After my week from hell, I’d managed to summon enough energy to start my (unpaid) training at the Harlem restaurant. Though my serving skills and shorthand were rustier than I’d expected, I’d proven competent and friendly enough to be among the staff there. I’d even met the owner of the restaurant who made it her business to remain warm and friendly with me during the busiest of times: Sunday Brunch. I was thrilled to be surrounded by good food, and hard-working people, but I also felt that the work being done was much harder than it needed to be.
In London, I worked diligently as a waiter, even setting a record for most tips received at my particular branch during my second month there. Serving comfort food, however, to greedy Harlemites after church or foreign tourists getting their voyeuristic fix was more taxing than serving the high end, suburban clientele I’d once served on the murky, yet lovely Thames River. Still, I gave it a go…for free. Deep in my mind, I’d believed I’d been given this opportunity to train because it would eventually become my new -hopefully lucrative- job. I mean, it happened so quickly that that had to be the reasoning behind it, right?
The next week, I wasn’t on the work schedule for my day job as much as I’d been before, and I was okay with that. Soon, I’d be out of there. I’d be making enough tips to pay my bills and save up for dance classes or theatre classes or that gym membership that I’d signed up for the previous month and hadn’t yet used. Not one to languish in idle time, I managed to acquire quick side job: cleaning an apartment.
I’d mentioned to a new New York friend the month before that I’d had a background in domestic and janitorial work and I didn’t mind cleaning as an occupation. Knowing that I wasn’t at full financial capacity and wanting to help me out, she allowed me to clean her apartment, which, oddly, helped me clear my mind. It also helped put a much needed $40 in my pocket. After hurrying home to buy some items for my empty section of the shared fridge, I hopped on my laptop to revise my resume. It was high time I applied for a job in a field that I could manage. The first month I moved to New York, I discovered a small cleaning company that needed “Cute Guys” to clean houses, paint walls, organize shelves, etc. As dubious as I was about the company, I quickly learned that judging a website by its homepage wasn’t particularly appropriate. I read their mission statement and got the feeling that they were quite friendly and legit. And hey, people referred to me as “cute” in the “puppy dog” way so I figured that adjective would suffice until I could become cute in a “sexy” way. What I truly cared about was that I didn’t need to take off my clothes to clean a house. I indulged people’s fantasies on stage. I refused to do so while cleaning a toilet.
I sent my cover letter and resume via e-mail and prayed for a response sooner than later. In addition, I’d sent my resume out aimlessly to other retailers looking to hire soon. If I could manage two jobs in New York City, I would. No sooner had I clicked “send” did I hear a large ripping sound followed by a soft thud and what sounded like trickling debris. It came from the bathroom, which was situated immediately next door to my room. The guy who roomed next door to me stepped out of his room moments before I decided to step out of mine and I dreaded the origins of his subdued “Holy. Shit.”
Upon exploring the bathroom, myself, I concluded that I had, indeed, heard falling debris. It had been preceded by the bathroom ceiling caving in over the tub; the only tub that was shared between the 5 people who occupied the apartment. Dirt, ceiling, dry wood, and probably one hundred years of dust/dust mites layered themselves like lasagne inside the tub, with remnants of the recipe powdering the bathroom floor. I managed to speak an underwhelmed “wow”, and my roommate began to rant while simultaneously laughing incredulously about how “this has happened before but not to this extent.” (I wish I had known this before moving in.) He made some phone calls to our other roommates while the lead roommate (a British guy who was never home due to flying all over the world), made a call to the super.
Within an hour the super was surveying the bathroom and speaking at the glacial pace Miranda Priestly mentioned while she was being all devilish in Prada.
“It looks like the ceiling came down,” the simpleton said. Ya think? “I don’t know how this could’ve happened.” Part of me wanted to say, ‘we’re not concerned about the how, but instead with the where are we going to shit and shower now?’ My next door roommate had reached a moment of calm and decided he would give his diagnosis.
“You see,” he began, “I think if you look right there (he pointed at the piece of ceiling that was hanging). I think that the tape you put up, wasn’t strong enough.” (Hold on, our ceiling was put up with tape? What kind of ramshackle apartment was I living in?)
“No. That’s not it,” my super said matter of factly, still sloth-like. (Was he high? I understood he was West Indian, but I hate to feed into stereotypes, even when they are true.) I didn’t have time to answer my own internal question because the Roomie was now reprimanding the Super for his shoddy job and storming out and down the hall to his room. I’d actually witnessed a hissy fit but lemme tell you; if they don’t look good on two year olds, they’ll never look good on a twenty three year old. Kids these days, huh?
I gave up trying to rationally explain to our Super that I thought the ceiling caved in because the ceiling was old and the shower condensation caused whatever adhesive was there to fail. He nodded his head, considered my evaluation, and then said, “Nah. There’s flooding or something. A leaky pipe somewhere.” Some people prefer their own truths.
