The Awful Truth

Too Thoroughly Modern for Mille

By Cintra Wilson

Published January 27, 1996 10:43AM (EST)

My agent from William Morris called me with stellar news. "Guess
what! Mademoiselle wants you to write them an article! Isn't that great! It pays
a dollar a word! They want 2500 words!"

At this pivotal moment in time, I made Fatally Dumb Assumption #1: Somebody from Mademoiselle had read my writing, and liked it! So I said an emphatic "yes" to my agent, already picturing the way I would revolutionize Mademoiselle's system of thought, and called them up.

I admit I was somewhat surprised that they wanted me. I'm not exactly the Mademoiselle type. I swear a lot, I write all day in the dirty T-shirt I slept
and cooked dinner in the night before, I have combat boots over my bare feet
and unshaven legs, and I am usually unbrushed everywhere and in a horrible mood.
When I go out at night, if left to my own devices, I dress like Frankenhooker. You'll find me in tight vinyl and KISS boots, smoking and drinking and getting in playful slap fights. I always pictured Mademoiselle as a magazine
devoted to healthful young ladies dressed in pastel angora midriffs with natural eye shadow and little white nursing keds -- stuff which an upper-middle-class pedophile would like to see on girls in the sixth grade. Something about my involvement with this made me feel like one of the GIs in "The Manchurian Candidate" when they were brainwashed into thinking they were sitting in the old woman's botany club. But I ignored the big Chinese Communist in the back of my mind and said "yes ma'am."

On the phone I was connected with a woman
we'll call "Pauline." Pauline had the type of phone voice that has always
made me want to beat a puppy's head in with a tennis racquet -- the kind of girlish, Nutrasweet-y, hair-flippy, half-apologetic liltiness that I associate
with women who work in clothing stores and make it politely obvious that they
feel superior to you. I pictured her as a pristine
Asian beauty in soft rosy light, with laser-cut hair and a body-conscious pink Chanel
suit, speaking on a green marble princess-style phone from an office decorated
by Danielle Steele.

"We need an article about 'How To Remain
Friends With Your Ex,'" lilted Pauline. At this point, I made Fatally Dumb Assumption #2: That Mademoiselle's readers could actually benefit from my experiences, since I had remained good friends with all of my most recently exed-boyfriends.

"Sure!" I growled in my best imitation of femininity, trying not to sound like I'd been gargling cigars and Jack Daniels for the last ten years. I think I even used one of my fake accents on Pauline, a subtle slightly-Swedish-or-maybe-French-having-lived-in-America-for-yearsy thing that
I normally only use to intimidate auto mechanics.

I launched into a draft immediately. "Don't stalk him in a little tiny dress at four in the morning with a bottle of peach schnapps!" I advised. "Don't leave
stupid little notes on his car! If you keep having sex with him, you're a loser! He's more likely to be your friend if he still wants to have sex with you!"

Filled with authorial pride, I shot Pauline my first draft. I could already hear her gushing: "Oh my God, this is GREAT. This is so
FUNNY. How did you do it so FAST? Would you like a MONTHLY COLUMN?" and I would be all shucks and modest.

When Pauline called back, her apologetic liltiness was turned up from its usual
three to a blaring eight. "Um, first off, it's really FUNNY," she said in a way
that made me believe that she really felt sorry for me for thinking that kind of
thing was amusing, but that I probably couldn't help it because my parents were abusive winos and I had been raised without ever being given a bath. "But we've got some problems with the tone ... it's kind of mean. See, it's just not 'Mille.' "

"MILLE?!" I choked, the word invoking a vision of a Hello
Kitty slumber party full of rich cheerleaders on rollerblades watching 90210. "Excuse me, Pauline, but you've read my stuff ... do you really think I'm capable of 'Mille?' "

"I'm Fed Exing you our last five features. We want the article to be actually
helpful. Use situations and quote people, we like that. Let me give you an
example of how to set it up..."

