Read About Clinton Kelly's Awkward Job Interview In His New Book — EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT
Clinton Kelly is the TV personality best known for telling women how to make themselves look better — but don't be intimidated: it turns out that Kelly has made enough fashion (and general life) faux-pas of his own to fill a whole book. Clinton Kelly's I Hate Everyone, Except You is a collection of essays about Kelly's awkward and embarrassing life experiences. It's not Kelly's first book — the What Not To Wear TV fashion consultant has written three books on fashion in the past — but now for the first time, the lens has turned on him.
Bustle have got an excerpt of Kelly's new book to reveal to you — and once you've laughed your way through this chapter, the full book is available to buy right now.
In this excerpt, we see Kelly applying for a job at Marie Claire, and optimistically promising to bring 100 story ideas to his interview. When his interview is suddenly scheduled for the next morning, there's only one thing for it: several bottles of wine, and an all-nighter. (Any college student who's forgotten an essay until the night before will know the feeling well...)
Of course, Kelly ended up going far beyond the job at Marie Claire, so we can read even the most uncomfortable scenes knowing that it all turned out OK in the end.
Jennifer’s new sofa had been delivered that morning, so she invited me to her apartment to see it, and presumably to sit on it.
A purchase of furniture neither disposable nor secondhand was company-worthy at this point in our lives. We were in our late twenties, living paycheck-to-paycheck, the vast majority of those paychecks going toward the rent for our Upper East Side apartments. I lived in a small rent-stabilized one-bedroom, located precisely a mop’s-length away from the uptown exit ramp of the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge. Because the car exhaust would regularly cover the living room’s two windows with a semiopaque layer of grime, once a week I would stand on my fire escape and clean them with a sponge-head mop I had purchased specifically for this task.
Most drivers inching along in the ceaseless traffic of the exit ramp would pretend not to see me standing outside in my boxer shorts and an oversized T-shirt, leaning over the second-floor railing, mop outstretched and a plastic bucket overflowing with suds at my side. But I could sense their vague suspicion. Is he trying to make money by mopping stopped cars? Don’t make eye contact. Don’t make eye contact. Keep your mop off my Toyota Corolla.
Occasionally, on a really hot morning, a driver with all his windows down, most likely because his car’s AC wasn’t functioning, would attempt to strike up a conversation with me.
“Hot out, huh.”
“Yup,” I’d reply.
“Dirty windows, huh?” “Yup.”
“That’s what you get for living next to a bridge.”
“Wait. This is a bridge? I thought you were all waiting in line to go to hell.”
“Eh, fuck you.”
I’d shake the mop in his direction as if to say, Don’t make me use this thing on you, because I will.
Once, a woman in the passenger seat of a minivan rolled down her window to ask me where York Avenue was. I pointed east with the mop, dripping some soapy gray liquid on myself in the process. “I told you so, Hal,” she barked at her husband. “I’m sorry,” she said to me, “my husband is an idiot. I hope one day you get a better apartment.”
Jennifer’s apartment was a bit more posh than mine; it was a sublet in the high-rise famous for its cameo in the opening credits of The Jeffersons. Every time I entered the lobby, I imagined myself as the meat in a George-and-Weezy sandwich, him proudly strutting on my left and her on my right, regarding it all in wide-eyed wonderment. I’d press the elevator button and fantasize about the dinner Florence would have waiting for us, maybe meat loaf with a side of sass. And perhaps tonight would be the night Mr. Bentley would let me walk on his back.
The first few times I visited Jennifer, I’d sing The Jeffersons’ theme at her apartment door: “Now we’re up in the big leagues, gettin’ our turn at bat!”
She’d inevitably shush me in her politely paranoid way; she didn’t want to bother the neighbors, lest they rat her out for her not being on the lease.
Jennifer had quickly become my best friend in New York. We met a few years earlier while we were both working as home- shopping hosts for Q2, a short-lived offshoot of QVC that broadcast live from Silvercup Studios in Queens. She was gorgeous, and I hated her on sight. When an executive for the company introduced us, Jennifer gave me a weak smile and kept her arms folded across her chest. She thinks she’s better than me, I told myself. I’m going to make her life miserable.
