchen, and placed it on his desk. I was just about to ask if he and high-maintenance-salad Herod would like me to grab them some drinks from the kitchen when I noticed an elevated level of tension. Sal’s face was turning a flustered color of mauve and his eyes were staring holes into the takeout bag. As long as it took for you to read from the sentence about me placing the bag down until this very word here was theoretically longer than the time it took for him to slam his hands down on the table and shout a slur of things in my direction- in front of company of course. “Is this how you serve me?!?!” he asked/yelled. Being the anticipatory problem solver, I calmly raised my hands and asked what he would like for me to do. He went on rambling to the guest about how I haven’t been trained and how naive I was. When he finally remembered the insulted party was still before him, he told me to take the food out, ask his assistant for instructions and “serve me RIGHT!” Literally, verbatim, donezo.

I walked out. His assistant was back and waiting. She had heard the mess and helped me appropriately portion the food onto…plastic plates (duh, the ‘right’ way to serve takeout food). For the record, they were black plastic plates. When I brought it back in myself, he just stared. I sat his plate down in front of his face. He squinted his eyes and angrily suggested that I served him on the ‘wrong color plate.’ “Where are the green plates?” he asked. For the record, the green plastic plates were ‘out.’ I explained this to him and he resolved to still eat on the black plate. Miraculous.

Sal Story #9: Parlez-vous Francais?

New to the company by about one month- and newer still to Sal’s personal posse of female workers downstairs, I was instructed to attend (work) a personal appearance he had to be at. Now, I never really understood this. He wasn’t Coolio. People weren’t lining up barefoot for the chance to have him sign their shoe or make a polite comment about their manicures. He was still unbeknownst to most of the nation, and the team who usually showed up for this kind of rally were shoe-obsessed teenage girls and their moms (not quite the sexy vixen he’d claimed as his main customer).

About twelve of us from the office walked over to the event, rode the crowded elevator to the top floor of an old hotel, and exited with suitcases of shoes, faux models (Sal’s assistant), and whatever notes I had scribbled down for him. I watched the charade of seemingly bored audience members for about an hour, and then helped as we loaded everything back up to leave again.

When we got onto the elevator, Sal got his crazy eye/blubbering lip face. I attribute this to a combination of things- too much going on in there that doesn’t make sense, a chance he’s confused about which side he’s playing for, and one of the eight or so orange plastic medication bottles he litters his desk with. We had a Frenchman who worked with us- hardworking, nice guy. Sal decided to take this elevator moment to shout at him across the way in French. Coy, disturbing in nature, and clearly not an appropriate conversation (anyone- regardless of native tongue) could figure this out. He scanned the elevator with a perverted smile and his gaze stopped on me. At once he turned abruptly serious, remembering that I had minored in the language. He didn’t say anything to me.

The next morning, I was called into Sal’s office. He was sitting there with the president of the company- The Big Boys Club. All they needed were a few cigars and some racy pictures on the wall. I could feel the seething and dirty environment from the second I stepped in there. The kind that makes you wish you were wearing a full-body parka and a shower cap. Sal asked me to sit down.

“Part of your job is not to listen in on other peoples’ conversations,” he said. I was confused; my face expressed such. He carried on about how it’s not only impolite but also unprofessional. “Sal,” I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Can you help clarify?” He began to explain how yesterday in the elevator I had violated some kind of code by listening in on the conversation he had been having with the Frenchman. I assured him that I didn’t understand a word he said (truth), though he didn’t believe me. He probably should have, since he continued to admit to pieces…”I am a gentleman, but I can talk about ladies when I want to, even my assistant.” All the while, his greasy-haired comrade nodding his head in agreement. Realizing I was in some sort of manipulative game, I asked if there was anything else he had to say. He didn’t, though he warned me not to behave that way in the future. I was sickened. I walked out of the room and back to my desk. I looked at his assistant out of the corner of my eye and shuddered. What could he possibly have said?

What Sal didn’t know is that I had never bought in to his manipulation. I know I didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a matter of time until he started to realize I was smarter than he thought.

Sal Story #8: Diet Coke

I do not really drink caffeine. A paralyzing experience in college occurring on the very first day of my first test involving a half a Red bull for breakfast changed my view of edible stimulants. All I remember was that my ill-fated attempts to answer questions about various religions of the world were fuzzied by the feeling of nervousness, jittery fingers, freezing temperatures, and nausea.

