glasnost

Jean revealed a few of the company secrets to me. In spite of her many faults, Jean did understand confidentiality, and we never shared information regarding salaries or health information that we may have discovered. But the scandals that went on, hidden in plain sight, were fair game for conversation when the bosses were away.

Raoul, the vice president of the company, was simply a legal manager when I met him. And not too long before that, he was a paralegal working side-by-side with Claire, the woman I liked so much in my early days at Allure. Claire was beautiful, smart, and kind. She was young, and had good ideas, and was consequently a threat to Raoul, whose main talent involved the French practice of lèche-cul, so much more accurately described by the action of licking the hole than by the English version of kissing an ass. Raoul’s motivation to move to the United States was somewhat a mystery, and like many people who just randomly turn up pretending to be great as an expat, he may well have fled some scandal or general uselessness in France. Raoul was much like Pierre in some ways, but he had something that held power to the French, and was completely meaningless to the Americans: a noble name. Raoul de Laurent walked godlike among the cubicles at Allure, and became the trusted advisor to Aurélie.

For all of Louise Morel’s talents in bullshit detection, she was blindsided as well by the divine rights reserved for Raoul because of his name, and because of his Machiavellian talents in praising the powerful while squashing the commoners who worked with him. Though Raoul and Claire had worked together in the beginning, Raoul rose quickly through the ranks and became her supervisor when he was first promoted by Louise Morel to manager. Within the span of a year after the Allure changeover, Raoul had moved into the director, then the VP role that he currently holds. He went from living alone in an apartment in a nearby college haven to buying a house in a rather nice suburb with his mistress-come-fiancée Natasha. He was a bully to Claire, for the most part, and she never won the admiration she deserved from Aurélie. It had nothing to do with her work, Claire was simply unwilling to enter into the scandalous world of Allure’s highest ranking. I was sad when my friend quit and moved to France, but she is far better off now.

As for Raoul, I was puzzled when I learned that his partner Natasha was a former employee of Louise Morel. I worked a bit with Natasha on a project with Pierre, a disaster for all practical purposes as we attempted to woo her current employer as a client. The experience for all its failures did shed light on many of the strange whispers I heard when Natasha used to visit our offices. Natasha was a beautiful woman, and was apparently great at her job. She was also married when she worked at LMA, and had two beautiful children. When Raoul started, though, the flirtations also began, according to Jean, and within a short time, Raoul and Natasha were having a full-blown affair, without much hidden in the small office space of years past.

One of the features of the strange building that houses Allure is the bathrooms. Despite the larger space the company now has, the bathrooms are still out in a hall, and they are beyond disgusting. Toilets don’t flush, and walls are regularly caked with mold and dirt. For this reason, many employees go to the previous floor’s bathrooms, which are more hidden and private. So private, in fact, that they can be locked. And there is a shower. It was in this very shower, Jean told me, that much of the office intrigue took place. Raoul and Natasha likely consummated their relationship in that very space, and this perhaps explained Raoul’s long disappearances mid-afternoon nearly everyday even now. He may be leaving for a long lunch, or smoking (a habit he hides quite well for the most part). But no. A flustered encounter in the stairwell has made me think that Raoul was still going upstairs to those lockable bathrooms. Oh yes, he has been reliving the good old days when he and Natasha had their rendezvous in the shower. Only now, she was his partner at home, and he had only his hand to satisfy him on those Allure afternoons. Or was there someone else?

Raoul, to me, seemed like a little rat. He had dirty blond hair and sparse facial hair, a small, wiry build, groveling voice, and habit of stomping when he wanted respect, rather than simply leading with graciousness. I couldn’t see the appeal, but as time has passed, and though Jean does not reveal everything she knows about the staff, I have strong suspicions that Raoul’s quick climb up the ladder of success is because of his willingness to play the game of the company, that is, to swing with them. A few long lunch dates with Aurélie, and a few less-than-discreet conversations with Pierre near the espresso machine in the small kitchen have indeed revealed more than anyone must have intended. For if there is one thing I have learned in my time at Allure, it is that the monolingual members of our office will never know really what is happening around them, so much so, that the bilingual staff often forget who can understand them. The missing piece to the puzzle that Jean showed me was revealed one afternoon when I overheard plans between Pierre and Raoul, for the couples to meet, chez les Dumas…

 

en p-j

New hires to Allure, including me, were often confused by off-the-cuff comments from various longtime staff. I witnessed this time after time in the revolving door of employees, but my own moment came about a week after I started, when a client came to visit. Unlike most of Allure’s clients, this one was Scandinavian, an artisan whose wares were available in some of the finest modern shops. I had gone to lunch when their founder arrived, but when I returned, I could see him in the conference room near my desk, a lanky blond fellow in a tweedy sort of jacket, and the standard business casual wear I would expect.