Th next day she apologized for the lukewarm reception. She explained that she was hungover, the air-conditioning was too high, and she was wearing a thin bra. “Boing!” She pointed her index finger away from her boobs. I knew we’d be friends forever. Her sofa was nice, I supposed, a seafoam-green convertible, smallish but the right size for her alcove studio. I had helped her pick it out, mildly jealous the whole time we shopped because she could afford one while I was still sleeping on a futon. She was making more money as a commercial actress than I was as a freelance writer and editor. I had given commercial acting a shot but quit after my first audition, which Jennifer’s agent — at her prodding — had set up for me. It was for Boar’s Head Turkey.
The casting director, a blasé gay-ish guy maybe a decade my senior, pointed a video camera in my direction and took a seat behind an industrial folding table. “You’re a radio announcer,” he said, “and your line is, ‘Boar’s Head Turkey.’”
“So you want me to say ‘Boar’s Head Turkey’ as though I’m a radio announcer.”
“That’s what I just said, except in reverse.”
“Gotcha.” I cupped a hand to my ear (the way radio announcers do?) and produced my most resonant tone: “Boarrrrr’s Head Turkey.”
“OK, do it again.”
A little more gusto this time. “Booooarrrrrrr’s Head Turkey!” “Again.”
Maybe I wasn’t accentuating the right syllable. “Booooar’s Head TUR-key!”
“BoaRRRRR’s Head Tur-KEY.” “Again.”
“BOOOOOARS Head Turrrrr-key.” “Again.”
“Boarrr’s HEAD Tur-KEYYYY.” “Again.”
I was stuck in a sadistic loop with this fucker. He knew I’d never get the part, but he was making me repeat this damn line over and over. I couldn’t think of any new ways to say it! I was barely intelligible at this point. It was like that scene at the end of The Miracle Worker when Anne Bancroft gets Patty Duke to say “water” but it sounds like “wwwaaaaaauuhh-waaaahhhhwuh.”
I refused to be the first to quit. “BWOOORRRS HEHD TUH-TUH.”
“TURRRRRRRR GA-BWAW BWAH.”
“BUHHHH HUH TURRRR TURRRR.”
A knock at the door. His assistant, asking if he was ready for the next auditioner.
“Yes, send him in. Thank you Mister . . . Kelly.” “You are . . . welcome.”
I waited years for that commercial to make its way to television, just so I could see who beat me out for the role of self- loathing, turkey-loving radio announcer, but it never aired. While Jennifer opened a bottle of wine and assembled a cheese platter in the kitchen, I perused the magazines on her coffee table. I had already read that week’s People and Entertainment Weekly, so I flipped through another I had never heard of: Marie Claire.
Opening to a feature story titled “How Many Men Have You Slept with This Week?,” I was instantly sucked in, so to speak. But I was even more intrigued by the women holding up signs with big, bold numbers like “3” and “0” and “1” and “27.” By the time Jennifer came back to her new sofa, I had gobbled up every word of the article.
“What is this magazine?” I asked. “Marie Claire. I like it.”
“It is literally the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I need to work there.”
“Uh. OK,” she said.
“Do you mind if I rip out the masthead?” “Take the whole thing if you want.”
“That’s OK. I don’t want to be seen carrying this rag around.” I tore the masthead containing all the editors’ names and the address of the Hearst offices, folded it, and put it into my pocket. We drank wine and talked about men and our careers and the television shows we should write, like the one about the gay guy and the straight girl who are best friends living in New York City who have some wacky neighbors and go on crazy dates. “There’s nothing like it on TV!” When Will & Grace premiered the next year, Jennifer was convinced NBC had bugged her apartment.
