By M Baulch
“Excuse me, are you Christophe?” I asked a guy sitting by himself at the West 43rd Street Starbucks. He eyed me up and down and replied with a suggestive wink.
“No, but I can be.”
Grimacing, I tried again, “Christophe?” I questioned a different man.
“Sorry…” he said sympathetically. “Blind date?”
I had been freelancing at a popular men’s magazine, but my tenure there seemed to be coming to an end. The company had been sold and its new owners had slashed the budgets for everything—including freelancers—in an attempt to turn a profit during a time when most frat-boy readers preferred obtaining their masturbation material for free online.
So when I received an email from an ad agency asking if I knew of anyone who might be interested in a job, I quickly replied, “Yes, me.”
Ten minutes after our scheduled meeting time, I contemplated leaving when I noticed a man walking toward me. Dark-haired, good-looking and in an expensive suit, he embodied the persona of a fashion executive. He gave me a kiss on each cheek and introduced himself as, indeed, Christophe.
The interview was friendly, as I “yes”-ed my way through his description of job responsibilities and listened to him describe the office environment. The company produced high-end fashion campaigns that seemed a world away from the scantily clad girl-next-door editorials that currently occupied my time. Afterward, I returned to my post at T&A headquarters, just as news arrived that another of the company’s magazines had folded.
Anticipating that we were the next to go, I pulled up Craigslist, which had scored me, among other things, a few positions in the past. Barely in my mid-twenties, I had already survived several layoffs and had become something of a job junkie, compulsively scrolling through help wanted ads even at work.
A week later, struck with bad case of food poisoning, I called in sick, a condition to which my boss replied, “Sorry to hear that. Why don’t you take off the entire week?” For a freelancer being paid hourly, it wasn’t reassuring. Later that day, I received a call from Christophe.
“Margeaux, darling, how are you?” Christophe didn’t just ooze charm, even over the phone it shot right out of him. Eventually, I would find out the cause of his over-eagerness to hire me; two of his employees had quit simultaneously, and he was panicking. But at that moment, my only thought was when I could start.
“One last thing,” he said, momentarily hesitating. “Myself and two of the other creatives are gay men, and I want to make sure that you are comfortable with that.”
“Of course,” I replied. After all, this was fashion.
When I arrived at the agency that first day, I realized why Christophe had strategically conducted our interview at Starbucks. The office was covered with hundreds of Barbie dolls. Posed in various positions, there were dolls on top of desks, bookshelves, filing cabinets, even the copy machine. Prized special editions of Cher and Princess Di reigned over the rest, still in their original packaging. It seemed Christophe was a serious collector.
Despite the slightly creepy feeling of a thousand little eyes staring at me, I tried settling in. Rifling through a Batman pen cup left by my desk’s previous occupant, I was caught off guard when Christophe plopped a University of Texas cheerleader Barbie next to my keyboard, evidently having remembered my mention of growing up in Houston.
“Um, Christophe?” I asked, as he studiously arranged her legs into a split. “Where do we keep extra pens? I can only find purple ones in my desk.” He laughed as if I was an idiot. “That’s because we only use purple ink,” he replied.
I realized I wasn’t going to last long when later that day I accidentally knocked the cheerleader Barbie off my desk and Christophe gasped loudly. The entire office swiveled around in their chairs to look at me.
“Sorry,” I mumbled, picking her up and placing her next to my computer screen. I turned my attention back to the task at hand, deleting the unasked for Farrah Fawcett Google Alerts that were clogging my inbox.
“Isn’t he just ridiculous?” whispered Nick, the bookkeeper and one of the few remaining employees from the previous regime. Luckily, Christophe had just stepped away to the bathroom. Nick paused, waiting for me to say something juicy that he could later repeat, but I just shook my head.
Exactly four excruciating weeks after I had started, I emailed Christophe to let him know I was leaving and had found a new job. Knowing he was prone to shrieking, I was nervous that he would blow up and maybe throw a few dolls at my head. Instead, he wrote back in a strangely emotional email: “I will never forget how you looked up and waved at me when we first met that day at Starbucks…” Perhaps, after all of that, I was just another one of his dolls.
Margeaux Baulch is a freelance writer. She lives in the East Village.