October 21, 2009

Debbie Downer

“I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but,” Debbie Downer said, trying to sound convivial, like a good friend, which was just a sly way of projecting her authority. Basically, she spoke to us like children.

“I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but the client wasn’t happy with our presentation yesterday.” On our conference call with the client, ten of us had tried simultaneously to explain our concept for their new website.

Debbie Downer stood with her palms pressed on the conference room table. Her face shined like a robot’s. She smiled and sadly shook her head. We had failed her. Her children. Debbie’s authority was minimal, actually, but she enjoyed what power she had; she was merely an Engagement Associate. Still above her was the Engagement Director, and above that the Senior Engagement Director, and then the Group Director of Engagement. Since none them would ever sit on such an inconsequential meeting, Debbie was free to berate us. Salvaging client relationships happened out of sight, where lies had a chance to become colorful. Below Debbie was the lowly Engagement Coördinator, a boy with glasses who looked at his hands when people spoke to him. Apparently Debbie had browbeat him so severely over the last year that he was only a shadow of his old self: an infectious optimist from Minnesota. New York had already killed him. He had exchanged his round, tortoiseshell glasses for gunmetal hipster frames. But it was too late. He was already dead. New York had sallowed his cheeks. This is a cliché and not exactly true. But I don’t doubt that Debbie Downer would have liked a frightened acolyte following her around.

“They called me to complain,” she said.

“What was wrong?” someone asked.

“Well, you see,” Debbie Downer said, unable to repress her glee that someone had asked. “They thought there were too many people talking. Everyone kept handing the conversation to someone else on the team. The client couldn’t keep track. We sounded disorganized. We shouldn’t sound disorganized. It’s just not very professional.”

“Really?”

“We all talked at once?”

“Is that what they’re saying?”

“What about the work? Did they like the work?”

“People, people,” Debbie Downer implored, with theatrical exasperation. “They liked the work; they had no problem with it. This is more of a client management situation.”

She was cute, though, but in a very particular way. She went for the hot professional look fancied by Asian career girls: the tall black boots, the loud lipstick, the metallic eyeshadow. She clip-clopped in heels down the hallways with aggressive efficiency. She would never coddle. She probably never farted.

“So I’m going to be the point of contact,” Debbie Downer said finally.

“You already are, though.”

“I mean when we’re on the phone with them. When we’re presenting. I’ll do all the presenting.”

A skeptical murmur from the creatives. The art director turned white. Actually, a rumor had been circulating that Debbie referred to us as “the cretins.”

Debbie Downer swept her folders from the conference table and clip-clopped out, shivering with the burdens of responsibility. One of the women sitting at the table stared at Debbie Downer’s wake.

“Nice ass,” she said.