“Handsome, isn’t he?” Jean surprised me as she rounded the corner from her own office, talking a little louder than seemed necessary. “I like these Nordic guys, but the French guys who come in here, not so much.” Clearly, everyone could hear what Jean was saying, and it seemed an inflammatory comment to make in an office where 75% of the employees and 95% of the clients were French.

Not that the French exactly minded that Jean found them unappealing; the feeling seemed to be mutual. Jean complained about the French, and the French complained about Jean. There were cultural issues Jean hated, and the snobbery stereotypically attributed to the French came right through when they were dealing with Jean. But nowhere was this mutual hatred more evident than with the Pierre-Jean relationship. As much as the rest of the office felt frustrated by Jean, it was Pierre who made the particularly cutting and cruel comments about her, and to her. And as much as the company founder Louise may have disliked Pierre, it was Jean who seemed to hold a particular disgust for him.

After a while of working with Pierre, I understood Jean’s attitude toward him somewhat. Pierre was everything that Louise had said, a blow-hard with no real direction, except a great desire to feel important. He never listened when others spoke, because he seemed sure he already knew what they had to say. He made up words in English, and used them as though they were the latest terms, that only he and members of his class were privy to. As much as all of this infuriated me on a certain level, it wasn’t the sort of issue that I took too seriously, especially in the beginning. Everyone seemed to see through Pierre, even his wife, and whatever power he did hold, even when he became partner, was somewhat limited by others’ understanding of his own personal limitations. Not so with Jean. She was completely obsessed with him, often gesturing to me that he was in the office by sticking her finger down her throat as if to vomit. It was childish, of course, but it was visceral. She hated him.

Pierre, for his part, made fun of Jean, and went out of his way to make impossible demands of her. Some days he walked into the office and completely ignored her, even when she said hello to him. Other days, he slinked into her office and asked for information that Jean would never give to him, usually involving various technical aspects of the office. He demanded private phone lines and internet connections, and always had new gadgets that messed up the office wifi. Rather than doing things according to office protocol, an archaic system of rules invented by Jean many years ago, Pierre did as he pleased, set up his own rules, and never kept receipts.

In spite of the difficulty involved in working with a tempestuous toddler like Pierre, it was not impossible for most of us at Allure to ignore him. He often disappeared from the office for weeks at a time, and during his returns, he was usually preoccupied with some new hobby, or department to run. I had the misfortune of working closely with him sporadically with him, but I quickly learned that it was a matter of doing the bare minimum, if what he was asking was just tedious, or expressing outrage if what he was asking was unethical or illegal. Bored as I was, it was actually somewhat amusing to see what he would dream up next.

For Jean, though, fear of Pierre was an obsession. So much so that I began to wonder, was it fear?? At times, she picked up her phone to tell me something–a strange practice, considering that her desk was steps away from mine. Nonetheless, she usually had some sort of remark about Pierre. At a certain point, it seemed that she was not afraid of the man, not even disgusted, but completely obsessed. So I did some digging.

Dear reader, what I am about to tell you was a complete shock when I realized the truth. But bear with me. Aurélie had joined Louise Morel’s company years ago. She was a seasoned professional in her admittedly dry field. Aurélie and Louise evidently shared the common thread of having husbands who wanted to move to America for career opportunities, and the women–capable women in their own right–made their ways… They shared much common ground. Louise’s husband, though, was a consummate professional. Pierre, as I have said, was not. In the beginning, though, Pierre was Aurélie’s guest at Louise’s dinner parties. He was the spouse. And back then, he was younger, and he had a sort of rugged Latin look, seemingly more aloof than arrogant back then, maybe a sort of French New Wave vibe. Whatever it was, it was not impossible to imagine a naive American woman swooning a bit with the wine, and the cologne, and the accent, and the promises. And so it seems that Jean drank the wine, and Pierre dipped his toes, and a few other things, into Jean.

