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Monday, October 19, 2009

Presentation, Presentation, Presentation - by Gretchen Davis-Strutzenberg

Tami was a new associate at one of the largest marketing firms in North America. All of her professors and even the director she had interned for said the same thing, “Tami you have creative talent and vision out of this world.”

Still after each sentence would be a ‘but’. Tami always tried to look her best and she did. However being an African American woman was her first strike; being overweight was her second.

Tami usually over compensated in the personality department to offset her weight and the stereo-types that followed with being a black woman.

After working for two years as an associate Tami watched her peers and colleagues move up, get promotions and larger accounts. One thing that she noticed is that all of these were either men or women who were fit and trim. Staying positive was the only thing that helped her keep sane.

Thursday afternoon, Mr. Kelly brought her into his office. What did the CEO want to talk to Tami directly about? As she walked in she noticed a pair of Stacy Adams shoes, wingtips, attached to the most handsome African American man she’d ever seen.

“Tami, I’d like you to meet Franklin, he one of our new Marketing Executives. Since you have demonstrated the ability to handle very important and lucrative projects such as the most recent and successful German Auto Manufacturer campaign ad, I want to pair you with Franklin for another more important account.”

Why am I being assigned to work with an executive, she thought. Maybe he’ll be watching me so that I can get that promotion. Always positive.

Tami walked out in front of Franklin and it was a good thing she could not see his face behind her.

Franklin knew he was a hot commodity. He had a ‘general’ grasp of the marketing field but his climb to executive status was based on his ability to charm and his looks didn’t hinder the situations. And once again they would not fail him now.

He saw the way she looked at him. He’d also heard about Tami’s skills on the down low. She was a real pushover and he wanted to make partner. Maybe he’d be ‘nice’ and make her his assistant once they got this deal. He chuckled to himself. “Look at how she wobbles! Good grief! If she were two more inches wider she would be rubbing the walls as she walked down the isle.”

Tami was animated and spoke about the project, her ideas and everything they would need to do to make the project successful. This campaign would be the largest won in the history of their firm; a cool $100 million dollars.

One week into the project Tami had done a little bit of research and found the key to making the deal done. Franklin was thrilled. He did not have to lift a finger, as usual.

Tami prepared the notes, dealt with the graphics designer and put all the finishing touches on the project. She was tired and it was late. She’d have to call a cab. She started putting her notes into her bag and cleaning off her desk. Just then Franklin walked into her office with two glasses and a bottle of champagne.

“Let’s celebrate!” Tami could not help but feel a little bit excited and hopeful that during the last few weeks Franklin was beginning to feel something for her.

He raised his glass to toast and said “To a great project and an awesome team.” Tami drank, Franklin watched her. There was something about her that was physically attractive but not enough for him to give into it. He paused and looked at her and said, “Now Tami you do realize that when we present to the customer it is not only the work on the campaign that they will see but also those presenting what the company promotes.”

“Oh yes and I am ready. I purchased a new suit and ….”

“You know that is good and fine but, well Tami, our firm needs to demonstrate to our clients that we can represent well and also look the part.”

“What are you saying Franklin?”

“Look Tami I don’t want to be mean but honestly our clients do not want to see a fat, black girl directing such a lucrative and costly campaign. If you cannot control your own eating habits, how well will you control the budget and ads, you know”

“Are you implying that my size and race, which you are also a member of, unfortunately, has something to do with the success of this project?”

“Isn’t it obvious? You’re still an associate after 2 years. It hasn’t hit you yet? Presentation, Presentation, Presentation. Look, why don’t you go on home and we’ll go over the notes in the morning and I’ll conduct the presentation. You’ll get full credit for your contributions to the project and it will all be fine.”

“Yeah we’ll well see. Good Night”

Tami walked out to the lobby and waited for the doorman to hail her cab. She could not believe his audacity. She needed to get in early to speak to Mr. Kelly about it. This was practically her project. He did nothing to contribute. She would not let him take credit for her hard work.

The next morning Tami got in early and came in “stop-traffic” sharp. Everyone was oohing and ahhing. Tami was dressed to the nines in her red skirt suit. The skirt was trimmed in a cute short pleats and she had on her killer 4 inch matching heels.

