The summer before my sophomore year in college -- before graduate school and my dream job at Time Inc. -- I did a part-time stint as a receptionist at Revlon, located at 666 Fifth Avenue.
I call it a "stint" because it takes the formality out of the position and makes it seem appropriately insignificant, which, in retrospect, it was. Except back then, when I was bursting with an overabundance of energy and enthusiasm, everything seemed important. For a while, being a Revlon Girl was serious business.
That's what we were called: "The Revlon Girls." The main requisite was to look prim, proper and be able to announce people's arrival over a mini-microphone that went directly through an intercom to Mr. Charles Revson's personal secretary. Depending on how important the visitor, Mr. Revson might put in an appearance, walking the long hall from his office to the reception area, greeting a guest with a firm handshake and a look that bordered on cordiality, with a slight touch of ennui.
When he appeared on these infrequent occasions, we sat up straight, stared ahead and never made eye contact with Revson himself. We were simply there to meet and greet, and have the visitors sign their names in a leather bound guest book with an engraved "R" on the cover.
The Revlon Girls' uniform consisted of the obligatory little black dress, a string of pearls, low-heeled shoes and hairdos known as "the flip." All the Revlon Girls had flips, and looked bright-eyed and starched, which prepared us for a job that was basically to sit, smile and exude the Revlon image. I haughtily considered it a frivolous summer fling with no lingering side effects.
I made a close friend at Revlon: Rebecca, known as Becca. She and I sat on Charles Revson's executive floor at desks directly opposite one another. Together we surveyed the same oak-paneled landscape of visitors as they stepped off the elevator. Becca and I came to consider our jobs inane, but as with every downside, there were occasional perks. We were offered an array of Revlon products: lipsticks, moisturizers, clarifying lotions, foundation, and nail enamels in the latest Revlon shades. Every Friday afternoon, we were invited to the inner sanctum where the inventory was kept on shelves. We were told to help ourselves, which we did with much enthusiastic avarice. Fire & Ice lipstick became my favorite acquisition, while Becca voraciously snagged Moon Drops moisturizing lip conditioner.
One afternoon, a Japanese businessman was expected in Mr. Revson's office at 3:00. Precisely at 2:59, the elevator door opened and Mr. Karafucusato appeared at my desk, inscribed his name in the book, and took a seat among a row of perfectly aligned chairs. I picked up my mike and announced in my most cultivated voice: "Mr. Karafucusato is here to see Mr. Revson." Except I wasn't sure if the "u" was pronounced as a "w" or if the "c" was soft, or a hard "k." And so, in a moment of panic, I flinched in the middle of my introduction, botched the name so badly that from across the room, Becca burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. I joined in, similarly dissolving into a state, best described as "taking leave of my senses." The bewildered Mr. Karafucusato, simply wiped the hot July sweat off his face with a monogrammed handkerchief and gazed ahead, his briefcase firmly adhered to his lap.
A few minutes later, Mr. Revson, appeared to meet his guest. He stood all, lanky and notably peeved, as he delivered an icy stare in my direction, a look, which to this day, remains indelibly planted in my brain. A week later, I was told that my services were no longer needed.
That fall, I went back to college, Revlon, a not-too-distant memory that for decades I looked upon with nostalgic fondness, and just enough humiliation to keep me respectfully humble.
It's been years since I've even thought about being a Revlon Girl, but I do miss the cosmetics shopping binges to which we were treated on Friday afternoons. Eventually Becca became a senior editor at a major publishing company, and I, a writer. Years later, she moved away and we lost touch. I imagine though she is still applying Moon Drops moisturizing conditioner to her lips. As for Fire & Ice lipstick, we're still going strong!
Judith Marks-White is a Westport writer, and her "In Other Words" appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.judithmarks-white.com