She's Got Issues
by Stephanie Lessing
Published by Avon Trade
300 pages, 2005
Last night I dreamt of shoes again ...
Chloe Rose is living the dream. She is the newest assistant to the assistant at Issues Magazine, and she has a key to the shoe closet. Her natural talent for accessorizing, not to mention her happy-go-lucky attitude, are attracting lots of attention. Everyone is being so nice to her! Could life get any better?
It's just that filing pedicure receipts all day can be hard work, and Chloe's starting to get the feeling that maybe all those underfed beauty editors don't like her as much as she thought. And is it a problem that both the Editor-in-Chief AND the Publisher seem to be following her wherever she goes? And that hatchet job she just read in the latest issue about a grasping assistant who is trying to sleep her way to the top -- could that have been about her?!
Is it all true? Has Chloe Rose's sweet, bumbling lovability just been an act she uses to steal shoes (lots of them), tell lies (whoppers), and undermine her idiot boss in the hopes of stealing her job? Maybe, but more likely ...
She's Got Issues
I can't take my eyes off of it. It's everything I would want to be ... if I were a sign.
1026 Madison Avenue
New York, New York 60793
I slowly trace my finger over each perfect word, until I feel a little shiver on the back of my neck. I'd know this lettering anywhere. It's Coronet, the ultimate in vintage-chic fonts. The sign reminds me of that time my mom took me to see Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face at the Paris Theater when I was seven years old. I didn't really want to go at first. I knew it wasn't a cartoon, even though they tried to trick everyone with that name, but I figured, what the hell; I had no other plans and my mom let me bring a pocketbook. I had no idea that I was destined to walk out of that movie theater with the answer to the most puzzling of all life's questions. For the first time in seven years, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up.
As soon as I got home, I ran upstairs to my room and stood in front of the mirror. It was October of 1982. I was about to turn eight and it was not uncommon for me to polish off an entire box of Sugar Wafers at the drop of a hat. I stood frozen in front of my reflection, evaluating my overall look from an entirely new perspective. The thighs were definitely going to be a problem. The pigtails were all wrong, and I needed to grow at least another fourteen inches. There was no doubt about it; some big changes would have to be made if I, Chloe Rose, was going to make it in the fashion magazine business.
Unfortunately, liposuction was completely out of the question, so I settled for the next best thing -- bangs. Back then, the only scissors I was allowed to keep in my room were toenail clippers, but that didn't stop me. They weren't perfect, but the overall effect was there. Now all I needed was a job.
I hired myself for a part-time position after school and for a few hours on Saturday. My job was complicated, because I had to stay focused in a home-office setting, which involved a million and one interruptions, including: making my bed, studying for spelling tests, and, worst of all, distracting play dates with children my own age. I wasn't able to sit down for a minute. I spent hours clomping around my bedroom in my mom's high heels, arranging papers, pinning up pictures of models on my cork board, answering the phone, reapplying my lipstick and firing imaginary people. There were days when I managed to put in three or four hours of paper arranging and lipstick reapplications without stopping, even once, to put out my cigarette/broken TV antennae.
I always wore the same sleeveless cotton nightgown to work, which was cut like an old woman's housedress, allowing me to sit in almost any position without my underwear showing. No matter how far I spread my legs, it would stay hooked around my knees. It even had darts.
Under my nightgown was my mom's stretchy bra with the built-in shoulder pads, which I generously stuffed with two rolls of toilet paper. I didn't even bother to unroll it. I just put a whole roll in each cup. There was always a family member yelling for toilet paper from the bathroom in our house.
"Oh, Mrs. Stevens," I'd say to no one, "can you please bring my mother, Mrs. Rose, this little handful of toilet paper and then meet me back here in my office to line up these lipsticks again? Oh, and Mrs. Stevens, I just love how you reorganized the magazines on the bookshelf, so I've decided to give you a raise. Yes, that's right, a million dollars. And please remember to tell Mrs. Rose I say hello and that I'm sorry but I won't be able to make my bed today. As it turns out, I had to do some last-minute rescheduling. I now have a much earlier lunch date with Christie Brinkley, and I'm all backed up on my steno."
