Work…! Work was a trip and three quarters! My first day was sort of different for sure. The first person I met was the receptionist, operator, administrative assistant, staff coordinator, and all around general tornado of action. And her smile was a large as her enormous heart.
She loved me the moment she set eyes upon me. She was an older woman in her mid-forties and she took great care in how she looked. Her hair was styled perfectly in a page boy and her makeup was flawless. She wore a tailored navy blue skirt-suit and a powder blue blouse with a collar bow. Her name was Rhona and she greeted me with a hand grasp and a kiss on my cheek.
“Peter asked me to show you right in. He’s very excited that you’re going to be a part of our team and he wants to introduce you to everybody personally.”
Rhona took me directly to Peter’s office. He got out from behind his desk and shook my hand. I half expected a kiss on the cheek from him. Peter is, to put it mildly, a beautiful man. He’s over six feet tall and very fit looking. He dressed as though his closet was the men’s section of Saks complete with blue blazer…Italian cut of course…tailored grey slacks and tasseled cordovan penny loafers. Peter shunned the use of ties.
Peter had a perfect tan to accent his perfectly golden blond hair that was as perfectly well coiffed as Rhona’s. His very deep blue eyes seemed to pierce right through one and I found it hard to maintain eye contact without blushing candy apple red. His manner of speaking was quite affected and I’m sure he fit into any social situation with the ease of someone born into wealth and working simply to have something to do.
Peter put his arm around my shoulder as he ushered me through the offices introducing me to everyone. There were seven artists and each one checked me out…seriously! The assistants scurried about taking only as long as it took to say hello.
There were three project coordinators who had private glass enclosed offices. Two of them were no doubt lesbians because they seemed to dress far more macho than I did and they eyed me as one might a fine dessert until they realized that I was not…available?
Everyone was almost overly nice and receptive but I was sensitive to the vibes of fear. I was the youngest there by more than a few years and certainly the fact that I was hired right out of school must have sent a message to every one of the artists.
I’d spent the first few weeks going over the various accounts that Peter’s department produced work for. Although the work was first rate for sure, I would have done some things different. So I sat in the conference room and sketched ideas and slipped them into the folders. One never knows when a review of client materials might be in order.
After meeting everyone Peter and I returned to his office and closed the glass door behind us. He motioned me to have a seat and he sat behind his large glass desk. There were two piles of folders on his desk. He leaned forward toward me with his elbows upon the table top and his chin resting in his palm.
“We have a problem Andi.” I leaned forward and gave him my best attentive look. “We’re trying to land a new account that could greatly increase the size of our company. The problem is that we haven’t yet been able to come up with a logo or symbol they can use to present all of their produce lines. Here is the art that has been rejected thus far.”
He laid his hand on one pile.
“And here are all of the correspondences. Have a look through it all and see if perhaps you can’t come up with something new and fresh or perhaps some images we could build on.”
He then shuffled me off to their conference room with Rhona carrying the two piles of folders. I was given a cup of coffee and a pad and some pencils and left to my own devices. I really wasn’t interested in what had been done thus far from an artistic point of view. I was really more interested in the correspondences. Whatever the client wanted would be within those papers.
It took me no more than three hours to figure out what the client wanted and why the ideas presented weren’t right. Of course I immediately went to look for Peter who was looking over one of the other artist’s work. I stood silently barely able to control my excitement. When he finally recognized me, I nearly wet myself.
“I know what they want.” I giggled.
“What…?!” Peter was flabbergasted. “You only just now saw the files.”
“I know what they want.” Okay…so maybe I was a little sing-songy this time as my eyes rolled upward with a smile and a giggle.
Peter stood up straight and looked at me carefully. I continued to smile and nodded my head.
“What do you need?” His expression was quite serious.
I told him exactly what I needed and I told him that I could have everything he needed in less than one week. I also told him I would need a quiet area to work. I wound up with a drawing board in front of a window at the front of the cavernous artists’ space. I had one neighbor who pretty much kept to himself except for sneaking an occasional look at me.
