It was my therapist’s idea—the journal of mortifying moments. Of course, she called it “a diary of past encounters with men that may be contributing to your current negative and dysfunctional quasi-relationship.” Go back as far as you can remember, she encouraged me; the more painful and humiliating, the better. Easy for her to say. My therapist is this strong, independent, rather intimidating woman who has probably never even had a bad relationship, let alone kept a diary of all of them! The fact that she is large and masculine with an unflattering “helmet” hairstyle may also help keep her man troubles to a minimum.
But it is worth a try. Since my boyfriend, Sam, suggested we take a break to “explore our feelings as individuals,” my self-esteem has been in the toilet. Of course, “exploring our feelings as individuals” does not preclude us having casual sex whenever Sam wants it. And since he is so ridiculously good-looking and successful and sexy, and I am, well . . . not, I can’t seem to say no. Probably because I realize that I will never find anyone even remotely as wonderful as he is and will end up a morbidly obese, housebound spinster or, alternatively, married to some puny dweeb with back acne and nervous tics. My therapist says we need to get to the bottom of all these negative, self-defeating feelings. So, if writing down every devastating encounter I’ve had with the male species in painstaking detail will help me do that, then I’m game.
With a heavy sigh, I snap the small lilac notebook closed and bury it in the bottom of my desk drawer. I place a couple of outdated magazines and a stapler on top of it, just in case there is an office snoop.
I know it was supposed to be therapeutic, but I feel rather drained now. I could really use a glass of wine, but since it is only 8:45 am, I’ll have to settle for a chai latte. I sift through my wallet and find four dollars, just enough for a latte and a gingersnap at Starbucks. I am just swiveling in my chair to leave my tiny office when Sonja appears in the doorway. I gasp involuntarily at her pale, ice-queen presence.
“Where are you off to?” she says pointedly, indicating the purse slung over my shoulder. “You just got here!”
“Ummm . . . ,” I stammer, blushing like she’s just caught me reading porn in the office. “I—uh—I’m just off to the bathroom.” I tap my purse. “That time of the month, you know.”
She gapes at me, apparently repulsed by the thought. “Too much information, Kerry,” she says, holding up her hand lest I go on. “Don’t forget we’ve got a nine o’clock.” She leaves.
“Nope! I won’t forget!” I call after her. “I’ll just take care of . . . you know . . . things.” I tap my purse again. “And meet you in the boardroom!”
As I stride through the spare and modern lobby of Ferris & Shannon Advertising, I mentally berate myself. Why do I let her get to me like that? Sonja has this uncanny ability to make me feel awkward and embarrassed about the smallest, most inconsequential things—for example, having my period. I mean, I’m not even having my period! Not that there’s anything wrong with having it—it’s the most normal, natural thing in the world. Why does Sonja make me feel like having my period is some embarrassing secret? I mean, we all have it! Except probably Sonja—I would imagine she is too thin to menstruate.
No time for my chai latte now. I must go change my imaginary tampon and get to the boardroom.
I am scheduled to present a communications plan for our client Prism Communications, the second-largest Internet service provider in the country and one of the largest companies in Seattle. It’s an internal presentation only, which is actually more nerve-racking than presenting to the client. Sonja is very, very difficult to please.
As I approach the boardroom, I become aware of a buzz of conversation emanating from within. I walk inside to see thirty people gathered around an enormous slab-concrete table. Okay, not really thirty, but ten—which is five times the number I was expecting. Sonja reads the surprise and chagrin on my face.
“Kerry, I’ve invited the team in to hear your communications plan and provide feedback. This is an important campaign, and it is essential that we have internal consensus.”
“Okay,” I say as cheerfully as I can muster. “I’ll just run and make seven more copies.”