When I returned home, I drafted a letter to the editor-in-chief, Glenda Bailey. Glenda. Glenda. The name floated through my mind like an incantation. Glennnndah. Glennnndah. I had never met a Glenda before, though I had driven through Glendale once on the way to Disneyland. How exotic Glenda seemed. She would be the woman to change my life, I decided, and so I mentally grouped her with other G names that positively influenced me, like Glinda the Good Witch of the North and Glen the First Guy I Ever Made Out With.
Two weeks after mailing it, I received a call.
“Can I speak to Ms. Kelly?” asked the woman on the other end of the line.
“This is Mr. Kelly.” “Oh, you’re a man.” “Mostly.”
“Glenda Bailey of Marie Claire asked me to call you. She’d like you to come in for a meeting tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” I asked. I had been planning on doing my laundry.
“Yes. Can you do first thing in the morning? She’s quite busy.” “Sure. What time is first thing?”
“Eight thirty.” “OK. I’ll be there.”
I hung up the phone and walked three blocks to Bloomingdale’s to buy something to wear. I couldn’t meet Glenda in Banana Republic khakis and a polo shirt. A meeting with Glennnndah required something dressier, perhaps an Elizabethan neck ruff. But I settled on a black suit and lavender shirt, which together cost $800, a virtual drop in the bucket compared to my $45,000 credit-card and student-loan debt.
On the way home reality hit me: I had to come up with one hundred story ideas by the morning. A couple of headlines had been floating around my brain in the two weeks I had been waiting for a response: “What Makes Me Different Makes Me Beautiful,” an article showcasing women who had features they might have hated at one point in their lives but learned to love, like unruly hair, lots of freckles, or a gap-toothed smile; “48-Hour Closet Swap,” for which two women with polar-opposite styles would trade wardrobes for two days and report how differently strangers, mostly men, treated them.
I’ve never been especially good at math, but even I knew that two stories out of one hundred made me exactly 2 percent ready for the next day’s first-thing meeting. Crap. I bought two bottles of Sancerre, which I also could not afford, and invited Jennifer over for a brainstorming session. Luckily, she was free.
By the time Jen arrived, another bottle of Sancerre in hand, I had about fifty semisolid ideas. And over the next few hours we came up with another twenty-five—mostly stories about dating and sex—until we hit a point of diminishing returns. Neither of us had eaten dinner, and we were getting pretty drunk.
“You know what I’d like to read?” Jennifer asked. “A story about a chubby girl with a mole on her chin who had the mole removed and lost the weight and grew up to be a beautiful commercial actress and television host.”
“That’s amazing,” I replied. “But do you know anyone I could interview for that?”
“Hey! That’s my story!”
“Oh, right. I had forgotten you had that mole,” I lied. “I’ll write the headline down and see if they go for it. How do you feel about: ‘How My Mole Made Me Whole’?”
“That sounds like there’s a mole near my hole,” she said. “Not if you read it. See?” I showed her the computer monitor. “It’s whole. Spelled with a w.” “I still don’t like it.”
“How about ‘Wholly Moley’?” I asked.
“Forget about the mole,” she said. “The mole is irrelevant.” “So what you’re telling me is . . . this is a story about moles and the women who love them.”
“That is not even close to what I am telling you.”
“Jennifer, you are an ideas machine,” I said. “I am going to propose a series of first-person stories about women who have used their skin conditions to their romantic advantage. ‘He Loves Me Warts and All, Like Literally.’”
“‘Rash Decisions: A Seven-Year Itch Worth Scratching.’” “Gross.”
“‘Psoriasis Shmoriasis: Our Love Isn’t the Only Thing Inflamed.’ These ideas write themselves!”
“I’m going home.” And she did.
