The Boy from Virginia Weathers the Storm -Part 2- (The Concrete Chronicles)

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.” 

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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.

The tub

“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.

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The Boy from Virginia Tastes the Concrete Jungle

July 15th, 2012

When I stepped off the Greyhound Bus from Norfolk, Virginia at 7am that Sunday morning and stepped foot into New York’s Port Authority Bus Station, my small overhead wheelie suitcase in tow, I’d only set two goals for myself: 1) Find the location of the room I’d rented for the next two days and 2) find a job. Oh, and find a place to charge my phone. So, three goals total. And I had four days to accomplish them all. It had been four years since I was last in New York City, and despite prior recollection, it wasn’t to attend grad school auditions (which had happened earlier in the same year), but instead for a movie premiere of a relatively well-known television show-turned film. When I last came to New York, I’d become one with midtown and scraped the surface of Harlem. Manhattan was my island (in my mind). But, as this particular trip to New York was a much needed exodus, I didn’t care where I stayed, as long as it resulted in me eventually being able to live there on a more permanent basis. So, I took out my iPhone, typed in the address I was given, and used my lovely Embark NYC app (best app for subway transportation) to figure out how to get to where I was going. After purchasing my Metro Card I weaved my way through the underground maze to find the “7” train that would take me to the dreaded “G” train. You see, the place I was about to venture was a borough that’d only existed in hip-hop lyrics and my youngest uncle’s anecdotes: Brooklyn, new home of the hipsters I thought I left in Shoreditch, London.

            Half an hour later, I was rushing out of the Myrtle-Willoughby station to make sure I could meet this random woman who’d allowed me to rent her room for the next two days. She’d had to go to work but she’d wanted to drop off her key to me and allow the previous tenant to move out (I’d later find out that subletting and room- renting is the norm for most New Yorkers strapped for cash). This meant that I’d only be dropping off my stuff and then heading immediately back over the bridge into Manhattan. I left the apartment with a folder of resumes in my hand and my cell phone and charger (still hadn’t managed to accomplish that goal), and decided to head back to Manhattan.

            My plan was to see if I could get a job with the former company I’d worked with over in London. I knew that they had 4 branches in New York and I was going to dedicate the full day to visiting every single store. I was also going to visit each branch because while overseas, I’d met the manager of one of the shops and I wasn’t sure which one she managed. So my journey would serve a twofold purpose. If none of them were hiring, I was equipped with a sexy resume to take elsewhere. Considering the summer heat and the early hours, I decided to go furthest from my location and ride all the way up to the Upper West Side.

            I’d gotten to the Upper West Side Branch a bit too early for my own liking. The shop manager hadn’t yet arrived. But I was in luck.

            “She’ll be here in about thirty minutes,” The perky manager on duty assured me.

            “Great, well then I’ll come back,” I replied just as perky. Hell, perkiness was a requirement for the company, and I knew how to serve it with all its sweetness. “I just want to make sure I meet the manager in person.” I flashed my best Crest smile, and took my shine out of the door with me.

            While I prepped to give my little “This is why you should hire me” spiel to the manager, I killed time by walking up Broadway and into a Barnes and Nobles. Anytime I’m in a bookshop, I just imagine I own it for a little bit. Then I sigh when I realize I’ll never own all of these books, and I resign myself to flipping through the pages of interesting books and reading the book jackets while making mental lists of future literary material. After thumbing through my tenth book, I realized I’d wasted enough time and that it was about to be “showtime.” So I briskly walked back down Broadway, blazer blowing in the wind (which always makes me feel important and business-sexy). With each block, the anticipation grew, as well as a bit of anxiety. I hate interviewing for jobs, but I understand protocol, and I wondering how to sell myself as I entered the shop.

            “She’s still not here.” I was informed. Darn. I was too eager. I hoped that wouldn’t work against me. I decided to browse the shop and become familiar with the items I’d left behind. Yes, I knew these products like I knew my way around the stage, but now I was on American turf and I’m sure rules would be different.

A woman walked into the shop. I recognized her right away. It was the manager I’d met in London. When I reminded her who I was, she brightened as much as I did! I explained that I was desperately looking for a job. She said that she was hiring and wondered if I could do a trial shift the very next day. I came to New York with no set plans, so I immediately said yes and breathed a sigh of relief. I’d been looking for that woman specifically, and what were the odds that the universe would lead me directly into her shop first thing? Serendipitous, or Divine plan? Whatever it was, I was thankful.

Evening on the town. Streetcar Named Desire

Evening on the town. Streetcar Named Desire

I’d spent the latter part of that evening catching up with an old friend from college who was wonderful enough to purchase a ticket for me to see Tennessee Williams’ A Street Car Named Desire with Nicole Ari Parker and Blair Underwood.The show was stellar, and to this day, I feel I’ve not seen a more specific Blanche onstage. Reviews aside, I also bumped into one of my favorite professors from undergrad who was my mentor and one of the reasons I decided to go to school abroad. The Universe was giving me a lot of people. And New York was catching me in its net after my fall from grace in Virginia.

           

July 16th, 2012

The next day, I woke up, fully prepared to attend my trial shift at my potential new job. (I was also excited because I’d be able to reconnect with someone whose career I was secretly obsessed with, buuuut more on that later.) No one told me that the weather was on full Hades and that black and white clothing was not going to bring my body Arctic peace that day. So, to escape the heat, I decided to go another place I’d never been before, the Upper East Side.

What I learned on that part of town was…that I couldn’t afford it. That and the fact that I felt like I didn’t belong there with the clothes (and perspiration) I was wearing. So after a very brief walk around, I decided to take the plunge and walk through Central Park. I spent ample time there, only because my interview was at 2pm and it was only 12:30. Personally I didn’t understand the hoopla about the park.

