As a loose rule, I attempt a poorly executed career change once every four years. It takes approximately that long to shake off the indignity of the last try before gearing myself up for another. There’s a story my oldest cousin likes to tell of me as a toddler. Apparently, I was outside of my dad’s office—which was enclosed in a glass wall—and I made a mad dash to get to him, ran straight into the invisible partition, fell down backwards and knocked myself out. After a primal wail and a moment of regaining sight, I did the exact same thing again. And again. In literature, this is known as a metaphor.
One year I managed to land a position working two days a week at a small marketing firm, thinking I might look smart in a suit. I soon found myself dressed as a clown outside the Today Show at Rockefeller Center, begging Al Roker to interview me so I could subversively promote the Orlando Tourism Board. Because I was already fluent in making a fool of myself, it seemed redundant to practice an already-learned skill, and I quit soon after. Another time I dived into an “Advertising Copywriting” class at a local university. “Pizza Pizza!” How hard could that be? We drew our slogans on plain white paper in colorful magic markers and if the instructors felt they were inventive, small gold stars were awarded and stuck on the ad. Upon completion of the semester, I proudly took my sticker covered homework to an agency downtown. The Creative Director laughed uncontrollably for a spell before composing himself and escorting me back to the elevator. As the doors closed, I’m pretty sure I heard him yell, “McKafferty! Collins! Get in here! You’ve gotta see the…”
Were I to take up mountain climbing, I’d start with Everest. I prefer to establish my parameters in such a way that failure is essentially a given, and the end writes itself. Accordingly, I only embark on new careers during the aftermath of terrorist attacks or extended stretches of double-digit unemployment. If a qualified person can’t find a job to save their life, if there’s a bread line snaking around the block, that’s exactly when I start sending out résumés devoid of any legitimate abilities. I don’t know if it’s because I secretly like my job and don’t truly want change, or if I really am that stupid. It’s anyone’s guess. My parents have cast a vote for the later. So have a vast majority of friends and a greater than average number of casual acquaintances.
Missy Tinderson wrote a weekly column about her dating shenanigans for one of the New York City dailies. It was fashioned as an open diary of her quest for romance in our whimsical metropolis. The story arc was always static, opening with the entrance of a promising new bachelor or the continuation of an old one. At mid-story came requisite friction. By the end a platitude would claw its way to the surface, suturing all wounds of conflict and leaving our girl about town confident in self and in love. It was unfailingly predictable, uniformly unimaginative, and I read it every single week.
Three and a half years ago, just as the banking industry was hooked up to life support and the labor markets were in freefall—I decided I would become a journalist! And by “become a journalist!” I mean lethargically troll Craigslist for journalistic employment opportunities that didn’t require experience or education. Which is pathetic, but not as pathetic as trolling Craigslist in search of anonymous sex, so while I felt low I didn’t feel as badly as I might have had my cursor inched further left.
My sluggish little search produced nothing but demand for pharmaceutical content writers and fetish specific erotica until one glorious day appeared a listing for an internship with a columnist and author. I recognized her name immediately. In exchange for menial tasks would be valuable exposure to the world of a working reporter. It sounded divine. I envisioned myself in the corner of a busy newsroom, elbows covered in printing ink, making phone calls or stuffing envelopes, when a gruff man on his seventh cup of coffee walks up and barks, “Hey you.” Deep and humble in my work, I assume he’s speaking to someone else until I feel the heat of his gaze on me and me alone. “You,” he repeats, “You look like someone with a story. I want 1500 words on my desk by Monday.” And with that my life would begin. Hop, skip, jump, Pulitzer.
I labored over a brief but enthusiastic email.
Missy called by sundown. She might have reined in the platitudes until the close of her columns, but in real life they ran free and untamed. Her career was taking off! Dreams were believed and achieved! She was getting herself out there! Early birds nibbled on worms and thoughts didn’t belong in boxes. She’d finished an “amazing” book and was shopping around for a publisher! A six figure deal would have come instantly this time last year, Missy lamented, but with the current economy and all…
It felt like being in L.A.—where you slowly realize that people aren’t so much telling you who they are, as affirming who they plan to be. The primary difference between the two being reality. And modesty.
