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Notes From The Bowels Of A Pharmaceuticals Advertising Company

Beautiful� I just want you to know� You�re my favorite girl�

My supervisor’s station plays it every day. I swear, if I hear it one more time� It induces a Groundhog Day feeling about the workday. Total hysteria, deep nagging questions about the meaning of life. Script by Harold Ramis. But I digress.

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�Gillian, I love your hair! Every day a new style.� I got the exact same comment yesterday as today. It freaks me out, powerfully, as �style� implies some kind of forethought or planning. I showered last night, slept on my hair, and literally did not comb it at all this morning. I did not subject my hair to even milliseconds of being in the same room as a comb, even.

I want to say something like, Like it? My stylist is up on 72nd Street� His name is Max N�Aux, and the studio is N�Aux Kombe Hair Styles� I can�t quite figure out how to make that gag work when it�s not in writing, though.

Would they be offended? They�re always commenting on each other�s clothes and shoes and hair. I�d like to say this commercial environment evinces more comments on my wardrobe, but it�s not really any different from the nonprofits or universities where I�ve worked. Abby was always going on about my hair, even when it wasn�t purple, and the harpies in the Bronx, comfortable in their own pathetic, low-budget concessions to style, chuckled over what they called “the return of the gypsy look” when I came to work in a broomstick-pleat skirt.

Today someone asked my boss, who looks like she�s maybe ten years younger than my mom, whether she was a child of the 80s. No, she said, mustering annoyance at the speaker�s misperception; she was being pegged as younger than she really is, which might be flattering if it wasn’t by an incongruous twenty years or so. I�m a child of the sixties, she said. Tie-dye, bell-bottoms.

Was that all it was to you?

This is the same woman who was all excited because her husband is buying a Harley-Davidson � �just because I can say he rides a Harley.� I wanted to tell her if he really wanted to make an impression she should get him to buy a Moto Guzzi or a Ducati, but for some people cool only runs so deep.

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Captain Picard was right. I fucking love Earl Grey. There�s this moment at about � of the way through the cup if I�m going slowly where I just start thinking how much I love people, and I know it�s kicking in. I don�t know how many people would be maimed if I couldn�t get any.

Teamaking in this office is high-tech and mysterious. You get a nondairy-creamer-like plastic tub of tea (there are similar tubs of gourmet coffee) which you insert into a machine, put a cup underneath, press a button, and it dispenses a perfectly-brewed cup. No teabags to save to pretend you will brew a second cup later. No steeping to your twisted predilection for tannin burns on your tonsils. Just a plastic cup which the machine sucks into itself for safekeeping. There’s something unholy about it.

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Much of what I do here is decode doctors� handwriting on surveys. The legends of its illegibility are true. I�m kind of shocked, though, because I thought they were taking classes these days to improve it. I mean, it�s probably worse than usual, because who can be bothered to fill out a survey? Maybe it�s the only concession they�re making to the fact that the conferences they�re reviewing are obvious shills for an anti-insomnia drug which I will call Oblivien.

There�s a question on the survey that asks them to rate how objective and scientifically rigorous the presentations are. Almost all of them rank them completely or almost completely rigorous. This is frightening. I have heard my boss describe our division over the phone as �an educational company,� but it is an arm of an advertising firm. If these surveys are in my hands, in this office, it is evidence the conferences are marketing tools.

They work, too. The doctors get paid $250 to attend these “symposia,” and they get wined and dined at swanky restaurants. A number of doctors write that they will use more Oblivien as a result of what the �faculty� at these events tell them. The overwhelming majority of them rank the presentations 4 or 5 on a one (not objective) to five (absolutely objective) scale. I’ve snooped into the PowerPoint presentations the speakers use (and surprisingly, only one doctor complained that the tone of the lecture was aimed too low), but it’s hard to judge what is actually said at the symposia; I can’t help but wonder how overt they are about pushing the drug. I have to hope the doctors are too smart for this bullshit, and what they say on the surveys is just an attempt to flatter the company so they can get another free lunch.

At one point in the survey, attendees are asked to describe a typical insomnia case in their practice. The question doesn’t end “for which you would prescribe Oblivien,” but a few of the doctors supply that they would use it. The cases they describe are wildly diverse: workers on the swing shift, patients with fibromyalgia, homesick college students, and depressives already on a cocktail of five drugs which leaves them agitated.

Some of the doctors paint elaborate, almost lurid scenarios in response to this prompt; one said he’d prescribe the drug to a middle-aged man under stress, who has been served papers by a wife he didn’t know was cheating on him. You see this range of detail and grow even more certain they’re looking to medicate away the rough edges of life.

One set of doctors say they plan to prescribe the drug for long-term use despite the fact that the drug is indicated for short-term use. Meanwhile, doctors from another lecture say they’ll only use it briefly while easing patients onto anti-depressants. A third set of doctors, blessedly, register questions about the appropriateness of long-term use. But the lack of consensus is alarming, especially when one doctor says he’ll use one class of drugs for children, while another says he would never do so due to side-effects.

Beyond spelling, the doctors can�t seem to be bothered to read questions. They give cryptic one-word answers open to interpretation. They answer �yes� to questions that ask for descriptions. Their grammar is positively atrocious. So much for twenty years of school.

I have a number of friends who are just now finishing up med school. I want to ask them: Does anyone in their schools talk about how drug companies further their interests? How much skepticism are they encouraged to have?

I just sit back and hope most of these doctors who appear to be so enthusiastic about the drug are just being facetious.

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Periodically my supervisors and the office manager coo over how efficiently I work. We liked the girl who was here before you, don�t get us wrong, they say, but it took her a day to tabulate a survey you do in an hour. I wonder what took her so long? they say, shaking their heads.

I wonder where her blog is? I think.