I woke up the next morning with a mild hangover and a level of career excitement I hadn’t felt in years, if at all. This is my big break, I told myself, my dream of being a real live magazine editor is about to come true. I’ll work in a fancy office surrounded by glamorous people. I’ll be paid six figures just to attend meetings and spout ideas off the top of my head like “21 G-Spots You Never Knew You Had!” and “Celebrities with Weird Thumbs!”and “Put ’Er There: Sex on Top of Unexpected Furniture!” I’ll have health insurance and a gym membership and receive tons of attention at parties — just for showing up. I’ll be slightly aloof but amused by the social climbers, men and women alike, trying to get into my pants. Maybe I’ll make out with one or two of them, then laugh when they ask to come home with me. Ha! Not just anyone is getting a slice of this meat. I’m saving it for other high-powered creative types who can appreciate my ruthless ambition and general je ne sais quoi. And I’ll buy some curtains, so commuters from Queens can’t get so much as a glimpse into my morning routine of drinking coffee and embellishing the mildly flirtatious banter between Katie Couric and Matt Lauer. “Oh, you tell him, Katie! Girl, your legs have been polished to a high sheen this morning!” You know what? Fuck the curtains and fuck this whole apartment! I’ll leave this dump tomorrow with all the Ikea furniture in it. And you can keep the security deposit too, Mister Landlord Who Never Understood Me Anyhow, with all your wanting-the-rent-on-time bullshit. Don’t you know who I am now? I’m Clinton Kelly, the most fabulous man in the world!
I dashed off the last twenty-five or so story ideas, stupid women’s magazine weight-loss stories like “Lose 10 Pounds by Yesterday,” and put on my new suit, which I discovered had a small hole in the crotch. I vowed to keep my legs together.
The lobby of the Marie Claire editorial department was just slightly more glamorous than that of a medical-supply firm in Akron. Glenda’s assistant stuck her head out the door. “I’m sorry, but Glenda can’t see you today,” she said. “She’s preparing for some press surrounding the upcoming issue.” The assistant said I could meet with Michele, the deputy editor, when she arrived, probably some time before ten. I could come back later or wait. “I’ll hang out here in the lobby,” I said. Yep, I’ll just sit in that plastic chair facing the door, watching my dreams rot like a bowl of fruit on time-lapse video. Thanks so much.
Employees began to arrive, coffees in hand, and quite frankly, I had expected them to be better looking. I had imagined lots of people, mostly women, who were almost exquisite enough to be models, but not quite, so they would have to be content working in the next-best industry, fashion magazine publishing. I pictured perfect-featured girls who were a mere five foot seven. “Too short, sorry. It’ll be a life of magazines for you.” And others who were stunning but asymmetrical. “Dear, your left eye is one millimeter larger than your right. I’m afraid you can never model. But would you care to be an accessories editor?”
Overall, they were just slightly better-than-average looking. Sure, some of them were so skinny you could see through them, but they didn’t look happy about it. I had been expecting to work among anorexic women who radiated inner strength, not soul-crushing hunger. And what was with all the joyless denim? The office was like a GAP ad in Kazakhstan.
Michele arrived: gray trousers, an untucked sleeveless peach button-front blouse, not a single accessory. Her shoulder-length brown hair was unbrushed and damp. She also wore no discernable makeup, so I wasn’t surprised when she spoke to me in an English accent. All of the British women I had ever met in New York City had that drip-dried kind of look.
“Glenda’s assistant says you have an appointment. Come with me, I suppose,” she said with formal politeness. She had a strong and swift stride as she led me through the office. “That’s Glenda over there,” she said, tilting her head to the left toward a glass-walled corner office, where a handsome woman sat at her desk scowling at her computer, oblivious to the two stylists violently tugging and drying her hair.
So that’s the mythical Glennnndah. And she’s blowing me off for a blowout. I wonder if the subscribers know about this, I thought. That when they spend their hard-earned money on a copy of Marie Claire it’s going directly into Glenda Bailey’s scalp. This was outrageous. When I got home I would write an exposé of some kind to be published by some kind of feminist newsletter. I would need to do some research on that. But in all honesty, I was so jealous I could spit. I wanted that corner office so bad and I wanted a blowout by someone other than Beth at Supercuts with the lazy eye who for the life of her just could not figure out how to tame my multiple cowlicks.
