When I get off the elevator Tuesday morning on the 6th floor, I find Dr. C talking to my boss, who looks quite overwhelmed by the white haired 10th floor phenom.
“Cymbria!” Dr. C turns and greets me with neon pink lips spread wide. “Paper’s got to roll itself for a few minutes. I’m borrowing you for an emergency.”
She doesn’t say another word as she leads me up to Blank Canvas Living’s offices, despite all my questions and panicked pleas for training, something, anything, Aaaack! We get off the elevator and she takes me down a bleak, almost institutional, hallway without giving me the tiniest hint of what to expect. Not even when she opens a green glass door, about halfway down, and guides – who are we kidding, shoves! – me through. The door clicks shut behind me and I’m in a small white office with silken green carpeting that looks suspiciously like-high end Astro Turf. There are two chairs, but their purpose is lost on the fire haired woman who, I’m assuming, is my first ‘real-time’ creative counseling client.
It’s my turn to be speechless. A faint scratching, grinding sound is coming from under the opposite chair. That’s right, under. My client, a well-dressed 30-something businesswoman, is curled up in the fetal position gnawing on a chair leg. No joke. What the hell?
I wait for an opportune lull in the gnawing. “Are you Ok?” I ask.
“Do I look Ok?!” she snarls. “I’m gnawing on a f*&^^*ing chair leg! I hate my job. I hate my life. I hate my hair. And I hate the *&^^%&*((* photocopier that jammed and made me crazy this morning!”
“I like your hair.” My voice is so meek, even I’m not sold.
“Whatever. Who the hell are you anyway?”
“I’m Cymbria. It’s my first time.”
“Dr. C had better not be charging me for this. And seriously, why would I take advice from someone wearing such an abomination of a sweater?”
She’s right. Dr. C may have helped me burn my ugly pants, but the sweater she met me in still haunts my closet, its ease too easy an argument on so many grey/black branded mornings. I take it off and toss it on the grassy floor between us.
“Oh sure,” she says, letting go of the chair leg, “like that ratty old tank top is any more professional.”
“Fine.” I take that off too, and let it drop like a limp white flag of surrender. But this is no resignation. I’ve got her full attention now that I’m down to my bra and jeans. It’s my turn to call her out: “And I don’t know how I can listen to someone bitching about their life when they’re wearing a fresh-pressed button-down and Christian Louboutin heels!”
“Fine.” The woman picks herself up, strips off her shirt, and kicks off her shoes. She stands her ground with arms crossed and jaw set, challenging me.
“You want professional?” I say, as I take her white oxford from the top of our laundry pile and button it over my bra. It’s a tad loose, but the more like a lab coat the better. Off go my jeans and I make an improvised matching skirt from my repurposed ‘ratty’ white tank top. Recovering from a terrible first impression demands high risk creative problem solving. “Now hand over the tights. You came here wanting to expose your brain for someone to poke around in. Hosiery sharing isn’t anywhere near as intimate and you know it.”
She gives me her tights and lets me dress her in a true tickle trunk representation of how she says she feels. I tie my sweater sleeves (so what if they stretch – t’is a noble sacrifice) behind her back for a straightjacket effect, then get her to put her feet in the wrong end of my jeans to trap her legs. She draws the line at letting me hood her with her black gabardine pencil skirt – “can’t wreck the hair,” she says, which I take as a possible sign of improving moral.
We sit facing each other, transformed. “Now,” I say, as professionally as possible, ignoring the pain of her glorious but too-tight Louboutins, “how can I help?”