Saturday, November 05, 2011

Thank you, Evey Benjamin. Or do I really mean THANKS A LOT, Evey Benjamin.

She looked a little like this, but older. 
My first grown-up job was as a fact-checker at a business magazine, a position I held for five long years. Everyone knows what a fact-checker is, right? The lowliest members of the staff were responsible for making sure every single fact in the publication was correct; I really did put a little dot on top of every word. This was before the internet, so you can only imagine the phone calls and bulging files of documents and visits to the library. If a single mistake slipped through, the fact checker was scolded and shamed, potentially fired. If no mistakes slipped through, the fact checker was completely ignored. Which is to say, you only got attention if you screwed up, a management model that really messes with your head, at least if your head is susceptible to being messed with, as mine most definitely was when I was 22. I've gone back an forth over the years on whether it was a good and necessary messing, or destructive and stunting. I was rather "mellow" before I had this job, and have never been mellow since. The job made me compulsively self-doubtful and tense. Sometimes I'm sorry about that. Sometimes I wish I'd had the job before I went to college because I would have gotten much better grades.

Evey Benjamin was my first boss. She was terrifying and fabulous, a word (I hope) I use sparingly. She was slender, had long Veronica Lake hair, and was about my mother's age but seemed much worldlier and more glamorous. She wore high, skinny heels, silky shirts, heavy masses of jangling jewelry and lots of perfume. This made it possible to both smell and hear her coming from around corners and run to hide,* because every encounter with Evey was potentially disastrous. I just googled her and I couldn't find a single mention, let alone a photograph to prove how gorgeous she was, or that she even existed. She looked like Patricia Clarkson, but more ravishing. Another word I hope I use sparingly.

She looked a lot like this, except slightly older.
The other day I was working on a promotional piece for my book (all I seem to do anymore) on the subject of  hosting a frugal Thanksgiving dinner. I wrote that among the many reasons you should bake your own pecan pie is that frozen pies contain "almost no pecans." Then I thought about that. Was I sure? Was I one hundred percent sure?
What her tutelage wrought.
A cup and a quarter. That's how may pecans there are in an Edwards frozen Georgia pecan pie. And I'm damn glad I checked because that is exactly the amount I put in my own pecan pie. So I guess I really do mean, thank-you Evey Benjamin, wherever you are, because I was THIS close to wrongly impugning the reputation of the Edwards frozen pecan pie and the world would be an ever so slightly worse place if I had. 

On a related subject, I am concerned about my pancetta. It is not as firm as it should be. My sister tested the recipe for me and had a similar problem a year ago, but I dismissed her issues because she was drying her pancetta in a shower stall, which I deemed potentially damp and incorrect. I have never had problems before. I will unwrap the meat today and see what is happening, and then I will continue my tutorial, probably with disclaimers and caveats. My inner Evey Benjamin is very displeased.

*Actually, I'm not sure you could actually smell her perfume around corners. Thanks to Evey Benjamin, I'm unable to take poetic license without a disclaimer. I do know that once I was in a toilet stall when she entered the ladies' room and I thought I'd just wait her out. But she was freshening up her makeup and stood in front of the mirror for 15 minutes while I huddled in the stall, hoping she couldn't identify my shoes. She was that intimidating. I was that timid. 


  1. I, no doubt like at least a few of your other loyal readers, actually knew and survived evey benjamin. (did i spell that right?)
    and so I know she taught you other stuff too. like how to dig up information. so.
    I think you're now obligated to find her. and make sure she reads this post.
    just saying.

  2. I'm pretty sure after this long, you would be back to your old "mellow" self, if that was meant to be.

    Also, Kramer on Seinfeld has shown us that it is almost never a good idea to cook in the shower.

  3. Unless it's a pseudonym, I'm pretty sure Evey has a google search on herself and will find it.
    Mmm. Pecans.

  4. Anonymous -- No, I'm going to leave E. Benjamin in peace.

    Margaret -- I'm sure you are right about my personality. And Kramer indeed taught us many important lessons.

    MemeGRL -- You know, somehow I doubt Evey Benjamin has a google alert on her name. I just do.

  5. Wonderful piece of writing.

  6. Great post -- I too am scarred as a result of the demanding bosses of my 20's. Now in my 40's I am grateful for the training in my early years of professional employment, and you portrayed beautifully the ambivalence I too feel for the relaxed person I lost and the compulsive I grew up to be to survive in demanding jobs. I sound dire, but you really capture the rite of passage of having a tough, 'detail oriented' first job and your fact checking is great!

  7. Oh Tipsy, you with the fact checking, me with the copy editing. There's no hyphen in "thank you." But I love, love, love your blog.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Anonymous -- Thank-you! I mean, thank you.

  10. I love your honesty about hiding out in the bathroom stall for over 15 minutes...

  11. Like Anonymous, I too was a copy editor for some years (at 2 publications, one minor and one major). The experience turned me into a (now-recovering) perfectionist, not to mention a word pedant (from which I will never recover, I'm afraid). I've described my former work exactly as you have--when you did your job well, nothing was said. When you missed one error (of 500), you heard about it for days.

    I have thought about how the experience changed/scarred me, but your entry made me think about a particular manager I had in a new way. She was kind of awful in many ways, but she definitely taught me a lot. Avoiding her wrath was my main work objective.

  12. very funny.

    I too, worked for Evey Benjamin.
    Did she ever ask you to go "Psst?" when Mr. Hoover was on the phone and alert her specially in a super-subtle kind of way?

    She did look like Veronica Lake.

  13. I too, worked for Evey Benjamin.
    She did look like Veronica Lake.
    Did she ever tell you to go "Pssst," in a super subtle way and let her know if Mr. Hoover was on the phone?

    There was a story....!

  14. I also worked for Evey, though in a 'temp' job, but it went on for a couple of months, and sat right outside her office door. You're right, she was 'fabulous' - I came upon this blog (though I'd seen it before..) because I was actually googling her name. I did find a picture of her several years back at some Hamptons do. She looked about the same, happy to report!

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