Sofia, Mr. Kelly’s secretary had not made her way into the office yet. Tami knocked on the door and Mr. Kelly said, “Come in.” To Tami’s surprise there was Franklin sitting on the suede couch.

“Good Morning to you also Tami.” Franklin loved the surprise look he saw in Tami’s eyes. She did look good but dang, girl was thick! That was beside the point. He had already had a ride to the office with Mr. Kelly and it was decided. He’d do the presentation and that was all. Tami would have the opportunity to be in the room and answer any additional questions the clients may have.

“Mr. Kelly, I wanted to speak with you this morning before the presentation, privately.”

“Yes Tami, about the presentation…I am sorry but I spoke with Franklin this morning and his points make sense. You know this is a very delicate project. We will all benefit from this presentation being successful. I want you in the room during the presentation and available afterwards to answer any questions the clients may have.”

Tami just stood there in shock. She turned to walk out the door when Franklin stood up to get the door for her and said, “Great suit.”

She wanted to slug him, but she kept her composure and walked into her office. She put her bag down and made a few changes to her notes. Franklin knocked and then popped his head in the door. “Can I get those notes from you? I want to review them so that I am ready.”

Tami had a sweet yet sly grin on he face as she passed the index cards to Franklin.

“No hard feelings, Tami?”

“No, none at all Franklin, knock’em dead.” She smiled. Franklin walked out of her office shuffling the note cards. When the door shut, Tami opened her drawer and pulled out another set of note cards. She smiled a little devilish grin, reviewed the cards and grabbed her pad folio. After stopping in the kitchen for a small coffee, Tami ran into the restroom to freshen up.

Fluffing her curls and reapplying lipstick to her natural, yet perfectly shaped lips, Tami heard another woman in the stall throwing up. She sounded like she was having difficulty. A few seconds later a small woman in her mid 30’s appeared out of the stall. Her eyes were bloodshot and she had a little stain on her blouse.

“Are you ok?”

“No, but I’ll be ok. I think I am pregnant.”

She started to cry. Tami wet a paper towel and handed it to the woman. She buried her face into the towel.

“I’m Tami Green. Can I get you something?”

“Thank you Tami. I’m Brenda Daly. I am here for a presentation for our company’s new marketing campaign.”

“We’ll then I will be seeing you in the conference room.”

“Are you the executive presenting?”

“No but I will be there if you have any questions. Can I get you anything, something to settle your stomach?”

“Thank you so much. I’d appreciate that. I’d better get cleaned up. I’ll see you inside.”

Tami brought Brenda some Papaya tablets and a glass of water and walked into the conference room. Franklin was already in the room but keeping up with his regular M.O., doing nothing.

Tami sat at the back of the table and crossed her legs. Traci the Admin Assistant came in and dropped off bottles of water. Franklin winked and flirted with her. She giggled and left.

Mr. Kelly walked in with Brenda Daly from Premium Markets & Produce. Franklin rushed over to shake Brenda’s hand and schmooze her. Brenda was not impressed. She saw Tami sitting at the end of the table. She smiled and waved at her.

“Glad to see you in this meeting Tami”

Franklin looked shocked and then began the meeting. The lights were dimmed. Franklin didn’t do too badly of a job presenting the project to Brenda. Tami smiled since she had the full notes.

Brenda asked all the questions that Tami knew would come up. Since it was her job to answer questions she did it and she did it well. Brenda left the meeting thanking Mr. Kelly for his time. She shook Franklin’s hand briefly, then blushed and turned to Mr. Kelly. Brenda called Tami off to the side and thanked her again for helping her in the restroom. Then she invited her to lunch.

Mr. Kelly walked with Tami into her office and told her to make a great impression. She smiled and grabbed her purse and walked out.

Deep down Mr. Kelly felt sorry for Tami. Over the years he had seen her success get passed on to others who were less than deserving. He like her was the underdog at one point in his career and he was determined this time around to make sure that she was not on the butt end of the stick.