But I will say, working mad people hours like we were, I treated myself to a little caffeine every once an a while. I still couldn’t fully come around to coffee, seeing as it shook up a lot more than just my energy. But on occasion (i.e. once or twice a week), I would grab a Diet Coke from the fridge and enjoy a little burst of afternoon energy during an unending day. On one particular afternoon, I popped open my pop and sat at my desk to begin filtering the emails.

Bev walked towards me and surveyed my selection of lunch foods. She always did this. It irked every one of us. Who likes to have their palette scrutinized? Did I have the right balance of carbs to protein? Was I eating at least four colors of food? I don’t know what she was trying to decipher, I just know she was so neurotic about eating only apples and the occasional pretzel that even my turkey sandwich option probably looked like a greasy hamburger to her.

“It’s funny,” she said with a smirk. “For someone who eats as healthy as you do, it’s very surprising that you drink any soda.” She walked away.

I kid you not, I am not sure if I took another sip of Diet Coke that entire year. Her anti-splenda/sucrose/carbonation comment hit me to the core. I was a healthy person, I rarely even drank the stuff!

Months later, after a blood drawing incident that went awry (and I peaced out at the health facility), I was trying to get through a long day at work. What I needed was orange juice. When Sal found out that I was rather ‘weak,’ he stormed out of his office and asked what was the matter with me. I explained that I had yacked and blacked out just an hour earlier from too much blood loss; I needed sugar and rest. He peered at me with those beady little eyes and said, “why don’t you just drink a Diet Coke or something?” Rude.

Sal Story #7: The Ninja Headband

In a fashion company, some days you’re in, some days you’re out.

And seeing as my job was to always be one step ahead, it comes as no surprise that what I displayed as ‘fashion’ may very well have looked ridiculous to others at the time. I would assure myself that within months or even weeks, they would bend to the trend themselves and feel foolish for having chastised me about my taste. Bottom line:

It was the day of a fairly monumental and special ‘Sal Personal Appearance’ at the flagship Bloomingdales. We all dressed a bit nicer than usual that day, and I remember wearing a simple black frock with heels. I added a dyed pink and purple headband that was worn horizontally (aka ninja-style, Indian-style, hippie-style). I let my hair run a-poof and created just the air of edginess I needed to make the outfit pop. New-age hippie? Absolutely.

I worked all morning at my desk frantically typing up notes for Sal’s speech that evening and organizing things for the show. I heard my name in a hushed voice from behind me and swiveled my arm chair around to face Bev, the culprit. “Lose the headband,” she stated in an emotionless voice. I was a little taken aback by her bold demand, but managed to temper myself (when I really wanted to scream “why?”) and asked the question, “Before Bloomingdales?” She answered, “yes.” Though I hadn’t had time to figure out what she meant, I assume either herself (likely) or Sal had decided that I was in bad taste and didn’t want me out in the world associating myself with the pack. {In retrospect I probably should have performed more stunts of this nature}. I tried to let the blushed color in my cheeks drain as I played it cool and continued working.

About an hour later- and still T minus four hours to the appearance, I went to use the restroom. The restroom was an obstacle in itself; anyone wishing to visit Sal’s assistants hair salon/restroom had to pass by his office, through the kitchen, the printing station, and storage to reach it. I was about halfway to my destination (in the kitchen) when Bev was turning to leave the printing station. In a decently loud voice, she stated, ” I TOLD you to lose the headband.” I sensed some anger. I shook my head yes and literally lost the headband. Mercy. Was I to argue in the kitchenette about my fashion selections? Did she really want to see what an now-halo-crimped afro looked like? It wasn’t even show time…

I looked like a doofus that evening at the Bloomingdales appearance. Sans headband and added patches of flat hair amidst frizzy hair, I wasn’t in the best of moods. And I never got the wherewithal to ask Bev what was up her butt. All I know is that it was rumored she was wearing a similar thing in the years after I left that crazy house. Of course she was. The ninja headband rocked.

Sal Story #6: Vacation Time

Most companies provide some sort of handbook, web page, or cheat sheet for common reference of things you might need to know when you accept a job. For instance, how many vacation days do I get?