With that, Pauline diagrammed for me the Absolute Structure of a Mademoiselle
piece in all its imperturbable and inflexible glory. It was like an example of the Sacred Geometry used to build the Temple of All Articles about how to remain friends with your ex-boyfriend. The dark reality settled on me like a wet claw: They didn't want Me. They wanted a "writer" to write a faceless article that would blend seamlessly into the stylistic stucco of all of their other
"helpful" pieces on being an inoffensive upper-middle-class-female-who-wants-a- husband-someday-in-America.

I tried. I gave them what I thought were some pretty bitchin' situations from my own life. I wrote, "Serge (my ex-roomate) was having a
loin-scathing liaison with the girl downstairs, Lindy, which ended horribly, then festered over a period of weeks until he was obsessively chain-smoking and muttering profanities to himself, lying with his ear suctioned to the unwashed hardwood
floor over her bedroom, to hear if she was 'doing anybody.' This became such a
twisted obsession that Serge eventually moved to India to live in a cave and
make shoes. India can be avoided if you establish a healthy physical distance at the beginning ... "

"But we want it to be true ," implored Pauline, who really was trying to reassure
me and be helpful.

"It is true!" I snapped back, knowing for a fact that I was the only person
working for the mag who actually had friendships with my exes. Pauline had
confided to me other that none of the "Milles" had.

Yet they argued with me. "We want a section about Why You'd Want To Be Friends With Your Exs," helpfulled Pauline. "Make it like an outline. And one of the reasons we want in there is He's Seen You Naked."

"What's that supposed to mean?!" I barked in outrage.

"You know ... a lot of women are insecure about their bodies."

"Oh, so 'Mille' is insecure?"

There was a pause. I offered Pauline a deal to cut our losses. I told her she
could pull the plug and I'd understand. I told her I wasn't that kind of girl.

She went way out of her way to get me to try again. She gave me four more suggestions of things that "Mille" wanted. She said she'd give me $600. Out of a Dante-esque desire to punish myself, I agreed.

Over a period of eight months, I did four more drafts of this article. I tried
everything, even being "nice." I removed all of my personal taste and style and
studied all of their previous articles, and tried to paint the whole thing in by
the numbers as honorably as possible. I put in all the stuff she told me to put
in, all of which I thought was ridiculous.

"Sondra (the executive editor) didn't like the part about Why You'd Want To be
Friends With Your Ex," said a downcast Pauline after I called her to ask about
the third or fourth draft.

"Oh really ," I said, a barely contained explosion of bile straining to burst forth.

"She said if you were reading the article, you'd already know why you wanted to be friends. You know, we've been calling this article, 'The Article That Can't
Be Written,' because, like, each situation is so different, there's just really
no good set of rules that all of the editors here can agree on. You're, like,
the third writer we've tried."

Pauline then told me that the head editor also
"had problems" with the other five things I was told to put in the article.

I wept. I shook and raged. The phone melted in my trembling paw as the
forces of darkness raised my body temperature to that of an exploding kiln. I
threatened to smear the building where "Mille" resided with the blood of its
editorial department. I rained animalistic tribal curses in an unknown dialect
down upon the Conde Nast empire. Our relationship had moved into that state of ex-ness from which future friendship is impossible. Pauline finally agreed to give me another $600 as a kill fee, with the stipulation that I remain in my own city and never call her again.

There are very few things that make me hate women to the point where I'd like to
have all my sex parts bored out. Whiny female performance art having to do with
fat thighs and waiting by the phone for a man to call is first on the list. I'll
give you three guesses what the next one is.

Cintra Wilson

Cintra Wilson is a culture critic and author whose books include "A Massive Swelling: Celebrity Re-Examined as a Grotesque, Crippling Disease" and "Caligula for President: Better American Living Through Tyranny." Her new book, "Fear and Clothing: Unbuckling America's Fashion Destiny," will be published by WW Norton.

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