When Tami returned from lunch with Brenda, Franklin was running behind Tami as though she had the last steak and he was a big ol’ dog. “So did Ms. Daly mention anything to you about the presentation; is she going to go with our firm for the marketing campaign?” Tami stopped at her office door, and just before opening the door and walking in she turned to look Franklin in the eye. She gave him a stare that made him back up. Next she stepped in closer to him and said, “Yes she mentioned your ‘presentation’ and said that she was still deliberating about her final decision and that she’d get back to us later today. Oh and she mentioned one other thing….”

“What was that?!”

“Your fly was open for the entire presentation.”

If Franklin where white he’d have turned completely red.

“Next time Franklin you might want to check your attire before starting a meeting. Remember it’s all about ‘presentation, presentation, (and pointing to his fly) Presentation!’”

And with that said she walked into her office, closed the door, and laughed on the other side. Franklin composed himself and walked down the gossiping corridor to his office, on the other side of the building.

Mr. Kelly called Tami at 3:45 pm. He had great news. Tami walked down to his office, and expecting to either see or hear Franklin in tow. Sophia showed Tami in. Surprise! Franklin was not sitting on the couch. Mr. Kelly was sitting behind his desk with the video conference on. Brenda Daly and her Management Team were sitting in a conference room at their headquarters.

“Hello Ms. Daly, gentlemen.”

“Tami you can call me Brenda.”

Tami smiled a little and then turned to Mr. Kelly. He could see the question-mark in her face.

“Brenda please tell Tami what you just told me.”

“I’d be delighted to Mr. Kelly. Tami, we have reviewed your notes and proposal graphics for our new campaign and I am delighted to let you know that we have accepted. But I personally wanted to be the one to tell you that we want you on board or else we go with another firm.”

Whispering under her breath while still smiling, “but Mr. Kelly what about Franklin?”

“Oh forget him! You have done a great job again as usual and now it is your time to shine.”

“Now Mr. Kelly we would like to begin working on the campaign as soon as our management team returns from hiatus. That will be in two months. Tami we will be ready to go at that time. Thank you again for all your hard work.”

The conference ended and Mr. Kelly stood up and walked around his desk to Tami. He shook her hand and told her how proud he was of her and how thankful he was she held her ground over the last two years and especially during this project.

Since Tami’s “big deal” would not begin for another 2 months, Mr. Kelly gave Tami vacation and hiatus and a huge bonus.

It was all about Presentation, Presentation, Presentation and Tami definitely had it.

It's Not the Dress ... - By Gretchen L. Davis-Strutzenberg

“It’s not the dress; it’s the woman who wears it.”

This was the new “Phat & Sassy” fashion line’s motto. I remember my mentor thought that I was foolish to get involved with Plus Size fashion design. “You’ve never weighed more than 150 lbs. What do you know about “curves”? Plenty apparently.

My line is in its 7th year and after successful walks in Milan, Los Angeles, and New York. , I guess the only size that mattered was my clothing and if it fit my customers and gave them that confidence to be sexy, sassy and more importantly themselves, I did my duty.


Three months ago…

“In all my time as a doctor, I’ve never seen this before. I am truly at a loss,” were my doctors last words to me before he told me that I only had 2 months approximately to live. The cancer, according to all the tests performed, had migrated from my throat to my internal organs. According to the specialists I should have been in extreme pain or worse dead. The odd thing was that I never felt any pain at all. If anything I was more determined to live what little life I had left to the fullest.

Gloria Reyna was the best assistant, confidant and she has a great eye for fashion. Also she was the only one who knew my future designs. “And here is the transfer of ownership and our attorney will have more documents for you to sign after…after I am gone.”

Gloria did all she could to hold back her emotions but she could not hold it in anymore, “I refuse to sign!” and with that she fell on my covered legs in my hospice care bed and sobbed profusely.

“I want you to have it, have it all. I know you are ready.” I told Gloria.

“If I sign, it’s like you are already….already….dead. I can’t imagine life or the business without you.” Gloria winced and tears welled up as she said this.

“I don’t want to go either, but this is the hand that I’ve been dealt. Gloria, we all walk paths that were started by others before us. Please walk mine, make it better, and make it your own.”