Michele’s office was also glassed-in, with none of the sophistication of Glenda’s. Magazines and newspapers were strewn everywhere, with large piles of manuscripts and manila folders on her desk.
“Why are you here exactly?” Michele asked.
“I wrote Glenda a letter. I believe it’s in that envelope you’re holding. I said that if she would just meet with me, I’d give her one hundred story ideas.”
When she removed the cover letter and résumé, I could see that someone, probably Glenda, had written “CALL HER” at the top.
“You’re not a woman,” Michele said.
“People around here seem surprised by that. It’s starting to give me a complex. I mean I know I’m a little effeminate but . . .” “Just a little.” She smiled. “So, where are these story ideas?”
I had been carrying them around, not in a briefcase, but in a brand new manila folder, which was starting to look a little worse for wear. “Right here.” I passed them across her desk, feeling like a failure because the tab where I had written “Marie Claire” had become a little bent during my ride on the crosstown bus.
Michele picked up a ballpoint pen and read the list, making little check marks next to some ideas and slash marks through others, while I watched.
“Brilliant. Brilliant,” she mumbled, not lifting her eyes from the pages. “Did it. Not us. Not us . . .” She continued for a few minutes until she paused to make eye contact with me. “‘How My Mole Made Me Whole’? What is that about?”
Oh, the terror. I had neglected to delete that one!
“Well, ummmm, I was thinking we could do a story on people who had moles and other skin conditions.”
“Really?” Michele asked.
“No. That one was a joke.”
She returned to the list. “Brilliant. Brilliant. Not us. Did it. Not us . . .” And after ten minutes, she counted the number of check marks. “Twenty-three,” she said.
Twenty-three was not a hundred. Was I being graded on a curve or on a straight percentage? “Is that good?” I asked.
“It’s twenty-three more ideas than I had when I walked in the door,” Michele said. I liked her. She was no-bullshit, but nice about it. “Are you looking for writing work?”
“Actually, I want a job as an editor.”
“I’ll keep you in mind,” she said. “Can you find your way out?”
I said I could.
The hairstylists were now putting the finishing touches on Glenda’s mane, which had been formed into a soft helmet surrounding her face. I walked past in my black suit and lavender shirt open at the collar. Take a look at what you missed out on, Glennnndah Bailey, Dasher of Dreams, in your fancy corner office. Look at me, I willed her. Look at me!
I ended up being offered a job at Marie Claire as a contributing editor for a lot less money than I had hoped, but I accepted it anyway. Professionally, it may have been the most miserable year of my life. I shared a tiny office with three women, all of whom were very lovely, but we had zero privacy or personal space. I heard every word of their telephone conversations, and they every word of mine, work-related or not. We knew too much about one another: who had a doctor’s appointment, who had a date, who was fighting with their mother. I would drink gallons of water a day, just to have an excuse to leave my desk and pee in the usually empty men’s room.
By default I became the “What Do Men Think of Your.... ?” editor, and so I’d have to produce a seemingly endless stream of stories filling in that blank. What do men think of your hair? Of your shoes? Of your bedroom? Of your complete inability to think for yourself?
Sometimes they ran in the magazine, sometimes not. That was the job: have twenty or so stories cooking on the back burner at any given time so that Glenda could pull one out randomly and tell you (via Michele) it was going to press tomorrow and demand to know why it wasn’t completely ready to go to press today.
I did end up producing “What Makes Me Different Makes Me Beautiful.” It took six months to convince Glenda (via Michele) that the story was a good idea. I found women willing to discuss the physical features they learned to embrace over time. While I was happy with the text, the finished spread didn’t come out exactly as I had hoped, thanks to the photo department. They ran a dramatic profile shot of the girl with supercurly hair, who also had a considerable nose, showcasing the fact that she had two prominent characteristics, not just one. The art was slightly confusing, but the editorial was crystal-clear. Nevertheless, Glenda held it up during the joyless monthly staff meeting. She said, in her nasal English accent, “I don’t understannnnd. Is this story about her hair or her nose?”
