Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Two Lefts Nearly Made a Right

This is The Shoe Story.

It was the summer of 1996 and I was wasting away in Beverly, MA spending my days working telephone customer service at Sears Credit Central and my nights vegetating in front of the television. My sister Nanje would make me dinner in the evenings and often a bagged lunch the next day because otherwise, I probably wouldn't have eaten at all. I was so miserable. The three of us - Mom , Nanje, and I - were living in this four room apartment, Mom and I sharing the bedroom and Nanje making what should have been the dining room work for her own bedroom. I felt like that line from Princess Bride - wallowing in freakish misery, forever. I remembering just feeling useless and demoralized on so many levels. It wasn't a very good time for any of us.

It didn't help that I was terrible at the job. Right or wrong, I certainly saw it as beneath me and, with typical melodrama, was convinced that I'd be trapped there forever. I broke all kinds of minor rules. I'd fill my black sports water bottle with Coke when it was declared that we could only have water at our stations. I'd write scenes for a new novel in the steno book in between phone calls or read a book when it was slow, sometimes hanging up on incoming customers if I didn't feel like answering the phone or felt they were interrupting a particularly interesting part in my book or writing. My numbers always posted well and somehow all the calls that my supervisor observed were stellar - I even managed to win a fraud prevention reward - so I skated through about 9 months of this third ring of hell.

I had only just graduated Gordon College the summer before, having utilized the five-year college plan, basically because my double major and minor required more credits to complete than what were necessary to graduate. My visions of grandeur had been squashed pretty quickly. I'd been working at a regional theatre internship through the summer and into the fall, but had my contract terminated at the end of October because my mother insisted on making the traditional trip down to PA for Thanksgiving for a long weekend that stretched from Wednesday to Monday; an eternity in a theatre's schedule. Eh - they didn't like me anyways. So Sears it was.

I had started to look at publishing opportunities, an option the less-than-well-informed academic advisers at Gordon had never mentioned as a career opportunity. If Moyra hadn't spent a summer interning at the now defunct Mirabella magazine, I probably would have never thought of it myself. Through various connections and inquiries, I'd had a few informational interviews in the Boston area. Some church contacts back home in New Jersey netted me at least one Friday with my dad shepherding me through NYC to a series of informational interviews. I'd take my 3o minute unpaid lunch hour at Sears and stretch it into an hour, made my 15 minute breaks stretch towards the 40 minute mark, spending all that time on the pay phone in the vestibule, calling people, leaving messages, trying to find a future. My poor mother's calling card bill must have been out of control.

Turned out that a fellow bass in my dad's church choir was the vice-president or CFO or something big (it was 12 years ago, give me a break!) in the advertising department at a trade and commerce newspaper called The Journal of Commerce, which, at the time, was housed on the 27th floor of the World Trade Center. First he got me an assignment to write a freelance article for the advertorial section, which was a COMPLETE disaster on many levels, and then eventually an interview for an assistant's position in that same department, basically guaranteeing me a job provided I clicked with everyone else.

I could not have been more earnest, I promise you. Mom and I drove down to Jersey on a Thursday after a full day of work for both of us for a Friday interview; I stayed at Dad's apartment and Mom stayed with some friends from our old church. I believe that I was planning on wearing a turquoise suit I had at the time with buttons that ran down the front from nape to waist. I know I had off white/bone colored shoes to go with it. So there I was, super earnest, wearing my suit, waiting for my mother to arrive, anxious, looking at working in Manhattan, trying to figure out how I was going to live with my dad and sleep on a pull-out sofa for months on end (although my dad really stepped up and rearranged his entire one-bedroom, basement apartment to accommodate me and give me the chance to start my career) when I realized I had one, eensy weensy problem.

I had two left shoes.

Having the same 8 wide foot size, Mom and I had two sets of the same shoes, sort of like buying the same sweater in multiple colors because it fits so well. There were times when we wore them at the same time too, so sharing one pair wasn't feasible. Somehow in the last-minute fury that always precedes a major trip, I'd packed the two lefts of the two pairs and left the rights in Massachusetts. So there I was, preciously earnest, contemplating the fact that I was going to wind up wearing two left shoes to my first big New York interview. I couldn't think of any other alternative; we were using every spare dollar we had to make the trip so it never would have occurred to me to buy a new pair of shoes. I think I just figured if I brazened it out, no one would notice.

Needless to say, I was very wrong.

Mom was incredulous when she arrived and found out that I planned to wear both lefts. I think it ran something along the lines of "Don't be ridiculous. We will get you another pair of shoes." And we did, shopping in the mall of stores that decorated the first floor of Tower Two, eventually finding me a pair of bone shoes with a pointed toe whose three-inch heels were striped in bone and brown colors. They were an 8 1/2 regular, so they pinched in the heel and stretched out in the toe, but they were a left and a right, so I was good to go. I think my mother probably spent her food money on those shoes.

Well I had the interview, got the job (in case you're reading this - thanks Babs!) and, flush with success, found myself wandering the Wall Street area (in search of the office to get my drug test taken, a job prerequisite) cocky and proud in my new, tight, high-for-me-at-the-time shoes. Needless to say, I wound up bleeding all over Lower Manhattan when the blister on my heel broke. But at least I had the right shoes on the right feet.

This is my life in a nutshell. I'm the woman who will not only pack two left shoes, but be prepared to wear them.

It only gets nuttier from here on in.

P.S. A kickier version of this story helped get me into graduate school, which 1) proves the whole lemonade out of lemons idea or 2) only goes to show that the ridiculous mistakes of your youth resonate forever.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a stalker - found you in the new location =)