While Jean had a strange body shape by the time I met her, she still had enormous breasts, which she still shows off with low-cut tops. When it is not a casual day, she dresses well, and I have mentioned her grooming habits, the manicures and facials. That is to say, she worked with what she had, and when she was younger, it is not impossible to imagine that with her strawberry blonde curls and blue eyes, she might be completely irresistible to a man like Pierre, owner of a quickly failing business, one who felt the loss of his manhood all the more when in the company of his ever-more-successful wife.

So, after numerous flirtations in the small upstairs office, Pierre and Jean found themselves thrust together in the planning of a new, bigger office for the new, bigger company that would be called Allure. Thrust together they were, planning with the design team, dreaming of the placement of desks and offices and technical needs. And in all this excitement, taking care of the practical side of a new company for Aurélie, all it took was the accidental brush of arm against breast, hand against cock, a quick unzipping, the lowering of panties, leaning over a sawhorse in the late afternoon. To this day, beneath the carpeting in the room that now is Jean’s office, Pierre’s come remains on the floor, a sticky though unseen reminder of that afternoon, and the promise of Allure.

Sadly, or happily perhaps for the spouses involved, all it took was this one indiscretion for things to end. Pierre could not be friendly, much less kind after his lapse, and his arrogant demands to Jean increased with his guilt. Jean, for her part, was hurt by this attitude, and not at all happy to realize that the afternoon delight she had found in Pierre’s rear-entry relief was to be a one-time event, and not an ongoing affair. Her own husband was usually too tired for romps these days, and she could be discreet. Ah, but Pierre had rejected her, too. And that was just too much to bear.

While it might seem that the affair involved only Jean and Pierre, in reality, the affair, and the rejection afterward, were all symbolic of what was happening between the French and Americans in the office. The divide was growing, and grew deeper as the hatred between Jean and Pierre grew.

jean

Dear readers, I have mentioned so many characters here so far with absolutely no reference that I feel I must elaborate on one very important part of the Aurélie experience, and that is the office manager, Jean.

Jean was a woman, and as you might imagine in a French office, her name caused a fair amount of gender confusion. This frustrated her, so she set her email signature to Mrs. Jean Bailey. Female. All female.

And, Jean was indeed all female. If one ever had doubts about this, Jean was quick to set the record straight: she was woman, she was proud, she was sensitive, hormonal, and sick of men. She was sick of her husband, Dick Bailey (she called him just Bailey), and her son Dick Bailey, Jr. (she called him Dicky). Jean treated herself to luxuries, with weekly trips to the hair and nail salons, monthly trips to the masseuse, and twice (or more) trips to play cards with her various buddies around her town. Bailey worked on the rails, and though he was old-school and bought his wife beautiful jewelry, he also did the family grocery shopping and had dinner on the table for his wife when she got home. The Bailey family had a neat little house in a nice little town, and the sort of fading blue collar respectability that bound her to many of the maintenance workers around town. She grew up around them and never left. But more than that, and to the confusion of much of our office, Jean attracted men. Not all men, but a lot of them. It wasn’t just that she was a dependable marijuana customer for the courier; they actually flirted with one another!

Jean drove me crazy, but in spite of that, I liked her. I could also see why so many other people in our office did not. Her constant pleasure-seeking came from a place of utter discontent: she felt unappreciated, and unloved. She was gossipy, and yelled at people when she was just in a bad mood. Because of this, many of her worst fears were fulfilled completely, and often with vengeance. Most of the Allure staff were afraid to ask for office supplies, but others simply worked around her, or even tried to make her life difficult just for fun. Her mood swings were hard to dodge, and impossible to predict. So, I vacillated constantly between commiserating with her about Pierre et al. and trying to stay out of her way, to the point that nowhere in the office felt truly safe. For all her faults, though, Jean did work with me most of the time, and for the first few years, she was even nice. Even after she stopped being nice, I tried to get along with her; it seemed essential to my job, and she also did understand some of the crazy things that happened in the office. I was one of the few who knew that many of her complaints were justified.