I tried to enter the conversation and mentioned my familiarity with her column. Missy gushed that I should’ve opened with the fact that I’m a fan! Writers love that, she told me. I wanted to clarify that knowing her work and being a fan were two decidedly independent things, the one not inherently implying the other. But I also wanted to not massage people, so I left it alone. She continued with a long monologue about her romantic tribulations and how they’d inspired her memoir about the groundbreaking importance of loving oneself. This tome, she asserted, would change lives. The intern’s job would be to assist in the daily brunt of getting the book to people who needed to love themselves more. I suspected the job was really about helping Missy love Missy more. I’m of the camp that society would benefit exponentially were we all to be slightly less in love with ourselves, but I didn’t get the impression her theory was up for debate.
I felt like a solid contender until she requested my clips. Apparently, I needed to have written something. Which I suppose made sense, but writing would have cut into my precious daydreaming time and there are only so many hours in the day. Admitting I’m unpublished would not have furthered my petition, but asking what clips were marked the end. A gracious rejection followed.
Undeterred, I kept in touch with Missy. While she’d passed on hiring me, she’d been generous in offering any future professional guidance I might need. My plan was to be patient and hover until she cracked and started my career. I’d email vague article ideas (still not writing said articles—actually committing them to paper—but thinking about it real hard). She’d reply with an invitation to join her online fan club. I’d send query questions. She’d shoot back with encouragements to post flattering comments on her blog. I’d inquire as to how the semi colon works, and she’d answer by asking me to come fill out the audience while she performed stand-up.
I was Lana Turner at the counter of Schwab’s, slurping a milkshake and twirling my hair, waiting to be discovered. Missy was launching a one-woman P.R. campaign. We were simply doing this via email.
After months of fruitless correspondence, I came across Missy’s latest article in the paper, chronicling her search for an intern and how idiotic the applicants had been. I read the entire thing without blinking or, for that matter, breathing. Candidate upon candidate was skewered for their naïve cover letters or unprofessional approach. My eyes darted from paragraph to paragraph, searching for an anecdote about my own application and interview. I was ready to smack her down in defense of all the poor fools she’d lured into her hateful lair, only to turn around and stone us on the front page of the business section. This wasn’t about me. I wasn’t angry on my behalf. I was enraged for us all. This was a human rights issue. This was an affront to mankind. This was about fighting for that which is decent and right.
As it turned out, there was no mention of me in the story and I realized that war doesn’t solve our problems. Forgiveness is really what life is about. And if I fight everyone else’s battles for them, how will they learn? The moment felt ripe for another pandering email, so I shot one off straight away. Within hours I had a voicemail from Missy. She’d just been thinking of me, she exclaimed, and had a “big idea” to float my way! Idea. It was the most wonderful word I’d ever heard, a synonym for opportunity, a better word than “love.” She answered on first ring, glad I’d called back so quickly. Of course I had. Time was of the essence in our world—hers and mine—the world of reporters and of deadlines.
The big idea, I soon learned, was that I could give Missy a free massage in exchange for something along the lines of life coaching.
Just as I was about to hire the hit, I realized we’d reached my favorite part of a plot. Symmetry. Where each character, their narratives so different, intersects briefly as same—each inflexible or unsure, innocent or fractured, jealous or kind. Missy and I intersected as delusional. Me in my infantile belief that I could stretch and yawn while expecting a complete stranger to champion a talent I’d produced no evidence of; she in her obscene conviction that every crack in the sidewalk was an opening for self-promotion. Like looking in a mirror.
I knew there was nothing in it for me, but every story deserves an ending.
On a bitter night in mid-January she came over. I navigated the tension in her back while she prattled on about her book, her goals, her bright future and aspirations. Missy knew she’d be famous. Just knew it. She had a mantra, a vision board, a Twitter account. Occasionally, she’d remember me and why she was supine in my living room to begin with, and suggested I needed a mantra, too! And then just as quickly she’d forget again, and return to the mission statement that was her life. She never contacted me after that night, never satisfied her end of the barter.
I slowly tuned Missy out as I worked. Sometimes, when I hit my stride and can trust my physical instincts to take the wheel, I allow my thoughts to wander and build sentences in my mind. They start small but gain momentum until the words are not independent voices, but harmonies in the chorus of a story I’m starting to tell. Few find their way out of my thoughts and onto a page. Still they are there, squeezed in to the right of my hopes and to the left of my humiliations.
As the sound of her receded further into the background, her words blurring together senseless and strange, I did what I have done now for more years than I care to acknowledge. I gave her a massage