I return and distribute the document around the table. In attendance are
4Dave, creative director—an obnoxious, arrogant A-hole so devoid of humanity that many of us suspect he is a serial killer
4Tanya, art director—a goth chick, sleeping with Dave, so therefore, also an obnoxious, arrogant A-hole
4Dennis, production manager—short nerd who will emphatically support whatever Dave says because (a) he is afraid of being murdered by him, or (b) he is just a major butt-smooch
4Terry, media director—dog-loving spinster—or possibly lesbian, given short, spiky haircut
4Louise, media planner—chubby, permed, cat-loving spinster—probably not lesbian, given Richard Gere collage on office wall
4Fiona, account planner—a small, nervous Chihuahua of a woman who’s extremely passionate about her job, although none of us really understand what she does
4Claire, online manager—sweet and soft-spoken, completely wrong for this business
4Maya, manager of direct marketing—tall stylish brunette who is nice but very keen on her job; given my attitude, this precludes our being friends
4Gavin, account executive—a skinny wiener who is basically Sonja’s foster child and will soon be promoted to take over my job even though he is only nine
4And Sonja, the queen of Norway
“All right, everyone,” Sonja begins, tucking her immaculate blond bob behind one ear. “Kerry is going to take us through her initial attempt at a communications plan. Feel free to jump in with any comments or criticisms that come to mind.”
“Thanks,” I say, and then begin to address my document. “Given that back-to-school is a very busy time for new Internet sign-ups—”
“The market is totally cluttered at that time of year,” interjects Louise, the media planner/Richard Gere fan. “The creative will have to be breakthrough if we want to have any impact.”
“Why don’t you let the creative team worry about that?” Dave mutters.
“Dave, I don’t think that attitude is really conducive to getting the most out of this meeting,” account planner Fiona says nervously. “We need to take a team approach if we’re going to move Prism into the number-one position. Now, my research bears out the fact that students twelve to eighteen crave a high-speed connection. Their parents, however, often feel that a dial-up connection is sufficient.”
“That’s a joke!” says Gavin, who is practically in the twelve- to eighteen-demographic.
Sonja laughs and smiles at him adoringly. “Isn’t it?”
“Anyway . . . ,” I continue. “Given that September is traditionally the strongest month for sales, I felt we should launch our media plan in late August—”
“August?” Terry, the lesbian media director croaks. (She is a heavy smoker.) “No one watches TV in August!”
“Well, TV isn’t actually in the plan. We didn’t really have the budget.”
“What!” Dave explodes. “If they’re not going to do TV, they may as well close their fucking doors!”
“There are media that are just as effective on the younger demographic!” Fiona screams back. “My research shows that transit shelters and cinema advertising resonate with young people!”
“Perhaps an online component?” Claire asks hopefully, but no one listens.
“You can shove your research!” Dave says to Fiona. “I’ve been in this business for fifteen years, and I know that clients who don’t put their money where their mouth is don’t survive.”
“That’s it!” Fiona stands up. Her hands are shaking as she gathers her papers into a neat leather folder. “Obviously my input isn’t appreciated here.” She storms out.
The meeting progresses in this antagonistic manner for seventeen hours until the receptionist knocks on the door and says that the room is booked for a client presentation. As I pack up my belongings, I realize that I have read exactly three sentences of my communications plan. Sonja follows me to my office.
“Thanks, Kerry,” she says. “Now if you’ll just address the issues brought up today and integrate the suggestions from media and DM, I’d like the finished plan on my desk by nine tomorrow.” She smiles tightly.
I feel like crying. I lost interest in all the bickering and conflicting opinions shortly after Fiona left, and sat thinking about where I’m going to go for drinks with the girls this weekend. I have no idea what the issues or suggestions were! I hate my job.
An hour later my best work-friend, Trevor, appears in my office. “Are we going for sushi?”
“I can’t,” I say dejectedly. “Sonja needs this revised plan by tomorrow morning, and I don’t even know what I’m doing.”
“I’ll help you over lunch,” Trevor offers, and I stifle a guffaw. Trevor is an account manager, too, but it is the general opinion of the agency that he charmed his way into the position. He is tall and stylish, with the chiseled jaw, slender physique, and lazy gait of a male model. His dark hair falls sexily into his stunning blue eyes, their beauty undiminished by small, wire-rim glasses that I am convinced have nothing to do with correcting his vision and are worn only to give the impression that he has actually read enough to damage his eyesight. As we all know, anyone that gorgeous has to be gay, and Trevor is. And as if his appearance weren’t enough, he also has an uncanny ability to enchant people into thinking he knows exactly what he’s talking about when he is actually completely clueless! He uses a lot of catchphrases and buzzwords like, “This campaign really pushes the envelope,” or “We’re totally shifting the paradigm.”