Within one week I had four ink and marker sketches readied. Peter assembled the staff in the conference room where my sketches were lined up on a large easel. Once everyone was in the room, Peter looked at me with a mixed expression; curiosity and amusement.
“So Andi…what have you discovered that all of us missed?”
“Well…” Though I was standing I crossed my legs and fidgeted with my hands behind my back. I rolled my eyes upward. “…these people make ranch dressing, white bread, and cupcakes.”
“So what’s your point?” One of the senior artists asked.
“Let Andi speak Justin.” Peter turned to me and smiled. “Go ahead Andi.”
“Well…? I guess the point is that they are not appealing to the gourmet crowd. While all the things done were really very nice, none of them would catch the eye of this company’s market. What I’ve done is to create an image of their average buyer; a woman…more precisely…a woman who does the buying for the family.”
I turned toward my drawings and continued describing who she was…physically.
“She’s in her thirties and maybe a little hunky-chunky. She does look a lot like the board chairman’s wife.” I giggled. “But she dresses simply and is very femme.”
“What about the other drawings?” Peter looked very intensely at them.
“Well…we have a Hispanic woman, an African American woman and an Asian woman. And with cable or the net, the images can be market targeted or even simply shown randomly in five second types of spots.”
I grinned, blushed a vivid pepper red, fidgeted a bit more, and looked at the faces of the people in the room. Peter spun in his chair.
“This is not what we’re known for. I mean…this is…cartoon work.”
“We are really know for a more creative and visual approach. This stuff certainly doesn’t…pop out at you.”
“The idea is not exactly original.”
And so it went. There were several more ouches before Peter spoke again.
“What do you have to say to all that Andi?”
‘Gulp…!’ Nopers... I'm way big to disappear into the floor.
Peter looked at me with those cold analytical eyes of his.
“Well…it’s not about creativity or…’pop’ or even original.” I pointed at the renderings. "These women love the product. You can see it in their faces."
“What’s it about Andi?”
“It’s about money Peter. Show it to them. Please..." Okay... So I'm not above begging...a little. "I promise you they'll like it."
“I like you Andi. We think alike.” Peter clapped his hands together. “Okay..." Peter said as he gazed back at the drawings, a convincing smile on his face. "I'll show them."
For three nerve-wracking days I sat at my drawing board and drew…curves and pears and more curves with boobs. I did manage to produce two cityscapes in ink though. Finally Peter called me into his office. When I entered Peter’s office he glared at me. He was tight lipped as he motioned me to sit down.
“Guntner hated the sketches.”
I felt my stomach fall to my feet. Suddenly Peter smiled and laughed.
“You used his wife’s face. They’re getting divorced. Find another face and the account is ours.”
He leaped up to his feet and came around his desk toward me. I stood and he swiftly embraced me.
“In fact he was so thrilled that he’s giving us his packaging design as well. I want you to work on this one. Use everybody if you need to.” He held me by my shoulders and smiled warmly at me. Even his normally cold eyes were…tepid? “Oh…by the way…I love your new hair style.”
Find another face huh? Well…I could always use the face that originally came with the body. Of course I would need to alter it a bit. I certainly didn’t want too close a resemblance. So a slightly modified Allie became the new face of Americana Food Corporation. And he ‘loved’ my new hair style! That actually gave me a tingle!
Later… Back at the ranch…
“You did what?! I do NOT want to be on a box of grits!!!”
Allie was furious. Her hands were on her supple hips and the heeled pump on her right foot tapped noisily against the wooden floor of our kitchen. Her face was a lovely shade of pomegranate pink. I hate to say it because, because…well…it’s so trite, but…Allie looks so cute when she’s angry. Her face and neck turn crimson and her eyes flash with emotion.
I anticipated that she wouldn’t want to have her face used and maybe I should have shown her first before telling her. When I did show her what I had done she was placated enough to only be slightly pissed at me. I finally brought a smile to her face with a peace offering of a dinner at any restaurant she wanted to dine at.
