Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Biting It in The Big Apple

Last week I posted an essay about my experience as an editor at Allure magazine. The piece was re-posted on two different websites and I was contacted by a magazine editor, who is working on a beauty/lifestyle story and asked me to be part of it.

The interview questions for that story (I will soon post details on the publication and when the article will run) got me thinking about my variety of magazine experiences, and my very first one in particular:

I left for New York in 1996, two years after college. I moved from San Francisco, where I was living with two male musicians in a Victorian in the Western Addition (whenever my mother came to visit, she refused to sit on the toilet seat). I decided the city was too small and I wanted to run around a bigger one, so I sold everything I owned that wouldn't fit in one large suitcase on the sidewalk in front of our house.

Before I moved, I'd gotten a job in New York after a series of telephone interviews and one meeting (in Santa Fe, New Mexico) through a close friend, who had great connections in the magazine and art worlds. She'd just finished earning her masters degree and was deciding between a job at Artforum magazine or Flash Art magazine. She preferred Artforum and recommended me for the one at Flash Art. The position was for a junior ad salesperson, which I knew little about but didn't really care. I just wanted a job that would take me to Manhattan.

Flash Art, an Italian art magazine, had a tiny U.S. office on Broadway in downtown New York City. On my first day, my new boss handed my three huge binders and told me the list of names in the books were the people I should convince to buy an advertisement in the magazine. I had a small desk, a telephone and those binders, which mostly included every gallery owner in New York City. I spent eight hours a day cold calling these people with a weak sales pitch that mostly went something like this, "Hi, I'm calling from Flash Art magazine and was wondering if you'd like to buy an advertisement in our such and such issue?"

As you might've guessed, I didn't sell much. And since I was making just over six dollars an hour plus commission, I was a seriously broke newcomer in the beautifully expensive big apple. I'd moved to the city never having been there before. I literally pulled up in a yellow taxi cab in front of my new and never before seen apartment on the Lower East Side. My friend and new roommate (the one who got me the job) had found the apartment and so had her pick of the bedrooms. Needless to say, I got the tiny one in the back with the tinier window and square footage that allowed for only a mattress on the floor. I hung the clothes from my one suitcase from the ceiling since there wasn't a closet. When I would lie down on that mattress at night, I would hear rats crawling around inside the walls, where I hoped they would stay.

I scraped pennies together to buy food or a liquid dinner at whatever cool new bar I'd discovered downtown. Even when I did sell an advertisement, they wouldn't pay me until three months after I'd sold the ad (this is when the client was expected to pay). Just over six dollars per hour is not enough money to live on in Manhattan so I began to take cash advances out on my credit card to pay rent (I'm still paying off that credit card). I began to loathe my boss, loathe the magazine and loathe that job. In the midst of all the loathing, I somehow sold an ad to Mary Boone, one of New York's most famous and storied art dealers. I'm not quite sure how this happened as I would literally spend seven of the eight hours in my work day making imaginary phone calls. I couldn't feel like a used car salesman anymore and my boss sat right next to me, so I would pretend to dial phone numbers and have conversations while I held down the end call button so my boss couldn't see. I simulated sales conversation after sales conversation. Hey, that's what you get for paying someone little more than six dollars and hour.

Surprisingly, I sold another ad to a smallish gallery and agreed to pick up the artwork for the ad in person. The exchange took less than two minutes and when the dealer handed me the computer disk with the artwork, she told me that I could not lose it under any circumstances because it was the only copy she had and it cost her an unmentionable amount of money to have the ad made. I promised to guard the disk with my life and as I waved goodbye and stepped onto the elevator the disk slipped out of my file folder and into the tiniest crack between the floor and the edge of the elevator. I kept walking, waved goodbye and pretended nothing had happened. As soon as the elevator closed, I raced to the bottom of the building to find a maintenance person, who let me into the basement to see if I could find it. Of course, I could not. I sweated and panicked on the subway back to the office. And then I remembered the name of the graphic design company I'd seen on the disc's packaging. I found the phone number, called the company and asked if they'd done work for the gallery. They connected me to the designer who created the ad and I desperately told him what had happened. He said he had a copy of the artwork and would have a messenger service deliver it to my office. And he promised no one would ever know.

Not long after this debacle, I interviewed and got a job at Paper magazine. When I told my Flash Art boss, she yelled and stomped a little and said I owed her because she'd hired me from San Francisco and had taken a chance since I had no experience. I told her I simply could not live on what she was paying me. She was so angry that she refused to pay me commission on the ad I sold to Mary Boone. No matter how many invoices I sent to her from the fax machine at my new office with a fax cover page that read "Paper Magazine."

Image via Cut Out and Keep

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