So. I haven't written much about working at Essence, despite it being the source or great joy and comedy, and also INCREDIBLE frustration.
Case in point:
Many years ago, I’m working on this package of single black male millionaires. There were three stipulations: single, attractive and no athletes/enetrtainers, or not directly. They had to own a company of some sort. So, if I recall correctly, one of the guys was a songwriter/ producer, not a performer. I think there was also a retired baseball player who'd flipped his earnings as an investor in an IT company or some such. Another guy ran a security firm. Can't remember the other two.
But the thing is, there were six guys in total who were supposed to be featured. Only five men made it into the final issue.
Let me explain:
I send out the APB about needing single, black millionaire men to all my publicist contacts and friends. This circle responds with options. I narrow the list to about 12 choices that can make it past my editor on looks alone. She cuts the list to 10.
The 10 selections are supposed to go to legal for vetting, like we did for all single men featured in the magazine. You can't be featured if you're married (which absolutely yes, there were married men who wanted to be featured as single), or if you've had any charges related to violence/rape ever, or if you've had even a minor charge in the last 5 years, or if you're not current on child support. Oh, and you have to have decent credit.
This is fair, but also problematic in that it also doesn't reveal anything that doesn't get caught by the legal system. So if your business is a drug front that has never been investigated, we can't tell by vetting. Or say, if you're gay, we can't tell unless you're married to a man. Or if you were fired from your last job for non-criminal shenanigans, we can't tell. Or if you've been in a long term relationship, but you aren't legally married, we can't tell.
So we start the vetting process, which begins by informing the guys they have to be vetted. Two guys won't give us permission for the background check even after we explain we have to for them to be featured. One guy is proactive and tells us about his DV charge from three years prior. Sir? You gotta go. Another guy turned out not to be a millionaire. And not like he had $999,999. Like he'd recently filed for bankruptcy, the type that meant he was broke.
We're down to 6 single-- as in not married-- Black millionaires who agree to be vetted and who pass the legal team’s approval. I interview them. All sane. Or, at least, socially well-adjusted enough where they know how to give sane answers.
So. We have our men. They've done their interviews for the story. And now we have a photo and video shoot.
We're at some sexy mansion in NYC. We do IT Guy's photos. Fine. Then we do security guy's photos while we do IT's videos. And so on. We have a system going. Until we get to the car salesman, 33, who completely f---s everything up.
It's time for his video. He's nervous. I tell him not to be. Ignore the camera, it's just you and me dude. Just talk to me. And this is for Essence. They're not running bloopers or gonna make you look bad. It's the millionaire's package. You will be spit-shined in the edit. I promise.
I ask about his business. Check. I ask what he likes in a woman. Check. I ask all sorts of questions. Check, check, check. Then I ask if he can look in the camera and say, "hi, I'm [redacted] and I'm Essence's single man of the month, [whatever month], [whatever year]."
He responds, "do I have to say I’m single?"
My "Awww hell!" meter goes haywire.
We've been in this process for three months. Every single email is titled 'Single Man Feature'. It's the Single Man of the Month page.
Now look. I don't expect very attractive, millionaire men to be sitting alone at home wanting for companionship. Nearly everybody got somebody, even if it's "just fun". But if you got a problem calling yourself "single", why are you here at this point in the process? I also point-blanked asked the guys, "are you currently in a relationship?" I got a variety of “I have friends” or “nothing serious” or “I’m dating” or “I’m not committed at this time”.
I say to the car salesman, “explain to me why calling yourself single would be problematic.”
“Welllllll…” he begins. He is single, he says. As in not married. But he’s in a relationship now…. with his off/on girlfriend of 17 years. They have two children, like 7 and 5, and they live together as a family.
I double blink.
Me: "So… so… so… Let me get this straight. This woman who you have been with since high school, your common law wife, basically. Does she know about this shoot? Does she know you are participating in Single Man of the Month?"
Him: "I told her it was a business story."
Me: "But did you tell her you would be listed as single?"
Him: "uhhhhhh. No."
Me: "No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. NO!"
It's as much at him, telling him he's wrong, as it is for me, trying to deny the sh—that is happening right now.
Him: *looks scared*
Me: You realize every woman your woman knows is going to see this issue, right? Her mama, her sisters, your kids, their friends, their friend's mamas, every woman in her church, every woman in the salon, and her mama, like, literally every single woman she knows or has ever met. And she is going to be embarrassed as f—k to see her man OF 17 YEARS, the father of her children, who she lives with sitting up in Essence announcing he's available and looking for love. 17 YEARS?! My dude, you, like, understand that SHE IS GOING TO KILL YOU, MAN. OR SHE IS GOING TO TRY. Do YOU understand that?
I'm not yelling. I'm talking in that wholly-even, emotionless, borderline psychotic way that seems to freak people out because they don't know what I'll do next. Truthfully, I don't know either. When I do that, I've lost it. I'm on auto-pilot. I’ve seen myself do it on TV. I take ownership of doing it. But I don’t actually recall doing it. I think this is what is commonly referred to as black out mad.
He's staring at me. I have no clue what he's thinking. I tell him the interview is over. He should pack his things and go.
Him: "But what about the video?"
His photos never ran in the magazine. And that video didn't post. Somewhere in the world, there is footage of me losing it on this man.
I also never got a chance to curse out his PR, which was high on my list of things to do. The PR refused to answer the phone, and would only respond via email. I didn't want to put my exact thoughts into writing, being as how I worked for a respectable company and all.
His PR did call my big boss to complain that I'd kicked his client off set. Her response was an invoice for the fees we'd wasted on the PR's client for the vetting, and the costs associated with the shoot. The PR didn't respond after that.