The Devil Wears Aerosoles
By Elaine Viets
I tried, folks. I really tried to feel sorry for the twenty-something assistant to the evil boss in "The Devil Wears Prada." After all, I am the queen of the lousy job. I’ve worked more low-paying jobs than I can count for my Dead-End Job mystery series.
In "The Devil Wears Prada," poor Andrea Sachs has the boss from hell at "Runway" magazine. The novel details the cruelties she endured. Andrea was forced to drive her boss’s $84,000 Porsche convertible, and she couldn’t handle a stick shift. She had to wear loaner designer clothes and shoes and not wreck them. Andrea had makeup and hair stylists to keep her looking good. And this took place in Manhattan. Oh, and her boss was crazy-mean.
I wanted to bleed for poor Andrea, but all I could think was: what a whiner.
Try being trapped with a crazy-mean boss in the Midwest. No $84,000 sports car there. No fear, either. We Midwestern women know how to drive a stick. I started street racing at sixteen.
No fabulous parties or weekends in the Hamptons. In the Midwest, on an assistant’s salary, your entertainment choices include getting drunk at a bar, getting a video, or getting a pizza.
Designer clothes for insignificant assistants? What a fairytale. In the Midwest, the Devil wears Aerosoles. And shops at Marshalls. At least my Devil Boss did. She thought Prada was a city in Poland.
She might be a frump in New York, but my Devil Boss destroyed careers with style. She knew we were stuck. There were miles of cornfields between us and the next good job.
Here’s what life is like when you’re twenty-two and the Devil wears Aerosoles.
One day I wore a red dress to work. "Oh, Elaine," the Devil Boss bawled in our nearly all-male office. "I saw a survey that women wear red when they’re having their period. Is that true?"
I wished I had a snappy comeback. But I was young. I turned as red as my dress.
The company sent me to New York for business. I was shocked by the prices and tried to cut my expenses. When I turned in my expense account, the Devil Boss called me into her office.
"I can’t accept this." She slapped the expense account on her desk.
"What’s wrong?" I was terrified. I’d lived on bagels to save money, but I knew she’d attack.
"You didn’t spend enough money," she said. "You’ll make the men look bad."
The Devil Boss ordered me to pad my expense account to save the guys swilling martinis at the Four Seasons. She protected and promoted her "boys."
A few weeks later, I was called on the carpet again for my expense account.
"Why did you put down ten miles for the trip to the Berner Corporation?" the Devil Boss said. "It can’t be more than six miles."
"I got lost in the one-way streets," I said.
"We don’t pay you to get lost," the Devil Boss said. "Take four miles off."
Like the devil boss in "Prada," mine had more mood swings than the kid in "The Exorcist." She was scariest when she was nice. Then I knew she was plotting something. I just didn’t know what.
"Oh, Elaine," she said. "You have such good ideas. Would you make a list of your future projects?"
Now, I’d turn in a dummy list. Back then, I dutifully wrote down my best ideas. She retyped them, gave them to the top boss, and got herself a promotion.
The Devil Boss lasted for years, creating a swirl of intrigue, accusations and insults. She drove off the best people – or at least the ones who weren’t tied down with debts and family obligations. They found better jobs in other cities, including New York.
Others hit the bottle. A brave few tried to tell management the truth about this terrible woman. They were stunned when they realized the bosses knew she was awful. They liked her that way.
Eventually, as profits and productivity sank, management changed. The Devil Boss was given a dreadful punishment. She had to work with the peons.
The Devil Boss taught me two valuable lessons:
(1) A woman can discriminate against women.
I’m amazed when people say, "It can’t be discrimination. The boss is a woman."
The courts don’t buy that. But people who should know better maintain a touching faith in sisterhood. Men cheerfully sell out their brothers for money, power, or even the pathetic approval of a higher up. The Devil Boss showed me women were equally eager for success.
(2) Dumb corporations do not get smart.
The Devil Boss was replaced by a Preppie Prince, then a Bubba Boss, then a succession of nameless losers. The customer base hit the skids, the company was sold, and the owners made millions.
I’ll say one thing: The company didn’t practice sexism when they chose their managers. All those bosses, male and female, were equally bad.