We began to discuss our days at work with a bit more regularity. Allie was far more capable than anyone in helping me navigate the passageways of corporate life. For sure I was the number one on the flavor of the week selection, but NOT with the other artists. She was able to put some perspective on that and she gave me suggestions for dealing with that nonsense.
Inversely I was able to assist Allie with some of her ideas as a stylist. I even sketched out some of her ideas so that we both might have a look and see if we couldn’t improve upon whatever presentation she was making.
And, of course, there was her studio. I was beginning to become a permanent fixture, working alongside her as she ‘threw mud’ on her wheel. It was…nice. The energy was very good for creating new and different shapes for her and with some of those shapes came visions of what I might paint upon them.
The one piece that had caught my eye became the ‘Sun Bowl’. I painted it in black on white. The shapes were strictly folk artsy and although not totally crude. They were more rudimentary in nature yet still stylish.
The center of the bowl was and sun with a smiling face and a corona of pointed beams emanating from it. I painted stars and a planet or two as well as the moon; half on one side and the other half on the opposing side. I used some block Asian characters for a bit of mystery and I signed it in paint next to her carved initials on the pedestal’s bottom.
Over the course of time Allie began to go out on dates but she was having little success. She would come dragging in around eleven or midnight with her heels in one hand and her bag in the other and the look of rejection, or rejecting, on her face.
In all honesty I was somewhat glad? I didn’t want to lose the company of my ‘new’ friend and I did cherish our time together. I…we never seemed to grow bored with one another. Of course we were still in the infatuation phase?
I’m not sure of what was going wrong during her dates? And when Allie would discuss them it seemed that the guys were boring or boorish, or just not…right? Occasionally it was a physical thing that turned her off but most often the chemistry was simply not there.
I was fairing no better. But then again I wasn’t even trying. Oh sure… I was getting hit on at work in spite of my somewhat outcast status. But I simply wasn’t interested in any of the guys there and, to be quite honest, I didn’t know that I was even truly interested in guys exclusively. Occasionally there would be some guy I’d see on the street that was really cute. But for me, being cute was a very long hop, skip, and jump from naked and in bed or even naked at all!
One evening Allie came in with her heels yet again in her hand. After getting herself comfortable, she joined me on the loveseat in front of the television. She deposited a bottle of lotion, a clean face towel, a container of ice cream and a spoon on the coffee table. I looked at her curiously.
“My feet are killing me. I wore these new shoes and my feet are so sore that I can’t even wear my sneaks.” As she rubbed her feet I could see the pained expression on her face.
“No…just sore, achy and generally abused.”
Allie opened the ice cream, Double Dutch chocolate with almonds, and dug in with the spoon. She put her feet up and slowly licked the deep dark brown confection from the spoon. I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye, and then to the bottle of lotion on the table. I do not know what inspiration, or spirit, moved me but…
“Give me your feet.”
“What…?” Allie stopped in mid lick to answer.
“I’ll massage them for you.” Her expression was frozen. “If you’d like?”
“Oh… You really don’t have to. You look so comfortable as is.”
Allie sounded so truly sincere as she continued her long slow lick at the ice cream in her spoon.
I insisted with a curling of my fingers and my disarming ‘boyish’ smile. I could see that Allie was mulling my offer over. I’m not sure what her hesitancy was? But she did swing her feet over and let them rest upon my lap. I motioned for the towel and the lotion and within seconds had one of her feet in my hands, slick with lotion and ready for some rub.
Now I must tell you that the feeling of slickened flesh glide and slide between ones fingers is so delightfully sensual on many levels. And I did enjoy every little moment of the exquisite tactile delight. I imagined that this would be similar to the feeling Allie got when she worked with her clay.
I had this feeling that Allie was observing me closely every once in a while to be assured that I wasn’t perhaps too excited with her feet in my lap. I remember someone having told me once; ‘Why fuck up a great friendship by catching feelings’.
It didn’t take Allie long to relax enough to lean back into the corner of the couch where the back rest meets the arm. I glanced at her several times and smiled as I watch her simply melt. I could almost see all the tension leave her body and my hands never went higher up her legs than her calves. She even began to emit an occasional ‘mmmm’ and ‘ahhh’.