“It’s about her hair,” I said. “I’m not sure why art chose that particular image, because it does make her nose look huge, but in the piece she talks only about her hair.”
“Did you know she had a big nose when you cast her for the story?” Glenda asked.
“I had seen a photo of her. It didn’t look particularly large from the front.”
“Well, I think the story was a bit unsuccessful,” she said, and flipped to the next article.
I knew then I had to find a new job. I had assumed that working at a woman’s magazine would be more fun, that the real, live women working there would understand how trivial most of the topics we covered — celebrities, hair, sex, shoes, celebrities with hair having sex with shoes — were in the grand scheme of the Universe. But they didn’t. They took every aspect of the job incredibly seriously, as they should have. The women I worked with were smart. Really smart. I thought the overall vibe would be a little more “Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. We’re all just here to pay our rent, so let’s write silly stories about orgasms and lipstick.” But they were too professional for that.
I learned what I always knew, that entertainment is a big business, the end goal of which is to make money. And when money’s involved, people can be less fun than you’d hope.
On the bus that evening, on my way home from work, I sat a row behind and across from a woman who was flipping through the newest issue of Marie Claire. She was in her midtwenties, black, with natural hair held back from her face with a headband. She opened “What Makes Me Different Makes Me Beautiful,” and stopped. Watching her read every word of that piece, I wanted so much to tap her on the shoulder and say, “I produced that! That story you’re reading — that was my idea!” But I didn’t. When she finished that article, she moved on to the next. I’ll never know if it so much as crossed her mind ever again.
Jennifer stopped by my apartment in Tribeca on a recent spring evening to see my new wallpaper: black-and-white flowers the size of dinner plates that serve as a background for huge Technicolor butterflies.
“It looks like something in a magazine,” she said. “A very, very gay magazine.”
“That’s the look I was going for, something ripped from the pages of Fancy Fag, the magazine for the highfalutin homo.”
“I love it.” “Thanks. Me too.”
Jen lives in a beautiful, tasteful apartment on the Upper West Side now. She’s still beautiful and charming as ever. Sometimes, when our husbands are out of town, we’ll get together and gab about the old days. We’ll also get together with our husbands, but they’ve both heard the stories of our twenties too many times to find them the slightest bit interesting. They never ask us to stop the reminiscing, however. Their eyes just glaze over politely.
I opened a bottle of Sancerre from the refrigerator and poured us two glasses.
Jen had taken a seat in the hot-pink round swivel chair. One foot was tucked under her, the other was rocking her back and forth. “Can you believe it’s nine o’clock and I’m already tired? Remember how we would stay up until three a.m., coming up with ideas for TV shows?”
“I do,” I said, handing her a glass. “The only time I see three a.m. now is when I have to get up to pee for the second time. How ridiculous it all seems now.”
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Ridiculous how?” “I don’t know,” I said.
“I don’t think it was ridiculous at all.” She was very earnest all of a sudden. “We were being creative. We were having fun. Do you really think we were ridiculous?”
I didn’t know how to answer her question. When I look back at my late twenties, my life does seem a little ridiculous. All the time I spent worrying about which designer sweater to wear, who to sleep with because they were more attractive than me, who not to sleep with because they weren’t, which bar to be seen in, which bar was dead, which music to listen to. It seems like a huge waste of mental energy. I could have been doing something important, I tell myself, sometimes. But what difference does it make? The past is . . . dead. Most of those bars no longer exist, the men I slept with are old and gray, the sweaters I wore lie decomposing in a landfill. I am here now, happily in my present, with a foot in the future.
“We weren’t ridiculous at all,” I said.
“Good,” Jen said. “I didn’t think so. Do you mind putting on the AC? It’s a little hot in here.”
“I’ll open a window,” I said and got up from my spot on the sofa. As I lifted the sash I noticed that a recent rainstorm had left streaks on the outside of the glass. I made a mental note to have them cleaned the next day.
I Hate Everyone, Except You by Clinton Kelly, $15.90, Amazon