One other thing to mention about Jean was that she was a big woman. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things, but her frustration with her size pushed her into a sort of adolescent frenzy for miracle cures. Still, she was doomed in all of these, inevitably giving in to her habit of scavenging around the office in the wee hours of the morning when she arrived. Some of the managers had taken to leaving traps for her in their desk drawers, markers on granola containers, cookie counts. They took pictures, and had proof, but it wasn’t because they really cared about their food; it was because they wanted ammunition to take to Aurélie when Jean refused to help them with some ridiculous request, or even a reasonable request (Jean was sure to deny until pressured to comply). Jean’s constant criticism about the lack of communication only added to the toxicity, creating a dynamic where she had more power the more that things stayed the same.

Beyond the weight issue, Jean’s general health was declining all the time. She said she hurt most days, and this is undoubtedly part of why she was so unpleasant. She said she wanted to feel better, and always was in the midst of the latest Facebook or QVC fad. These seemed more diversion than solution, but I think she was so accustomed to depending on other people to take care of her that she had just stopped doing it for herself. She wallowed in self-pity and consoled herself with pleasure, whether it was another handful from the bowl of peanut M&Ms, a puff of weed in her car with a buddy, or talking about sex with the telephone guy in the server room. Any demands of real effort for her own sake or for anyone else’s were reminders that she could never truly escape.

As I have said, I am no prude, but her slaps on her ass, and her teasing to the courier to “come and get it” just made me cringe. The grunting, the cussing, her lack of concern about getting caught for her mistakes, all may have been admirable if she were doing it to push for change. But her efforts to distinguish herself this way were more to remind the established power that she was there to stay. And in this, she remained as the example for the company rulers, her misuse of words and run-on sentences a constant reminder of the general stupidity of all Americans. In all of that, Jean was always sure she was right, and because she still made fun of the many employees whose native language was not English, thus widening the gap between the French and the Americans.

At a certain point, Jean became more and more distressed about a situation that had stripped her of most of her beloved duties. As she pushed me away again and again, I stopped trying to be her friend. I believe this was the inevitable direction of her position, dwindling duties as she approached her retirement. Ah, no matter what the executive committee did, the undeniable truth about Jean is that she was a fixture. They needed her. She did know how an office works, which was invaluable, but there was more. She knew secrets, many secrets, and the biggest secret of all, which was key to her longevity at the firm. She would never, ever be fired.

founder

I haven’t much mentioned the origins of Allure et Cie, but before the days of Aurélie, there was Louise, the founder of Louise Morel Associates. Louise had a rich husband, but also a brain, discipline, and the authority that I have known in many a French woman of a certain age… Cutting, impervious to tears. But also, kind when you least expected it. Unwilling to tolerate bullshit. She started the company, seeing the opportunity after a few people asked her for some help getting their businesses on the ground in the States. She seemed to be fascinated with that start-up energy, and with the businesses themselves, and also in the lucrative possibilities in their inability to grasp American business practices well enough to stay out of trouble. She saved them, and charged a pretty penny for the service.

I knew Louise at first, but she scared me. It wasn’t necessarily a bad sort of scared; I admit to slacking off enormously at times, but I also have a history of jumping when challenged intellectually. I guess it’s because I realize that the best defense is to up my game, and in the end, I appreciate the challenge. Such was the case when I was working with Louise. During these early days, I found a friend in the only other truly bilingual person in the office, a paralegal named Claire, and she assured me that Louise’s bark was worse than her bite, as long as I was a good worker. Claire explained the Louise Morel/Allure game to me, and she gave me some insight to the thinking of Aurélie, and Pierre, and a number of other key players in the office. All of this made me wish that Allure had not changed hands. For all her harshness, Louise was at least fair. I liked working with her. She realized that I couldn’t magically just know details of her own preferences, so she used to sit down and work with me–a practice I enjoy immensely, and one that is rarely if ever implemented at Allure now.

The other thing I liked about Louise is her complete and utter hatred of Pierre.