“Thanks,” I say as sincerely as possible. “But I’d better just grab a sandwich and keep working.”
“But I really need to talk to you about this fucking Rory situation,” he pleads.
Fucking Rory is the guy Trevor has been dating for three weeks. Last week (or was it the week before?) Trevor was concerned that they were getting too serious too fast. “It sounds crazy,” he said. “But somehow we just know that this is it . . . that we’re meant to be together. Am I crazy?”
“A bit,” I said.
“Why am I even asking you?” he snapped, annoyed. “Like you’re one to judge relationships.”
The tables have turned this week, and fucking Rory is thinking that he should give his ex, Ken, another chance. “I really need to talk Kerr Bear,” Trevor whines. “Pleeeeze? I’ll treat?”
I sigh. “Okay.” My already tight office walls seem to be closing in on me, and I feel the possibility of a claustrophobic fit coming on. Besides, there’s not much I can do about this plan anyway until I can accost someone who was paying attention in the meeting and get them to tell me what was said—without, of course, letting on that I was daydreaming through the whole thing.
At the restaurant, we sit cross-legged on dingy satin cushions while our shoes perch on the ledge beside us. Given this position, I am thankful that I didn’t wear a skirt today—not that Trevor would notice anyway. We each order the “B Box.” Then Trevor closes the sliding rice-paper screen for privacy before launching into the details.
“He says he loves me and he knows I’m the one, but he needs closure on the Ken thing before he can move on. He thinks that if he doesn’t give his relationship with Ken another chance—with one hundred percent effort—he’ll never be able to feel positive about moving on with me.”
“That’s bullshit,” I say, sipping my green tea. “If he knows you’re the one, why does he need to go back to Ken unless he thinks there’s a chance that he’s the one?”
“I know!” Trevor says, banging his hand on the table and sloshing our tiny cups of tea. “That’s what I said! Fucking Rory. He’s got to go.”
“I’m afraid so,” I agree.
“I can really pick ’em,” Trevor says morosely.
“I hear ya, sister.”
“So what’s going on with gorgeous Sam, then?”
Ugh. Sam. At the mention of his name, I feel the familiar churning of my stomach, the involuntary reddening of my face. It does not help that Trevor insists on referring to Sam as “gorgeous Sam” as if the fact may have escaped me. Not to mention that, in contrast, he calls me just plain Kerry—I mean, not like he calls me “just plain Kerry,” but he might as well. Anyway, I refuse to fall apart at the mere mention of Sam like some pathetic lovesick loser! I can be cool. I can be calm. I can be “I don’t really care that much about him anyway so, like, whatever . . .”
I shrug, feigning indifference. “We’re having dinner on Thursday, I think.”
“And where do you guys stand on the moving back in together issue?” Trevor asks.
“On the fence.” I blush a deeper hue despite my cool facade. The fact is . . . since I moved out of Sam’s apartment last spring, we haven’t even discussed moving back in together. But I have sort of led everyone to believe that it is inevitable.
I clear my throat nervously. “Can I have some of your wasabi?” He passes me the green paste. “Thanks,” I mutter, sighing heavily as I dab the end of my chopstick in my tiny dish of soy sauce. “I’m just so stressed about this communications plan.” I am, of course, but I am mostly trying to change the subject away from Sam. “I mean, I don’t even remember what went on in the meeting, and I supposedly chaired it.”
“I’m going to help you,” Trevor says magnanimously. “I’ll ask Gavin for you.”
“That’s a great idea!” Gavin is guaranteed to have paid attention and to know every syllable that was uttered and by whom, as he is some kind of advertising wunderkind.
“Besides,” Trevor says. “I think Gavin might be gay—or at least not completely decided either way. I might be able to persuade him to join our team,” he says suggestively.
“Ewww. Why would you want to? He’s a gross little wiener.”
“He’s cute. He’s just very slight.”
“Slight? He’s the same size as my cousin Mandy’s daughter. She’s six.”
“Well, not everyone can be built like you, Kerry! What do you call that build again—‘big-boned’?”
“Oh, fuck off.”From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Journal of Mortifying Moments by Robyn Harding. Copyright © 2004 by Robyn Harding. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.