E-mailing Ellen

by

01/11/2004

270 Madison Avenue ny ny

Neighborhood: Midtown

Our company president paced before us in miniature Ferragamo shoes, her furrowed brow crowned by a platinum beehive. With her short, tyrannical stature she smacked of Kim Jong II preparing to invade Madison Avenue. She had called us junior PR flacks into her office for a rousing speech. “You’re the best of the agency and that’s why we have you working with Ellen, our new client. You must treat her like a queen, become her best friend. This is a $2 million piece of business–as it grows, you’ll grow,” she said clicking her heels.

But the hype was lost on us slackers. For us, PR wasn’t our dream career but a “B” job. Janice and Liz were both part-time actresses and Maria was trying to get pregnant. I’d just dropped out of med school and was broke. I had no marketable skills except I could look good, smile when needed and bullshit on demand, which is all you need for PR.

To stave off boredom, we entertained ourselves with witty e-mail banter. It was our life raft of creative expression in a vapid ocean of corporate drones. We could say things in ones and zeroes that we didn’t have the moxie to say in real life. We were admins gone wild, running fast and loose with our digital communiqués.

On the day before a high-profile event, Ellen was micro-managing us at every turn. And as the stress level rose, so did the volume of snarky emails between Liz and I.

“Liz, o my god, Ellen is such a tight-ass controlling bitch, it’s no wonder she can’t get laid. She’s admining me to death.” SEND

And then to Ellen: “Dear Ellen – Please find attached the final attendee list for tomorrow’s Boston event. It should be a super success! Kind regards, Anna.” SEND

Ellen replied a minute later, “Where is address info? Redo and resend, ASAP.”

I forwarded to Liz, “What a rude biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaatch. She can take her addresses and shove it right up her ass. Maybe that would relax her.” SEND

Then back to Ellen,

“Hello Ellen – I’ve revised the list, per your direction. Please see attached. Best, Anna” SEND

Ellen’s curt response said, “There’s a typo in line 8. Fix it.”

I forwarded to Liz, “She can blow me and my typo.” SEND

From Liz: “Hey did you see the new guy in the mailroom?”

To Liz: “Have you talked to him? He’s a lug-head.” SEND

From Liz: “Yeah but did you see his package?”

We were interrupted by Ellen who had written, “John French’s title is wrong. He is the Manager of Corporate Communications, not the Communication’s Manager. Please pay attention to the detail!”

I forwarded the e-mail to Liz: “Looks like the Queen Bitch is snittier than usual this morning. You want to go out for lunch later? BTW, mail guy just walked by and winked at me.” SEND

Several minutes passed and my inbox was still empty. I shouted over the tan cubicle walls.

“Liz?”

“What?”

“What’s with the big freeze?”

“Huh?”

“I just e-mailed you about lunch.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Ah, yeah, yeah I did.”

I checked my sent box.

The subject header read, “Ellen the Queen Bitch.” Sent to: Ellen Rabinovitz.

“Oh dear god,” I whispered as a creepy sick feeling settled in my stomach. “I am so dead.”

My eyes locked on my inbox, waiting for Ellen’s fatal response. Minutes crawled by. Nothing. I looked around my cubicle with sudden fondness and nostalgia, preparing myself for the worst. Walking into my boss’s office I knew there was no way I was going to be able explain my way out of this.

I sat down and said, “Something terrible has happened. I understand that you’ll need to fire me. It’s your only choice to save the account.” I explained what happened as the blood drained away from her face. When I was done, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “There’s only one thing we can do. You have to call her and apologize.”

Suddenly I felt sicker than before. An apology felt a lot more humiliating than getting fired.

Back in my cube, I dialed Ellen’s number. I hadn’t even thought of what I would say. I figured it didn’t matter as she was going to sack me anyway.

She picked up the phone after only one ring, “Ellen Rabinovitz.”

“Hello Ellen, it’s Anna,” I said, my voice quivering.

The line went silent. After several long, painful seconds, seconds that felt more like hours, I cleared my throat. “Uh, are you still there?” I asked.

“Uh-huh,” she replied. More silence.

“About that e-mail I just sent,” I blurted, without thinking about what might follow, but hoping she wouldn’t rub my nose in it too deep before giving me the ax.

Another long silence. “Yes,” she said waiting.

“Well, I was multi-tasking my e-mails and I meant to send the e-mail that I sent you to someone else. I was talking about my other friend, Ellen,” I said.

“Oh, really,” she said, her voice, unamused and flat.

More silence. It was torture. I was bracing myself for her tirade, while trying to remember if you had to work three or six months before becoming eligible for unemployment.

“I’m really sorry for the confusion. It will never happen again,” I continued, hoping she wouldn’t fire the whole account. I wondered if I could get sued for slander. Then I realized that she wasn’t going to fire me, that she was enjoying my discomfort.

“OK. Is that it?” she asked.

“Ah, right. Yeah, I guess.” I replied not knowing what else to say.

“Goodbye, then,” she said and hung up.

I realized I had paid her a backhanded compliment. Had I dissed her over processed hair, lousy fashion sense or non-existent love life, she would have taken it personally and fired my ass. But being a bitch was an asset in our industry. It meant that you could get results and could be trusted to manage million-dollar budgets and a crew of slackers.

When we met up at our high-profile ladies luncheon in Boston, Ellen was chillier than usual. We never spoke about the e-mail again but she lorded it over me like karmic retribution, bossing me around at every opportunity. My penance was to never talk trash about a client again, no matter how painfully annoying they became. It was worse than being fired.

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