Now, Louise was not that old, really, but she realized a few years earlier that she would soon be ready to move on in life, and would want to sell her company to someone she could trust. There had been a few possible takers, but for various reasons, they all fell through, until Aurélie. Not only were Louise and Aurélie from the same region of France, they were both self-made women who followed their husbands’ careers as they moved to America, but then made their own success in business.

I recently was pondering the whole relationship, though, wondering how it was that Pierre became such a fixture at Allure. But however it was, the hatred between Pierre and Louise was evident from my first day there. It seemed that though Pierre seemed unphased by most people’s reactions to him, he was downright afraid of Louise, and avoided her except to attempt friendliness as best as an unfriendly person can.

It was strange behavior for Pierre, but this convinced me that the rumor I had heard was true: rumor had it that Louise had promised to sell the company to Aurélie with two very important conditions: one, that Pierre would not be involved in the company; and two, that Jean the office manager could never, ever, under any circumstance, be fired.

Jean was a special case, and she hated Pierre as much, if not more, than Louise did. But for entirely different reasons. Jean had her own games going on at Allure, games that may even surpass those of our ruling couple. Lest you think that it was only the executive committee that was naughty at Allure… oh no, there is far more to say on that, but I have digressed. Let’s return to Louise, and her feelings toward Pierre.

It’s hard to say exactly what prompted Louise’s disdain for Pierre, but she never hid it. The day I first met her, she told me immediately that his main function was to brasser de l’air. He came in the room on my second day at Allure, and Louise asked him, right in front of me!, when he was going to find a real job. Pierre left quietly, and his attitude surprised me. So different from what I had seen so far!

This relationship seemed to be a fact of the company–until a few years later, when Pierre suddenly crowned himself partner. I wondered how things could have changed this way–by then, I was well aware of the “deal”. But you know how these things work… Like Starbucks buying out your favorite coffee place, even promising that they will never change Coffee Connection to Starbucks, eventually they break their promises. Allure broke its promise, too, and as for Louise, she simply lost interest as time passed. I suppose she had to for the sake of her own sanity, but probably also because she found her new life.

Still, I think that it is more than Pierre’s hot air that offended Louise. She felt he was a depraved man, not just an arrogant know-it-all. And I think she knew all about the games he was playing around the office, on the tennis court, and at the Ecole Française down the street. Not that he was courting students. Pierre may be lazy, but he is cunning enough to avoid outright illegality. No, instead, I have strong suspicions about a young teacher on staff at the school… The wife of a former colleague during my diplomatic days worked for the school, and I happened to run into her in the Whole Foods parking lot one afternoon, and told her where I worked. She turned absolutely pale!–not like her!–and cautioned me to avoid one Pierre Dumas. So funny she should mention him, I thought, and even funnier that she came right out and mentioned the indiscretions. Since such a confession was so out of character for this woman, I did not press for details, though she did mention the discovery of panties in a room he had used for “fundraising research.”

I have tried to learn more about the Ecole Française affair, but so far, without success. It seems that the alleged scandal was successfully swept under the rug when Pierre made a large donation to the school. So, any looks of embarrassment that I might have encountered in the past when I met school staff at garden parties and the like have just disappeared. As for my former colleague’s spouse, she left her job a short time after that day in the parking lot.

Louise, of course, will never divulge this secret, if it is true. She still calls the office from time to time to talk to Jean, and meets Aurélie occasionally on trips to France. She is always polite, and quick, and she successfully avoids Pierre.

 

mendacity

In a company like mine, it is easy to overlook Aurélie when Pierre is in the office. She cowers, despite her accomplishments, and as I mentioned before, everyone knows she should have dumped Pierre years ago. But I started to see a pattern in the time that followed the tears and fears, and it is in this time that Aurélie built her confidence and crossed the yellow line onto the playground she inhabits to this day. I have said before that I am no stranger to the sorts of games played there, and in fact, it is through these connections that I have proof of my employers’ involvement. That said, the realization shocked me, even considering Pierre’s general sleaziness, and my office’s general Frenchness.