Since there was no manual, Bev called the group together and decided to create her own permission slips that we would have to fill out in detail to request days off. I thought this was bogus seeing as we were highly overworked to begin with. Tell me, honestly, what jobs outside of investment banking require 12 plus hour days, sometimes weekends, and the occasional migration to China by 1/2 the squad every six weeks for about four weeks? As Ling Ling put it best, “It’s just freaking shoes,” though her choice of expletive was much more entertaining than mine.

“Girls, I want you to all come over here so we can talk about a few things,” Bev insisted. We all gathered round. At this time, the small group of us included myself, Ling Ling my Filipino desk-buddy, Fatima from ATX whose Spanish heritage seemed to confuse Sal, Maid the “hardworking not-so-intelligent poorly educated immigrant from Brazil (in Sal’s eyes)” and I’m pretty sure Jebediah the metal-elbowed street style chick with wicked illustration talent. We sat down in pow wow formation, wheeling our desk chairs to hear mother hen out.

She explained that if you had to take any vacation days, which should be rare, you were to fill out the attached form and submit it for approval and signatures by your superiors. “For those of you who started in June or before, you will have ten days vacation, July forward, you will have five.” I freaked out. What great fortune! I started on June 23, just in time. And seeing as I had a non-flying boyfriend thousands of miles away, I think I had already burned through my five vacation days. I made some sort of exclamation of joy when Bev looked in my direction. It seems she didn’t realize I had actually started in June (she didn’t take much of a liking to me…). “Well, Katelin, you should really have five, that’s what everyone else has.” I looked around, puzzled. It was like, this was ‘fair’ or something. And her piercing words were the final say.

I resented her and “vacation” time for the rest of my tenure. Whenever I wanted to go somewhere, I did. Sure, I asked, I got my signatures. I think my growing discontent was only pacified by my vacation days and they knew it. I lived for my vacation days. I may have even staged a major illness on a particular vacation day to make my flight. As Ling Ling heard all too well from my mouth, “If they don’t let me have this day, I’ll quit.” It’s a dangerous mentality that has followed me around. Oh Sal, you maharajah of footwear (thanks Jeb), you cannot take my freedom.

Sal Story #5: Dress Code

Not long after the org chart disaster, I was put on the futile task of creating the company dress code. Futile, because it was essentially a revolving door of opinions by superiors and inferiors, that could change momentarily- before you were even able to get a sneak peek at this week’s French Elle.

I guess I should preface this with the fact that each of us ladies (some more than others) were eyed down from head-to-toe by Sal and/or his assistant upon walking in the door. A look of approval or disgust was assigned non-verbally, though these things weren’t necessarily a part of following a dress code, unless your code only included Marc Jacobs and Chanel. When he demanded regulation of dress, I imagined this had something to do with my prior conversation regarding whether or not the company had a handbook. When he was asking what we would need with that, I explained several helpful components that newcomers might need- from benefits to dress codes. About a month later he undertook dishing out components of this plan at random.

This was also the result of one faux-pas from the new girl in accounting (a hot pink bebe tube dress that showed cheekage), though he had no problem with the skinny girl in the naughty school girls’ outfit. I got started and had a pretty good outline when Bev started meddling in my business. She insisted that I had an incomplete log, and began listing extraneous (and what I thought were obvious) additions to my list, including ‘pajamas.’ I knew it was ridiculous, but she was my superior, so I added these things to the list. I presented the above paper to Sal that evening, and this is what I got back (see above).

Firstly, he chastised me for including such stupid things such as pajamas, spaghetti straps, and bra straps (thank you, Bev). He then proceeded to yell while simultaneously writing, “If you need a list of unacceptable attire you don’t belong here!” Sure, Sal, I’ll just interject that into the dress code portion of the employee handbook. Why did he ask for a list if this is how he felt all along?

He stormed out of the french doors and held up my paper, mocking a few of the additions that Bev had actually made- while she nodded her head in agreement with my supposed naivety. He declared that dress codes weren’t for fashion companies like ours.

The girl from accounting didn’t come back.

Sal Story #4: FINE!

Seeing as I was the ‘brightest’ hire and happened to be the first within eyesight, Sal called me into his office to help with a task he had on hand. As it turns out, it was certainly his task, and his pawning it off to me only caused further ruckus.