Suddenly, in the midst of rubbing her heel, I felt Allie moving about on the couch. I looked toward her to see a spoonful of ice cream being held in my direction. There was a voiceless bit of communication between us. I shook my head ‘no’ and she arched her eyebrows in response. I thought for a moment and nodded with a smile.
Allie looked far too comfortable to make her move and I didn’t want to get the lotion from my hands onto the spoon’s handle. So I leaned toward her till my mouth was able to accept the ice cream. I couldn’t eat it all in one mouthful so I took half. She patiently waited for me to finish what I’d taken so I could eat the remainder.
We shared the container till the ice cream was finished. Allie would eat some and then offer me some. In truth I couldn’t eat more than every other spoonful but she saw that I had my fill before her own. Eventually she fell asleep in the dimly lighted room after settling further down into the couch, her feet covered by my hands. I was able to slip out from beneath her feet without waking her and I covered her with a comforter before going to my own bed.
I’ve thought about that evening from time to time ever since. Allie’s willingness to share her spoon may have on the surface seemed…trivial? But, in reality, it was a mere quarter step away from sharing one’s toothbrush!
What occurred to me later was how much trust she had to have in order to swap spit in such an indirect manner. How truly comfortable she must have felt, even at that relatively early juncture, with me. In retrospect, that one simple act was in fact a sacred act, a communion…no a sacrament to the spirit and soul.
And the very fact that I could have someone feel so very comfortable with me, around me, was a blessing. I was never all that comfortable within my own skin. Perhaps that’s what drives what I do; my art. Having Allie fall asleep with her feet in my lap, my hands on her person, was truly a monumental experience.
So… I knew nothing about packaging and here I was, foisted upon the very spearhead of Peter’s phalanx. I looked at some of the work that was being done by the other artists and their ideas were brilliant. I felt privileged to be amongst them. But I had to go with my intuition. The woman I conceived was an ordinary human being and she was buying the ordinary staples of the average family’s meals.
Once again I turned to what I knew. I chose to do some designs utilizing Allie’s kitchen cabinets. The doors were glass paned and this would provide a strong glimpse of what the box contained. Within one week I worked out the basic sketches for boxes with cabinet designs for each of the women. The frameworks for the doors covered everything from bare wood to a white lacquer look, for a more urban household, to a walnut finish for more suburban dwellings.
Once again the client was thrilled and once again I was a superstar! The account executive wanted to meet me! I was…to put it mildly…TERRIFIED! I think even Peter was a little concerned. After all, the main office was uptown and very Madison Avenue and the people seemed to be all the same. I mean they even wore ties with their shirts! Peter simply didn’t enjoy being around the ‘suits’.
The apartment got a thorough cleaning every Friday. The service would come in the morning and do the whole thing including dusting and vacuuming. But every once in a while the spirit would move me and I’d do something like wash and polish the kitchen floor. It’s not like I need to be a homemaker to feel fulfilled or anything. I’m simply a clean freak though not to the point of obsession. And, as I may have mentioned, I find doing this sort of house work, laundry, cleaning, even dusting, allows me to clear my mind to think and get ideas.
Now…every once in a very rare while Allie would take advantage of my good auspices but being of a sweet, caring and eminently fair nature would always return kindness three fold times. One of those times changed me forever.
I had just finished doing our laundry and I was sitting at the counter in the kitchen putting some lotion on my hands. Allie walked into the kitchen from her studio with a very sour expression on her face. I asked what was wrong.
“Oh…I messed up my nail!”
She pouted for emphasis. Meanwhile I have visions of blood and nail bed and pain, pain, panic, and pain. But I see none of this…thank God! I am such a devoted coward when it comes to the blood and pain thing. I went to her immediately and took her hand in mine. I saw nothing that even closely resembled an injury. I looked at her with a very questioning expression. She held up her hand and showed me her index finger nail. The polish had been slightly chipped whilst she worked in her studio.
“I need to fix this. It looks awful.”
