Sleek, glossy art deco chrome, everything is sparkling silver and black and white. We're at a noisy restaurant downtown and I can see my reflection in everything -- the walls, the floor, the plates and food, even the wait staff. Grilled swordfish and lumpy potatoes for twenty-five dollars, nine-dollar shrimp cocktails with only four shrimp and at this swank place they make sure not to cut the little beady eyes off. About fifty of us sitting at long rectangular tables, fifteen people to a table. Willie Lister sits directly across from me, draining glass after glass of white wine, a film of sweat coating his long sloping forehead.
From the brilliantly lit Important Table, a spoon suddenly clanks against a plate and then there is an abrupt hush. Nan Hotchkiss (endless legs but the face and ears of a bloodhound) stands up and makes a toast, holding the overstuffed Filofax that seems surgically attached to her left wrist. "Let's all drink to Jackie and wish her oodles of good luck," she says.
We raise our glasses. Good luck, Jackie. Oodles of it.
A few moments later, Byron Poole, the art director, and one of his androgynous assistants have put on wigs and lipstick. They sing a very off-key version of "Sisters" from White Christmas, Jackie Wooten's favorite movie.
("Which one's supposed to be Rosemary Clooney and which one's Virginia Mayo?" I whisper to Willie.
"You mean Vera-Ellen," he whispers back. He's right.)
Coffee and dessert are now being served. At the head of the Important Table, Betsy Butler stands up a bit woozily, adjusts her seven-hundred-dollar eyeglasses, and taps her spoon against a glass. The din is reduced to intermittent coughing.
"As you all know," our managing editor says, "this is Jackie Wooten's last day with us...she's going on to bigger but hopefully not better things..."
The short speech goes on and I cannot bear to listen to it and so I soak up every word. Jackie Wooten has been moved way, way upstairs, going from associate editor at It to senior editor at She, the equivalent of skipping from fifth grader to high school senior. It makes me feel like an absolute turd, this Bob Beamon-like vault of hers. Betsy continues: Jackie's been this, Jackie's done that, she means this much to us...blah blah blah.
"So, Jackie, we all chipped in and we got you this..."
Jackie stands up and takes a box from Betsy. It's half the size of a carton of cigarettes and is wrapped in light blue tissue.
Jackie has worked with Willie Lister for about five years; they've been sitting across from each other all that time. Spitting distance. She's broomstick-thin and her lips are barely visible. She went to Mt. Holyoke and her father is a noted pediatrician who, from all I've heard, I wouldn't let within ten feet of any child.
Jackie is thirty-one years old and headed big places. Willie and I are being left in her Chanel-scented dust.
She tells us she would like to thank us one by one but time doesn't permit. Time does permit her, however, to thank the most important people: Regine, Betsy, Byron, etc. She opens the box and it's from Tiffany...it's a gold desk plate that says: JACKIE WOOTEN, SENIOR EDITOR GODDAMMIT! It costs over $500.
"I love it!" she says with an excited weepy voice that suggests if she does love it, she doesn't love it very much.
f0 I have nothing that costs over $500 except the apartment I live in.
It's breaking up now. People are table-hopping or slumped over in their chairs, exhausted and full.
Marjorie Millet slips her prodigious figure out the door alone and I wonder if I should follow but I know I shouldn't. And I don't want to anyway. Or maybe I do.
"I'm going to miss you, Zeke," Jackie says when I hug her. I tell her I'll miss her too and that it's been great working with her. You do a great job, I say. My voice sounds, if not all choked up, then mostly choked up.
"We'll have lunch sometime, right?" I say.
Jackie Wooten feels like a skeleton when I hug her.
The next day I'm at the office sitting with Willie...I'm on the empty desk facing him, formerly Jackie's. There's nothing there now, not the little round mirror she would look in every half-hour to check her makeup, not the always freshly polished silver vase she would look into every five minutes to check her hair.
"Do we know who's replacing her yet?" I ask Willie.
"Some guy named Mark Larkin...I think he's at She."
"Mark Larkin? That name means nothing to me."
Someone from the art department, a tall pale neuter type named Charles, comes over with a 10 x 13 manila envelope; we're supposed to open it, throw in a few dollars for the Tiffany present, check our names off, and pass the envelope on to the next person. By the time it reaches us, it's already pretty stuffed.
"It'll be different without Jackie here," Willie says. He squeezes the envelope as if it were a plump giggling baby. "I hope I get along with this Mark Larkin guy." Willie has clear blue eyes, straight shoulder-length blond hair, a strong sincere face. I think he really does want to get along with whoever Mark Larkin is.
I take the envelope and undo the red string.
"Do you feel like having lunch out today?" I ask Willie.
"Lunch would be nice. So would a new tie."
I look into the envelope, a jumbo salad of fives, tens, and twenties. I take out two tens, pocket them, and pass the envelope to Willie after checking off my name. He takes out the same amount and reties the red string.
"You know, I never really liked Jackie," he says.
"No. Neither did I."
Copyright © 2000 by Ted Heller