“I will never forget you Maureen and I will make sure that you will never be forgotten.”

The dear friends hugged and Gloria left.

The next morning Maureen’s nurse came in and brought her the New York Times. As usual she began thumbing through the various sections and then she gasped as she looked at the cover story of the business section.

Vixen Noir, Inc., introduces Phat & Sassy - Love Basically

Maureen stared in amazement at first then read the article. Gloria was staging a pre-release party of her most beloved designs that were not due out for another year per her plan. She had hoped to see them but with her condition worsening, she only flipped through her old sketches and imagined all her beautifully curved models strutting in her jeans, signature T-shirts and lingerie. Maureen wanted to highlight the beauty in the basics.

Gloria came into her room just then. With the help of her nurse Maureen got out of bed, dressed and was ready for her final walk down the run way.

The show was emotional and phenomenal. Even some of the models had tears streaming down their smiling faces as they tore up the run way.

At the end of the show Maureen walked out to thank her guests and to say good bye to her close friends one last time. The applause was a thunderous roar. She had to wait five minutes before she could speak audibly and be heard.

“You know I had a whole speech prepared, but well to be honest, I threw it away.”

There were light giggles and laughter in amongst the crowd of teary-eyes and smiling faces.

“Really though, I want to tell all of you how much you have beautified my life and given me memories that nothing, not even death, can rob from me. To all of my beautiful curvy models, you are the outward representation of what I feel and admire – your strength, your beauty, your confidence and your grace…please don’t ever change….”

Maureen gave more thanks to all and finally invited Gloria to the stage and made the announcement of the future business changes; everyone applauded.

“Remember…It’s not the dress, it’s the woman who wears it!”

The applause was riotous.


Two weeks later….

“…and so today we bid a fond farewell to our beloved Maureen Lee Oxford. She put her mark on the fashion world and she proved by her designs that all women have the right to feel empowered beautiful, sexy, and more important, like a person. She will live in our hearts and memories….

Everyone in attendance, even the men, wore her new signature T-shirt at the funeral. It was a beautiful sunny Sunday.

© 2008 – Its Not the Dress…

Ready to Jump - by Gretchen Strutzenberg

“You’ve got to do something that will jumpstart your life!”

“What do you mean? I’m still doing what I was doing before, during and after my brief stint dating Gary.”

“My point exactly Maddy! You’ve got to get out of the rut you’ve carved for yourself”

Madeline & Ashley had been best friends for over 10 years; a surprise to many and each other. They were as different as night and day.

“Ashley I’ve got it together. I still take care of myself, work, exercise and I’ve even included Yoga!” Maddy said proudly.

“Yoga!? Ah yes the silent, boring way to wash away your troubles. Girl, look at this brochure.”

“Skydiving!? Are you nuts?! I could be killed!”

Fast cars, men and experiences could best describe Ashley. She lived life to the fullest and threw caution to the wind.

“Yes but it’s a very liberating experience!” Ashley was convinced of her own words and could not understand Maddy’s indifference. “Plus you could kill yourself accidentally by wrapping yourself up in a yoga-pretzel knot and suffocating yourself!”

Maddy did not even respond to the last comment.

Madeline came from a very large family and took on many maternal duties early on. She was two years younger than Ashley but to others looking in from the outside they considered her the oldest of the two.

“Ashley, honey, look, you’ve always lived life by the seat of your pants. That’s not my way. I like things safe. I like things practical. I’m not interested in potentially being separated from an appendage or worse my life!”

“Look Maddy I know you are worried but it will be safe; you’ll be safe. Remember Tristan from the VyneSyde Restaurant?”

“Not the waiter who flirted with you so long that he forgot to take our order five times?!’

“He did not forget you just did not know what you wanted to order.” Ashley winked and stuck out her tongue at Maddy.

“Yeah whatever! So what about the dumb waiter”

“Well he is the Sky diving Instructor and also a pilot.” She swooned thinking about this.

“Wait a minute, you want me to go up in a plane and leap out at the instruction of a guy who could not get a simple decaf coffee order correct? Are you nuts?