Now, I have found it rare to encounter a person who lives the swing lifestyle with full honesty. In fact, the people I have met who were totally open about the lifestyle were also a little troubling in other ways, like having pet ferrets, or living on rural compounds. Such is the truth of our society, admittedly, where full disclosure brings judgment that simply would not exist in a better world, so only the truly weird can live free or die. On the other hand, for many people, the hiding game is the most fun part of swinging, and this was clearly the case for Aurélie. She presented a serious, even uptight, demeanor to others. And, as she exclaimed often near the end of a team-building exercise, after a glass, or two, or three of Gévrey-Chambertin, she wanted to have more fun.

What I haven’t told you yet about Aurélie is that when I first met her, she was overweight, crabby, and dumpy. The day of my interview, she had on some quasi-motorcycle-inspired booties and a rather low-cut or badly fitting blouse that she, like her husband, had left open halfway down her chest, and the rest of the buttons puckered when she sat. Her black hair was a sort of curly mop with styling gel, and she had big brown eyes, and a square face, pointy chin, pursed lips, and that oh-so-common French look just short of disgust. I was surprised when she agreed to hire me–she seemed to hate me in both French and English–but she did. Of course, she also quickly negated the leniency that Pierre had extended during the interview. I was hired part-time to start, but no, I could not work a few full days instead of five short ones. And no, I could not finish by 1:30. And yes, I was expected to clean the kitchen. I was, again, desperate, and weak at that point of my life, and also not so accustomed to that staring down aloofness and utter meanness that defines bon-chic-bon-genre relationships with administrative staff, so I relented and collected my semi-monthly checks, as I still do. But I digress.

The first thing that Aurélie did upon realization of Pierre’s affair was to seek advice. Somewhere in a discussion with a lawyer, it became apparent that she as primary breadwinner in the household was likely to owe alimony to her husband-on-hiatus. Pierre told me early in my days at Allure that he had been an entrepreneur, that he had sold his business for a lot of money. But as time went by, I started to suspect that he had alienated his staff or coworkers in other companies, and was tolerated by the French consulate and allowed privileges in the French school only because of his family’s money. And within a short time, poof!, Pierre re-emerged as a full partner at Allure. In another short time, Aurélie had changed her title from CEO to partner, too. And in yet another short time, Raoul had been promoted first to a director (along with Esmé), and then to Vice President. Raoul is another new character in all this, and yes, he, too, will have his own story. But it is important to note at this point that the four aforementioned created an execom, as they called the board officers, and they began to have monthly touch-bases, as they called their meetings.

Now, with all of these important developments, and Pierre’s family money, Allure began to look like a real corporation. They attempted an office in San Francisco (another story), and still have one in New York (another several stories), and all of this came about because Aurélie one day received a cease-and-desist letter from an organization similar to Allure, not quite a competitor, but a partner of sorts. The deal was, we were not supposed to steal clients from this other organization, according to a contract, but had done just that in taking on a client that Pierre had wooed in his new partner role. Rather than succumb to the fear this letter caused, Aurélie turned to Pierre, who was comfortable skirting the boundaries of ethical, if not illegal, behavior.

If Aurélie had meekly sought the advice of an attorney in the past, she was new to legal games that support unethical corporate behavior, but within a short time, she and Pierre learned to lawyer up. Pierre came to me with a paper one day filled with several corporate logos. The page was a screenshot of a PowerPoint slide, cropped to hide the presenter’s identity. But it was easy enough to find the original, and it is at that moment that I realized we were not only not ceasing-and-desisting, but flaunting our brazen attempt to steal yet more clients from this partner/competitor who had threatened to sue us. I debated for a moment, then refused to research the companies, which led to more hard feelings between me and Pierre, but I just couldn’t. Aurélie stayed out of it, and instead took a few minutes to focus on herself. She hired a life coach, and a personal trainer. And within a few months, and several sessions of slim sculpting, and a new haircut, she transformed into the vixen she is today.

I say, “personal trainer,” and indeed, Aurélie might have been exercising at first on those twice weekly noontime sessions that still appear on her calendar. And I am still sure she gets a workout on those days she disappears from the office now. And this is where my connections serve me well… It is not only Pierre who has libidinal urges outside the institution of matrimony. Aurélie has a friend, a very good friend, and indeed, a trainer, a master one might call him. Or, she might call him. And she does. Oh, yes, dear reader, I rely now on the story from a friend about the handcuffs, the spankings, the safe words, the extended lunchtime entries into submission…

tryst, tryst again

I mentioned previously that Pierre and Aurélie were for a while nearing divorce. It was supposedly a secret, but hard for my boss to come into the office in tears exclaiming that she needed a lawyer without people putting two and two together relatively quickly. Truth is, most people wondered why a smart woman would tolerate the arrogance of Pierre, but sometimes love is blind, or at least in need of better glasses.

