Hey, dude, how’ve you been? I know, seriously. So, what’d you end up doing this summer? That sounds awesome.
OK, now we’ve gotten that out of the way. So —
Pretty, much, the “how was your summer” question elicits one of two responses from Yale kids. Either you did some ridiculously hard finance internship/selfless volunteer project, or something ridiculously self-indulgent, like a trip to Europe or something. My job would probably be considered the latter: I worked only three days a week, for Maxim magazine.
The internship at Maxim was really a cross between a normal internship — for which I opened the mail and performed other menial tasks — and pledging a fraternity. Maxim interns don’t really have a boss. Rather there are just a bunch of editors, and like frat brothers with pledges, they can tell you to do whatever they want. And they do. For instance, here’s a dialogue that happened in July between me and Rob Bernstein, a senior associate editor.
Rob: Herb, come here. (The Tuesday-Thursday intern’s name was Herb, and they confused us so much that “Herb” just became synonymous with “intern.”) What the hell is this?
Me: Um, it’s the chicken you asked me to go pick up for your chicken sidebar.
Rob: This isn’t extra-crispy, Herb. This is original recipe. For the piece we’re writing, it has GOT to be extra-crispy. It’s a piece about crispy chicken. Do you understand that, Herb?
Me: Yeah, I mean. Sorry. Will this work anyway?
Rob: No. Go back and exchange it. Original recipe is gross. Haven’t you ever eaten KFC before? And Jesus, hurry up, dude. People want their chicken.
The people at KFC in Times Square get pretty confused and unfriendly when you bring up the idea that you want to “exchange” 20 pieces of chicken. I actually had to negotiate a deal with them where they would make 16 pieces of extra crispy, but keep 4 of the regular. I have no idea why this made sense — weird outcomes like this happen when you are the only one in the negotiation who can speak English beyond a basic fried chicken vocabulary.
Other initiations included sending me to buy eight large cacti 20 blocks away and carry them back to the office (cabs don’t pick you up when you have cacti, who knew?), sending me to release crawfish into the reservoir in Central Park, and one time they put a temporary tattoo on my forehead for no reason.
And in addition, all the normal “typical intern” tasks I had were ridiculous in themselves. The mail at Maxim is almost entirely from soldiers (who want free issues), convicts (who want free issues), and really busted chicks (who want to be in the mag). And my job was to throw all their letters away. Perhaps this sounds callous, but there’s something satisfying about taking a letter that someone took the time to write you, skimming it, and tossing it in the trash while making a condescending “pth” noise. Then there is mail for the joke contest. For the first month I spent each morning reading nothing but jokes. This sounds like fun until you discover there are in total only about 16 punch lines known to man, and most of them deal with someone’s penis being too small, or too large, or a pianist being 12 inches tall, or in the end an old lady turning out to be a lesbian.
But the most stressful days were on the Fridays we closed the magazine. In addition to the added stress of a close, the editorial interns were responsible for stocking and rolling out the office’s bar — an old airline cart full of promotional booze from various companies — for “Drinking Fridays.” Editors were ruthless. I remember one particular Friday when one of the editors was having me build an “ass-kicking” machine someone had sent in (Maxim was doing a thing on crazy inventions — this one was a platform with a post designed so that when you turned a crank, a boot attached to the post would kick whoever stood on the platform). It was a straightforward concept, but it was deceptively difficult to build. So anyway, I’m building this when the hammer came down, in the form of executive editor James Heidenry.
“Herb, it’s 4 o’clock. Where the hell is the bar?”
“Alright, I’ll get on it.”
“Quickly. Keith wants a gin and tonic.” Keith Blanchard, editor in chief, was standing right there behind James, looking impatient.
“You got it.” I said. I immediately headed for the mixers in the fridge. I came back to the bar and started pouring the gin and tonic. Now all three of them were breathing down my neck.
“Dude, what are you doing? I need this thing built.”
“I’m sorry, man. I’m multi-tasking.”
Then James Heidenry interjected. “Women multi-task, Herb. Men get the job done.” I looked back and forth between them, unsure of what to do. I decided to finish Keith’s gin and tonic. I looked up at him for some sign of approval.
“What, no lime?” he said. The stress was overwhelming. I moved to start work on the ass-kicking machine again, but James’ glare compelled me back to the bar. I felt like was being pulled in every direction.
Then Shauna from research came over. “Hey Burt, do you know what happened to that pink inflatable dildo?”
The stress overtook me. My eyes darted at all of them, and I exploded. “I DON’T KNOW WHERE YOUR INFLATABLE DILDO IS, SHAUNA! JESUS CHRIST!” I had just had a nervous breakdown over an ass-kicking machine, a mini-bar and a pink inflatable dildo. It grew quiet. James had another intern take over the bar.
So, anyway, my job was tough. Not self-indulgent at all. I don’t care what kind of 80-hour-a-week investment banking internship you had, Maxim really isn’t some jokey company. Especially not on “Drinking Fridays.”
Burt Helm was at the Dr. Black meeting. And it was awesome.