Allie left the kitchen only to return a few minutes later. In her hand she had a bottle of nail polish remover, a buffer, a clear nail polish with a slightly pink tint and a clear nail polish. Now I must admit the nail coloring thingy has always been somewhat of a mystical magical practice in my mind. It always seemed to be an almost exclusively femme kind of thing although green nail polish never held an attraction for me.
I knew that Allie seemed to have hers done professionally about every two weeks and I often noticed that her nails always looked…well…perfect. Now I was about to have a close up and personal look at how it was done. And I was not simply excited. I was fascinated! From the cleaning to the buffing to the very first coat to the top coat I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of what she was doing. Allie noticed. With her head down she rolled her eyes up at me and grinned.
“What…!” She snapped, breaking my gazing and capturing my attention.
“I think that is so cool!”
I laughed, my eyes lit with excitement. It was like watching an artist paint a portrait in a way. And she was so very adept with her small brushes taking the greatest of care not to leave an artist’s brush stroke signature.
“You mean…” And she motioned with her head toward her nails. I nodded. “Do you seriously mean to tell me that you’ve never played with nail polish?”
“Only a few times. But I always messed it up.” My gaze again went to her finger nails. “Yours look so perfect.”
“It’s really kind of a craft, a skill? It takes know how and practice. Here…give me your hand.”
Allie held out her hand after rebottling the polish brush. I put my left hand in hers and she carefully inspected my nails.
“Okay…here’s the deal.” She looked up at me and smiled. “Let’s do one nail on each hand and see how you like it. Let’s do you pinkies so it won’t be that noticeable.”
I couldn’t believe Allie would do that for me although in the recesses of my mind I prayed she might? It really would have been a treat to have them all done. But that would have been asking way too much. Especially after I saw what she had to do for only two nails.
Allie spent nearly fifteen minutes doing our nails. True, most of the time was waiting time between the coats of polish. But still it wasn’t like there was much one could do in between except talk.
So we spoke…well…actually Allie spoke. She was a bit concerned because her ‘ex-friend’ was becoming a bit of a pest. Of course there wasn’t much I could tell her that was of use. I usually had, on extremely rare occasions, quite the opposite problem. If I had more than one date with somebody, it could be classified as an LTR.
I couldn’t believe how…how totally incredible my nails looked when the polish finally dried. I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of them. The light shone off my little finger nail like it was a jewel. I had this vision of how all of them could look given the same treatment. Allie, of course, seemed to read my mind.
“Wait…” She held up her hand. “Don’t tell me!” She covered her eyes with her other hand. “You want to have them done, right?”
Allie’s face was alight with a huge smile. I grinned and giggled…and nodded my head.
“You are so femme!” Allie squealed and laughed. “I guess we can have them done at the same time we get our hair done.”
And so it was! Saturday couldn’t come quickly enough for me. I felt only partially dressed with the two nails done. I felt like such a fool sitting at my workstation and staring at my two little fingers. I could only imagine them with a very pale pink or rose color sparkling in the light.
And the way they looked so very shiny and polished. I loved the feeling of the polish drying on them; that odd, but pleasurable feeling as the polish dried. And I loved the way the polish felt upon my nails. There wasn’t anything I didn’t like…love actually…about what I’d gone and done.
Of course it was noticed at work. Rhona fawned all over me when she saw my hands on Monday. But then again she kind of adopted me as her…child? I mean I can’t really say son because she certainly didn’t treat me in that particular manner nor could I say a daughter because…well…just because! Although she was close to some of the others, she simply seemed a lot more partial toward me.
And it didn’t take the rest of the staff to notice or at least hear about my newly polished nails. Even Peter complimented me on my appearance. In fact, hardly a day went past without somebody complimenting me on something. It was usually something I wore or a certain ‘look’ I had or some new and weird fun accessory…something.
Generally speaking I couldn’t remember when I felt so good about myself…so positive…so real and alive. Most of that feeling I could trace back to Allie. Not that it was something particular she did as much as the combination of our spirits I guess. For sure my being a more ‘manicured’ person and that was her doing. I loved her for that.
Will Andi become his own executive assistant? Stay tuned!
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