“Look he’s just working as a waiter on a temporary basis…he's saving up to pay for his Pilot’s License. He wants to have his own Charter Company for short distance plane rides and also skydiving adventures.”

“And how would you know all this Ashley Jefferson?”

“Well…we went on a couple of dates and he took me for a ride in his little Cessna.”

“But we just met him at the restaurant last Friday night; (Maddy was mouthing numbers and counting on her fingers) that’s only been six days!”

Maddy had a thing for all things pink and Ashley had a thing for attractive men. It has gotten to the point where Maddy lost track of which guy Ashley was seeing, dating or talking to, hence she implemented the number system. Maddy was up to 365 at this point, or so she teased Ashley about on a regular basis.

“Hey what can I say?” Ashley flashed her million watt smile.

“No! I’m not going to do it!” Maddy folded her arms as so to let Ashley know that she meant business.

“Well ok, but I hope you enjoy being ordinary.”

Maddy & Ashley had their ideals and hopes of what true love was and both of them were hoping to find it and they were not ones to sit on their haunches and wait.

Ashley sprinted while Maddy power walked. Maddy found a rest stop named Gary. She spent her time investigating. Ashley even thought this was the ‘one’, and she was a self-proclaimed pro at relationships. Neither one saw it coming. Maddy had her cry and moved on, or so Ashley thought.

Ever since Gary told her the reason or one of the reasons why he broke up with her was due to her lack of spontaneity. He called her ordinary. She hated that word. It made her stomach turn.

With tears beginning to well up in her eyes Maddy said, “Those were Gary’s last words to me….ordinary.” Maddy did her best to hold them back but it was no use. The blow of the break up was still more than she could take.

Ashley felt horrible. She didn’t really realize the impact the breakup had on Maddy. Maddy had always been the strong one and whenever the horse knocked her off she kicked him and got back on. Ashley figured that Gary was just another horse Maddy was going to kick.

Ashley handed Maddy a tissue and hugged her. “I am so sorry; I should have not said that. I just don’t want you to be so sad. I want you to be your old self again. I miss her.”

It turned into a teary scene from one of those sappy best-friend-forever movies with an unfortunate ending. Both had a good cry and said farewell.

Through good and bad times they could depend on one another. Despite differences in a variety of areas Ashley and Maddy were best friends and this made their friendship stronger and more peculiar to others. Even their jobs/career paths suited their personalities.

Maddy was the Safety Director for a large food distribution plant. Maddy was tough but fair. Her peers and colleagues admired her ethics and determination and commitment. She was highly sought after and well known especially for her signature pink steel-toe work boots and matching tool belt.

Ashley on the other hand was the well known Event Coordinator. She had planned parties and corporate soirees for the most élite to the stars of Hollywood. Hobnobbing was her thing and she did it well. Coming from a corporate background, organization and attention to detail helped Ashley stand out from her peers and competitors.

Maddy got in her car and drove home. On the way there she thought about Ashley’s words; ‘maybe I do need to do something to jumpstart my life.’ She wasn’t so sure though that it required her to jump out of a plane head first into land.

She noticed that before she pulled into the drive way there were impressions on the garage floor of where she always parked her car. Nah! It’s just because of the dust from the harsh winds we’ve had.’ She pulled in and closed the garage door. When she walked into her utility room and was about to hang up her keys she noticed a faint outline of her keys. She hung them up and walked away.

The message button light on her machine was blinking. She pressed the play button. “One new message. First new message from 555-0034, received today at 3:02 PM…..” She hit the stop button and held her chest. That was Gary’s phone number! It felt like her heart was going to pop out. She breathed in and released slowly.

He is just a man girlfriend”, she remembered Ashley telling her so that she could calm down. What did he want anyways! Now her fear was turning in to frustration. She smacked the play button and listened to the message: “Umm …. Hello Madd... I mean Madeline. It’s … Gary. When you get this will you call me… please?

Now she was just plain confused. Should I be mad that he called? She felt happy but still annoyed. Before she dialed his number she breathed in and exhaled slowly 10 times. Now she was a little calmer she could handle the situation. Still there was the lingering thought of hope that maybe he’d want to reconsider his decision to break up with her. The possibilities were endless.