Glasses in our office were most often filled with wine, however, so clarity on the Pierre front was about the last thing that was going to happen. During the tear-filled weeks that followed my boss’s day of reckoning, a few things became obvious to Aurélie. One, Pierre had been cheating. Duh. The only mystery in that was in figuring out who the lucky mistress was.

There were a few possibilities, and no need to limit the guesses to just one. Thinking back to my interview, back when Pierre was impressed by me, I realized that he probably had the make on a few lucky ladies in just about all of his assorted ventures. At the time I started, it was Esmé who was gaga for the man, as they planned the use of Salesforce in the office. I personally was a little enthusiastic for muddling my way through the Salesforce option, seeing it as a new skill to offer to my next employer, hopefully sooner than later. However, as is the pattern at Allure et Cie, training for me was unlikely, because Salesforce was nothing more than a pretty toy for Pierre to play with. No one else was using it much back then as much more than an expensive database, and hardly using it even for that. Of course, Pierre had talked the whole thing up rather grandly, and implementation was a huge project. Esmé, overachiever that she is, took it on.

Whether her flirty little moments with Pierre started in the midst of the Salesforce planning, or if she hopped on the Salesforce project because of a previous crush, I am not really sure. Nevertheless, Pierre and Esmé were nearly inseparable back then, and I am one who witnessed the short skirt era of Esmé. She sometimes dressed then in fashionable little business suits (nearly unseen in our back office even for client visits), but more often wore flowing gauzy skirts, her thin but well-shaped legs polished right down to her manicured toes, always visible beneath the strappy sandals of that time. Pierre typically had a favorite tailored blue check shirt that he wore nearly every day he was in the office with some chic French version of khakis, along with the coordinating chic version of footwear. He carried a vape the way he must have smoked Gitanes not too long ago–that is to say, incessantly, and with the regular rituals. The loss he seemed to feel without the tamping of the pack, the lighting of the cigarette, the flicking of ashes, was substituted by constant drags, each one an apparent disappointment. He took a hit, frowned, hid the vape, and played like an ill-mannered child with his clothing, ultimately leaving his shirt unbuttoned  halfway down his chest. Sometimes he didn’t shave. And Esmé pushed her short blonde hair back behind her ear and … I can hardly believe this now as I remember it… giggled.

The energy was heated, and embarrassing–not that I am embarrassed when sexual sparks fly. I am embarrassed by falls from grace, though, and the last day of this little game, a somewhat flush Esmé emerged from Pierre’s new office, tucked her dainty swiss dot blouse into that gauzy navy skirt, and tripped along the back hall to the bathroom outside our office. I must have been the only one who caught sight of her as she dazedly passed the conference room near my desk, because her team spent the afternoon calling the front office with increasingly frantic frequency to ask if we had seen her. In the meanwhile, a few minutes after Esmé left, Pierre walked confidently to the reception area, reading some sort of paper, or pretending to, I smelled his cologne, always overwhelming, but this time colliding with sweat and sex. He was, however, cool as a cucumber in every other way, and as he took another drag from his vape, I realized the full extent of his mendacity, or at least his capacity for deceit. This was the second thing that Aurélie discovered herself in the weeks to follow.

Hard to believe that this Esmé is now the object of more than one catty joke between Pierre and Cécile. After that afternoon, Esmé became an overworked wench in pixie clothes, though now a director in the company. Oh, and yes, it is not your imagination: you have not yet met Cécile. She comes later, and deserves her own story. Patience, my friends.

Now that I know her better, I can tell you that Esmé is kind and thoughtful, perhaps a bit martyred, but generally a good sort.  So, the events of my first year must have been her trip down the garden path, a garden path with a very worn trail.

 

 

office politics 1

It has long been suspected in my office that my boss and her husband are swingers. Oh yes, I’m afraid it is true! The power in my workplace operates within a system of debauchery, to which only certain people are invited. As one of the few bilingual staff, reporting to the C-level, I have seen a lot in four years.