Shenanigans aside, my roommates and I were left with one option: in order to shower and use the rest room, we would have to go up to a vacant apartment on the fourth floor of our building. This would last for about two weeks, the Super told us, while they completely renovated our bathroom. At least we’d be getting a modern room in this ancient apartment of ours.
I figured now was as good a time as ever to become invested in my personal health. I had no acting gigs, no agent, no connections in New York. I had a job I’d soon be leaving for another, and more importantly, I needed a place to shower. My gym had shower, steam room, and sauna…and I was paying for it anyway. So unlike my roommates, I made it my mission not to climb up to the fourth floor, unless it was for exercise -and my bladder’s- sake.
* * *
The week was swimming by fast, despite little activity. I was becoming addicted to cardio as the weather was starting to change. Our bathroom construction was driving me insane. Hammering and drilling began every morning between 9 and 11am. On the first day of renovating, the Super managed to put holes in my bedroom wall: the curse of living next door to a faulty room. My day job was becoming more tolerable and, dare I say it, I was building an attachment to the friends I had made there, even though I was on my way out the door. Just as I’d started coasting on the new vibe that was settling in…I got a rude awakening.
At the end of my third (unpaid) training session at the Harlem restaurant, I was told that someone would be in touch. The hiring manager who previously showed an interest in me before beginning my training had become distant and rarely engaged with me at all. It couldn’t have been because I was doing an awful job, was it? (I had made some mistakes, but I was rusty and I was literally thrown on the floor as if I’d been working there for years.) I was being trained by a veteran waitress who knew the ropes and who had expressed that they were in dire need of someone like myself since they’d recently fired a guy for being drunk on the job. In addition, the hiring manager was never there when I was working. Regardless, it was she who’d stopped me at the door when I inquired about being put on the work roster.
“Thanks for coming in, but we won’t be needing your services.”
The sentence was simple and sharp. Like a box-cutter. There was some half-hearted attempt at mentioning that my information would be kept on file…but everyone knows that’s the new version of “Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You.” Then she walked her pug face and animal print blouse back into the restaurant. Hungry Hungry Harlem folk started to line up outside the door and I turned swallowing my rejection to walk past their growling, expectant stomachs. For the second time in New York, I left a job site confused and wondering, What next?
I’d just closed the door to my room when the veteran waitress called me to ask what had happened. She’s seen me come to the restaurant and asked why I wasn’t going to be joining them. “I don’t know,” was the only answer I had. I really didn’t know. I didn’t know why I couldn’t manage to get a new job. I didn’t know why I wasn’t good enough to serve food at that restaurant. I didn’t understand why my apartment was falling apart and I hated that I couldn’t seem to get my life in order. Something needed to be done. So I did the only thing I could think of: I emailed my manager to ask her for a private meeting.
* * *
When a person puts in two weeks’ notice at his job to find another, and then that other job opportunity falls through in a big way, there’s no choice but to use your last dime to buy a margarita with a friend. It was a Sunday and not only was the drink welcome, but so was the company.
Erin had contacted me a week beforehand to reconnect. She was a fellow thespian who I’d met in college and whose work always captivated me. I was sure that she’d be living the best life there ever was in New York City. So when we hugged each other on the corner of 43rd and 8th, I’d figured, from her smile alone, that she was living the dream. It wasn’t until we got to Blockheads that the truth came out for both of us. Life hadn’t been a crystal stair for her either and she was only just starting to climb her self-made staircase.
We caught up over nachos and much needed frozen margaritas (though it was approaching 30 degrees outside) and I discovered something: Every little interaction in life counts. Erin and I weren’t the closest of friends in college, but we’d always been pleasant to one another, and as I said before, I thought she was a stellar performer. I kept thinking to myself, ‘why hadn’t we been friends back then?’ Yes, we shared a department major, a circle of creative folk, and now a profession that would send us on the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Still, the ease of our conversation made me feel that our reunion should’ve occurred much sooner. I felt I was speaking to a kindred spirit who knew my plight, and like me, was successfully surviving. I was both comforted and inspired by Erin because I knew, in that moment of eating guacamole and chasing it with frozen tequila, we’d definitely be the sort of friends to call on one another in times of emotional hardship. More importantly, she wouldn’t judge me for my negative/insecure moments, because like many other creatives, she’d probably already been there, done that, and gotten a souvenir.
God had decided to put the person I needed into my life at the exact moment I would need them. Funny how the Universe works.
Our conversation -as well as the margaritas- gave me clearer insight to the environment I’d infiltrated. I’d come into New York trying to find peace. What I’d ended up doing thus far was shifting my emotional balance. If I didn’t actively try to salvage my situation and turn it around soon, I’d fail in this city. Failure isn’t a brand to which I happily subscribe.
Life only works if you stop bullshitting yourself, and lend it a helping hand. So, the next day, with a clearer head, a plan of action -and more humility than I thought myself capable- I decided to ask my manager for my job back.