She dialed his number.

The phone rang once; it rang twice….

“Hello? Maddy?”

“Yes, hello Gary, it’s me…I mean its Madeline.”

How she hated this. After dating for nine months they had forgotten what to call each other. Like there was a rule that you had to go back to proper names once you broke up. Well if there was a rule she knew Ashley would know and have a book about it. She’d be sure to ask to borrow that book next time. She laughed inside to herself before she realized that Gary had begun to talk.

“Umm yeah I want to see umm… how you were doing?

Is he serious?!

“Oh I am fine. Keeping busy. So what’s up? You called me.”

“Oh yeah, heh. (Maddy hated that stupid fake laugh of Gary’s when he was guilty of something) Umm well you remember that time we went to the …. Umm …. Botanical gardens and they had that little gift shop?”

Oh brother! Did I really date him?! Lord can he finish a sentence and get to the point!

“Yeah I remember. What about it?”

“Well do you remember I got the ‘100 Year Commemorative” T-Shirt for you?”


“Yep, what about it?’

“Well you got me something too while we were there…”

“Yeah I bought you the matching coffee mug. What about it?”

“Well … umm…I can’t seem to find it in my cabinet here. I think you may still have it.”

“Excuse me?! You’re calling for a stupid coffee cup??”

You moron we were getting married and funny I don’t remember getting my deposit back on the rental of the reception hall!! Ahhhhhh! How she wished she could say that to Gary.

“Well … umm…”

“Good Grief Gary! Spit it out! Funny how you did not have a hard time expressing how you felt to me when you broke things off!”

Wow I said it!

“...well it’s my cup and I want it back!”

Forceful and childish…now that is what I remember….

For a minute she thought to herself, ‘what would Ashley do in this situation?’ She smiled at herself in the hallway mirror and said to Gary, “Sure. Why don’t you come over and pick it up. I’ll have it waiting for you.”

“Thanks Madeline. I’ll be over in a few minutes.”

With that she hung up the phone. Maddy went into her kitchen and pulled out a plastic zip top bag and pulled the mug out of the cabinet. She washed it; dried it and placed it in the zip top bag and sealed it. She began humming a happy tune to herself. ‘What was that silly song in Mary Poppins’?’ She could not remember but she knew who would.

The two best friends helped to balance each other out. Ashley helped bring out Maddy’s silly outgoing side and Maddy helped Ashley tone it down, as much as she possibly could.


“Hi Ashley! Tell me what the name of that song is from Mary Poppins that is silly and long?”

“Umm…oh “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”?”

“YES! That’s it. Thanks!”

“What’s up?”

“I’ll call you back a little later”

They hung up and Maddy began humming and singing off key loudly “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. She opened the cabinet in her laundry room and grabbed her pink hammer. Still singing (the wrong words, loudly and off key and laughing) she walked back to the kitchen. With each beat in the song she swung the hammer onto the mug in the bag. When it was well broken and almost unrecognizable except for the words ‘100’ and ‘Commemoration’, she was satisfied with her handy work.

She grabbed an old pretty gift bag and put the bag of broken pottery inside. Still humming to the door, she opened her front door and sat the bag on the front step and closed the door behind her.

A few minutes later she heard Gary pulling up. She heard him get out of his car but the engine was still going. She tiptoed to the front door and looked through the peep hole. Gary bent over to grab the bag. She almost roared with laughter when a puzzled look swept across his face as he lifted the bag. He was still standing in front of the door as he raised the bag near to his ear. He shook it a little and heard the “chiming” of little pieces. He mouthed a bad word. Next he opened the bag and saw the pottery pieces of his coffee cup in the bag. His next expression was priceless…he stayed silent but had an adult tantrum on her front step. He kicked her door and her neighbors’ new dog barked. This scared the mess out of Gary. He almost fell down the stairs. Then he opened his car door threw the bag in the car and took off.

Maddy could let go. She had the best belly laugh she had had in a long time. After she finished she called Ashley back.

“Ashley, tell your boyfriend that I am game to jump!”