So, how did I happen on to such depravity? Well, you know, dear readers, the Dragonfly had a secret life of her own at one time. I ventured into playgrounds of the naughty, and enjoyed moments of bliss mixed with the bittersweet realization of what I had become. I hung up my key, dear reader, and have made amends to those who may have been hurt by my various arrangements and indiscretions.

Imagine my surprise when I started a new job, only to recognize a name, a black card, a code word from my past! Ah yes, I am not only bilingual, but also well versed both on the swingset and in the dungeons, and this knowledge has led me to the tales I tell here now.

It was not obvious at first, even in a French company. After all, all French companies have a certain level of romantic intrigue, even the boring accounting firms. I had no interest in getting involved in these sorts of dramas, but being able to speak French did open a few doors to jobs in a time of need. You see, when I saw the ad from Allure et Cie, I was somewhat desperate. Several months out of a lucrative but clandestine diplomatic assignment, I found myself in the embarrassing situation of perusing Indeed. The position of assistant to the CEO popped up on my search for bilingual positions, and though matching practically none of my other skills, it seemed at least to have the potential that a growing international office could hold. I halfheartedly applied, knowing that chances were slim of a response. But within a few hours, I received a call from Pierre.

Pierre’s attempts to be charming and professional during the interview struck me as boastful, if not awkwardly flirtatious, but not without a certain, if temporary gallantry. He dressed well, though rather casually, and flipped black jet black hair to reveal the Latin features that make many a northern woman swoon. I was not completely immune to the effect in general, but also had experienced my share of French men, and had vowed years ago never to become deeply involved with one again. But this was work, and it was a world that was not unfamiliar to me. Pierre seemed impressed in the beginning by my language skills, and my esoteric background in literature and diplomacy, even if he had no particular knowledge of my field, and I suppose that I was a little flattered by his attempts to persuade me. I knew it was the sort of job to leave quickly and laugh about later, and I was nearly out of money. I returned the signed offer a few days after receiving it.

Pierre’s persuasion involved his promise to mentor me into a higher place. And he did give me a few interesting assignments to start. But I soon realized that what I had generously labeled as charm in the man was another example of the jaded arrogance that comes from old family money spent on wine- and smoke-filled nights of cheap passion with naive younger women. In fact, Pierre held little real power in the company, and my job quickly devolved into a humdrum set of administrative tasks that required the brainpower of a nit.

Pierre’s wife Aurélie was the company owner and the one who had her professional act together–that was clear–but she came off as a one-dimensional financial wiz: curt and awkward emotionally, but vulnerable to the charms of those like her husband, who knew how to be what she wanted at key moments. As a result, she could change moods at the drop of a pin, completely oblivious to the needs of her employees and yet picking at small details, a mark on the wall or a dirty coffee cup on a desk. She was easily intimidated by anyone who confronted her directly, despite her bitchiness, and agreed nearly always to point blank demands. She admired this directness, but lacked it herself, unless she needed to prove her superiority to an underling.

A falling-out between the ruling couple about a year after I started working in the office prompted not the logical response of divorce, but a new sort of agreement that put Pierre in a more prominent position in the company, perhaps because he is less dangerous when his ego is stroked this way. He was given a new department within the company, and hired a couple of employees, one who does the work of the department, and the other who further strokes Pierre’s ego, among other things.

During my first year in the office, I had worked on a number of projects with Pierre. He often failed to show up for meetings, sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time, other times showing up unshaven and foggy, though impatient and demanding. My own patience for working with Pierre evaporated quickly in this time, having been left to cover for him on numerous occasions. At my first review, Aurélie noted my disdain, and suggested that I ask her husband for advice once in awhile, that I make him feel important. I scoffed at this idea, somewhat unwisely, and Pierre began to berate me on a regular basis. While I held some pride in Pierre’s rather intense reactions to me, I was also guaranteed not to advance further from my current role–and indeed, I remain a lowly aide to this day, though well enough paid that I have not sought a new position. I am bored to death by the work itself, but it is unusual to have chances to keep up my second language, and rarer still to be able to watch such shenanigans play out on a daily basis.