“So you’re from Virginia and you’re moving to New York for grad school.”
The blonde HR representative smiled across the desk at me. He was thin, and wore a well-tailored black suit with no tie. His office smelled a bit like mold, but it was kept cool despite the suffocating heat that had enveloped New York City in the summer of 2010.
“Yes, I’m headed to Pace University to get my Masters in publishing,” I said with my best interview smile. I looked him directly in the eye, like he was the only person in the universe I had any interest in.
Which, at the time, wasn’t far from the truth. I needed to scoop up a job (any job) as quickly as possible. School was starting in a month, and I’d yet to secure a place to live or any form of income. This is why I sat in the basement of Bloomingdale's, applying for a part-time sales position at $12 an hour—after graduating with honors from college.
The past two months had been a humbling experience, to say the least. I’d quickly learned that if you hoped to work in the editorial field, you needed connections. While this realization reaffirmed my decision to dish out thousands for grad school, it also crushed my idealistic hopes of immediately beginning my career as the ever-coveted “writer type.”
Basically, I was no special snowflake.
“So tell me about your work experience,” Ned smiled.
“Well…” I told him I was a leader, but a team player. I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I respected my managers, and did he need a reference? I could communicate, I loved people, and I understood the customer was always right even when they were oh-so wrong. Couldn’t he see? I was MEANT to work at Bloomingdales!
Apparently I’d passed the first test. Two more executives wanted to “chat,” if I still had time. “Absolutely,” I smiled, silently praying that no one would ask me in-depth questions about fashion.
“Huh. So you live in Newark, New Jersey?” the last (and most intimidating) of my interviewers asked.
“Live” is a word that depends on how you define it.
“Yes,” I smiled. If you count “living” as crashing in a friend’s closet near a church in the projects—then yes. I lived in Newark.
“How is it…?” she asked with some hesitance.
“Great!” I replied enthusiastically.
If you count “great” as sleeping on the roof of an apartment when the AC blows out, or needing to be home before dark because it’s moderately dangerous for a girl to walk around past 9PM—then yes. It was great.
“They have excellent Brazilian barbecue,” I added for legitimacy.
The truth was, I had no intention of staying in New Jersey for long, but I didn’t want to appear unsettled. Salesgirls in New York City are a dime a dozen, so why give HR a chance to worry?
(They also didn’t need to know that, just to get to this interview, I’d taken the midnight Chinatown bus by way of Virginia, and walked from Canal Street to 34th Street with my luggage at 6:45AM. Because I couldn’t find the right subway. Or a map.)
The other truth: I had no intention of working at Bloomingdale's for long. This was a pit stop; a job I would probably grow to hate, and eventually run from the second I had the opportunity to do so.
But every New Yorker needs a job they take, only to make rent. And every college graduate needs to discover life is hard, and getting what you want is even more difficult. I was in the midst of this realization so I unabashedly continued to fake an optimistic smile.
“Can you start Monday?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied with practiced nonchalance.
I had three days. Three days to go back to Virginia, pack my things, find an apartment, and move to New York. Many people had made this same jump before, so I took confidence in the city's collective story.
Walking out of Bloomingdale's into the afternoon sun, I felt genuine thrill.
What a frantic adventure this life would be.
The above picture was snapped at The Raccoon Lodge the day I'd gotten a job offer. (My feet are, to this day, terrified of wearing heels in the city, thanks to this rookie "night on the town."