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Sure it was expansive and full of wonder, but I was only temporarily awed by it all. Then I remembered that I was comparing this park to Hyde Park in London and that’s when I realized I needed to start booking it through the haze to my trial shift. I passed by young black men break dancing in the park for passersby, gaggles of tourists in similar states of wonderment, and many statues that were clearly holding down the fort when people weren’t around.

 After eating an overpriced tuna sandwich at a place called Viand, I’d made it to my trial shift about fifteen minutes prior to my needing to be there. (Had to give a good impression, right?) Soon, I donned the infamous black apron that had been a part of my wardrobe for two and a half years in London, and went out on the floor to show my old job that I still had their skills. An hour and a half later, and having made a cumulative sale of over $350, I. Was. Hired. Goal one: accomplished! Logistics and paperwork would be handled later, but I was definitely on the team which meant I could go back home, and pack up my life and move to the concrete jungle.

One of the most inspiring people I know.

One of the most inspiring people I know.

I beamed with pride in myself as I hurried to meet my fellow actor friend,who’s been inspiring me since I met him. Though he and I weren’t the closest of friends four years ago when I first met him, we’d always been privy to one anothers journey’s. I believe that, in and of itself, was enough to connect us. We’d met over coffee and I’d apologized for being late. He’d congratulated me on the job and then it was down to business. I needed to tell him why I was actually in New York. After responding incredulously to what I’d told him, and confirming that a move was definitely the right decision (“Dude, yeah, you needed to get out of that situation. For your own health”), the issue of housing arose. Where would I stay? Had I looked into finding an apartment? Just as I was about to answer those questions, I saw something like clarity wash over his face.

“Oh!” he said, He fumbled for his phone and began to search his contacts as he spoke to me. “I know someone who’s looking for a roommate and you’d be perfect for each other.” I felt like he was about to find me a boo, not a roommate. “Lemme see if the room is still available.”

He made a call. The phone rang. He dialogued. The room was not available.

“You know, it’s ok…I can go on Craiglist or Air BnB or something,” I conceded.

“No no no. Give me a second.” He swiped through his contacts once again. Made a call. He talked me up. Then he handed me the phone. The young woman was looking for someone to sublet her place for a month while she was on tour and it was so affordable that I couldn’t help but say yes. It was in the Bronx (not too deep in the Bronx). It would be available in two weeks. It was near the 2 train (the exact train I’d need to get to work). All in all, it was perfect.  I had a place to stay (temporarily). Just like that. I thought to myself, this meeting was destiny. He read my mind.

“Isn’t that God?” He asked. Part of me wanted to ask ‘where?’ until I realized he was referring to my situation. “I mean, look at it. You came all the way to New York – with nothing, mind you- and on your second day in the city you walk away with a job AND a place to stay?”

He was right, but he made me sound like some sort of chosen miracle person. So I tried to talk down the situation, “A place to stay for a month…not a home…”

“Still, it’s a place to stay!” he said. Could the wonder in his tone have been legitimate? Was it possible that a person I was in awe of felt the same about me?

“Who are you? I mean, how many people can say that’s happened to them?”

He kept piling on the special, so I felt obliged to tell him, “I guess I’m blessed.” And then I bowed my head and blushed, like a kid who’d been told that he made Student of the Month. I blushed because I’m not good with being praised for things that I have no control over. And while I tried my best to laugh it all off, I could tell that my friend could see something in me that I couldn’t. He’d identified a light in me that I wasn’t acknowledging and one in which I refused to acknowledge. I hoped, as I sat in his presence that his light would rub off on me as I was still feeling guilty about my home situation, and still numb to what had happened to my cousin months earlier.

After we parted ways, I ended my night with another college friend who lived in Brooklyn. She got me drunk on corner store wine and I ended up drunk, nauseated, and eventually asleep on a bench at Clinton-Washington station (and it was only midnight). Once I realized that I’d been asleep and possible prey for the kitten sized rats that roamed the city nightly, I quickly sobered up enough to figure which direction to go on the train, and then I walked back to my rented room. Day 2 in New York had been an unexpected success.

I’d spent the next two days connecting with friends, since I had nothing else to do, and exploring the city that would soon become my home. While those last two days were basically a blur of buildings, subway travel and oppressive heat, standout moments included reconnecting with a friend who was still reaping the rewards of her Tony nomination, and watching Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday at Bryant park with another friend from college.

IMG_0875Cinema in Bryant Park

My big sis.

My big sis.

(When people come back into your life, it’s definitely for a reason and this friend of mine would prove instrumental in ways I’d never imagined in months to come.) I remember having lunch with two of my former colleagues from undergrad (one a distant cousin who also inspired me in more ways than one by just being an amazing individual). We’d eaten at the bar where there were pictures of The How I met Your Mother Cast, and I told them both the real reason I was in the city to which they left judgment behind and comforted me with friendly words and comfort food.  I also remember getting lost on the subway returning to Brooklyn to stay with another friend as I couldn’t navigate the “J” or the “M.” When I made it to my destination, I vowed to never ever use those lines again.

 

July 18, 2012

On my final day, the levees on the sky seemed to break and there was a terrible thunderstorm which drove me into the movie theater to watch Moonrise Kingdom. That was the last activity I participated in that Thursday before I returned to Port Authority, dragging my small wheelie overhead suitcase, and hopping back on the Greyhound Bus to face my recent past…and pack/prepare for the future.

In four days, I’d accomplished more than I’d planned. And after such a warm, humid, balmy welcome to the city, I felt like, once I made the actual move, I’d accomplish a wealth of things I’d never experienced before…

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