The Company Org Chart.

At this time, I reported directly to Sal. But there was one barrier in the way that at times I praised God for and at others I cursed. Bev had curly hair a lot like mine, though she tightly gelled it in a far-too-perfectly slick manner and walked as if the same amount of mega-hold gel was where the sun don’t shine. If I had to take a stab at it, I would guess she was a size “0” in her late thirties and in the middle of a boring marriage, with the only interesting trivet being her son’s foreign name. I saw her eat an apple every once and a while, but other than that, she wasn’t the type that was going to join you for Mexican over lunch. Instead, she was much closer in relation to Eeyore, but with an eating issue. I suppose I would be wretched as well if I was in my late thirties, starved, and working in a lune house.

A new addition named Halel joined the Sal Team about one week prior. Halel and Bev didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye. She was about clean lines, tight clothes, and the occasional (what the heck) leather pant sequence. He was all about Japanese anime, street sneakers, and thick-rimmed glasses. There began a bit of a power struggle–mainly from Bev feeling threatened by the newly (and highly paid) addition. She had decided that the six or so of us girls working in design were under her wing. So who was this guy? I’m not sure of his credentials. All I know is that he moved his entire family out to NYC from Washington for this gamble of a job.

Sal asked me to put together a company hierarchy/org chart and to have it to him within a couple of hours. I was usually given a random deadline (like, 3pm, or tomorrow at 7 a.m., or 2.5 weeks). The good thing about his insane ADD was that he would often forget the projects he had assigned out. The bad thing? When he started taking whatever was in those 6-7 prescription bottles on his desk, he remembered everything.

I got to work right away. Bev wanted to see what I was working on. I reluctantly agreed (several times before she’d thrown me under the bus or misguided me). She quickly grew angry seeing where I had her placed on the chart. Not wanting to irritate anyone, I penciled her in elsewhere. Later, Halel wanted to see the chart; he also disagreed with his placement. Good grief, we can’t all be chiefs.

Why am I doing this? Isn’t the point of an org chart for someone in power to show the others who exactly is in charge over them? Isn’t this the confusion that needs to be settled? Instead, I am miffing people left and right just trying to complete an assignment that should have been included in the company business plan, had they ever had one.

After being insulted, berated, and ignored by anyone I sought counsel from, I was near giving up. I went to the VP of the company and explained why (logically) it wouldn’t work to have the new girl establish the pecking order. He didn’t care.

At around 7pm that night, I was at my desk attempting to complete at least one assignment from the day. I heard the shrill of my name rustle through the french doors, which were immediately flung open after the call. Sal nearly hit one of the ladies working outside of the doors. “Where is my org chart?” he clamored. We would later get into a debate about his yelling at me. But for now, you need to understand that the decibel level would wake hibernating bears. Before I could answer, he had walked back and taken a seat at his desk. He was already on the computer, no doubt trying to figure out how to open his emails again. I looked across my desk at my coworker Missy’s face. She knew how up the wall I was, factor in lack of sleep and you know where I was at.

I grabbed the remnants of the org chart, pen marks from multiple individuals and all, and stomped into his office. I flung the paper in such a way that it floated to his desktop like a rehearsed scene. I was shocked by my own behavior already. I calmly explained that I had no business doing this job. That I had made numerous enemies and accomplished nothing. That someone in charge needed to (at least) tell the people in charge that they were in charge. He peered his recently tucked eyes at me and mentioned something about this being incredulous, though I assure you the word was much more elementary than that. He then closed his eyes (creepy) and said, “This is so EAAASSSSYYYYY.…This is so EAAASSSSYYYY I could do it with my eyes closed.”

I’m not sure what happened. For a moment I forgot I was an employee. I forgot the lessons I learned about grace and poise. I threw my hands up in the air, giving him the best ‘take that’ look I could think of and yelled, “FINE! Then do it.”

I turned and walked outside of his office only to find Missy’s horrified face as the whole team had heard my exclamation. It was the first of many projects I would waste my time on that would eventually find their way to the garbage. To this day, I yell ‘FINE!’ when I’m frustrated. I guess it’s like tracker I still have on my shoe from the half-marathon. That phrase is symbolic of the fact that I’ve endured worse, so tough it out.