I could have used a few more employees to round things out, but the only other person I enjoyed playing with was my sister, and she found "magazine office," and "make-believe" in general, to be an embarrassment. I offered her several very high profile secretarial positions and the opportunity to work directly with Mrs. Stevens, but she flatly refused me every time.
It was always the same story with her: cashier or nothing. She was completely inflexible, no matter how many times I told her that the cashier position was already taken. Because of our professional differences and her overall lack of enthusiasm for imaginary games, I was forced to resort to playing with inanimate objects.
I could have easily used my dolls and stuffed animals to fill in for people, but I've always felt that stuffed animals look a little stiff in an office setting. Dolls are even worse. They just sit there like a bunch of babies, ridiculously overdressed, with no personality whatsoever. I can't work with people like that. There's no give and take. So I used my shoes. Shoes make excellent employees. They stand on their own two feet, ready to get to work at a moment's notice. After work, they kick up their heels, have a few laughs, and are ready to do it all over again the very next day. Except for slippers. Slippers always look like they have a cold or they're down on their luck, especially my slippers. I've always had the big, furry kind with matted hair and juice stains all over the front. Whenever I needed someone to play a bum, I used my slippers.
Because I worked exclusively with shoes, there was never any question when it came to job casting. Shoes are born stereotypes. Some are tall and bossy, some are old and reliable, some are ugly and supportive, some are trendy and loud, some are sweet and charming, and others are just out and out sluts.
You might, on any given day, walk into my room and see a pair of closed-toe sandals, with their straps Scotch-taped to the keys of the family Smith Corona, typing up a letter to the president of Bloomingdale's, or a tiny white Ked, with a pencil knotted to its shoelace, taking inventory of my closet/storage room. My four pairs of party shoes were always gossiping about how late they stayed up, or they were making personal calls instead of working. Whenever I caught wind of what they were saying, I had to separate them. God knows I loved my work.
Every night I would line up my sneakers, sandals, dress shoes, ice skates, and ballet slippers and rate them in terms of their character, function, and ability to make a nice impression. I used a complicated scoring system that involved twenty, sometimes even thirty, categories. My black patent leather Mary Janes were always in first place with a solid ten. They had pearl buttons. The button alone was worth 4.5 points. I knew my other shoes felt that I was showing favoritism, so I compensated by giving them higher scores than they really deserved.
My Mary Janes were more than my favorite shoes. They were my soul mates. I consulted them before making any major decisions, and I told them every single one of my hopes and dreams. I completely trusted them because I knew we shared the same overwhelming secret desire. We both wanted to look like ladies.
Sometimes I like to think that somehow, somewhere, they are still out there, rooting for me.
For a while there, I gave up my fascination with fashionable career women like Audrey and the rest of the Funny Face gang. Once I started watching reruns of The Dick Van Dyke Show, my childhood fantasy of myself as a glamorous career woman no longer involved a career. I still had bangs, of course. To this day I have bangs. At the moment, they are a little too short, but short bangs are very in, thank God. At least that's what my hair stylist told me when he sensed that I was contemplating taking my own life in his chair. One thing is for sure; I will never, ever change my hairstyle.
Once I got hooked on The Dick Van Dyke Show, I began spending a lot of time staring at women as they walked down the street, dressed in massive sweaters and cigarette jeans, imagining them suddenly transformed into hundreds of Laura Petries in gray pill box hats, gray dresses, pretty gray pumps, and gray pearls. Little did I know, by the time I would be old enough to dress like Laura and pull off a gray mink stole, her entire wardrobe would have been out of style for well over forty years. I think Nick at Nite is the reason that a lot of people my age have no real concept of time ... or color. | July 2005
Copyright © 2005 Stephanie Lessing
Stephanie Lessing is a freelance writer who lives in Demarest, New Jersey, with her husband, Dan and two children, Kim and Jesse. Stephanie was formerly the promotion copy chief for Mademoiselle magazine and traveled with Mademoiselle to co-host fashion and beauty events, going on to freelance for magazines such as: Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, Self and Women's Wear Daily. While attending the American College in Paris, she interned for the Herald Tribune and then graduated from Boston University with a B.S. degree from the School of Public Communications. She's Got Issues is her first novel; a sequel is in the works.