“So, when it snows we don’t come to work, right?”
Stan gave me a quizzical look. “No,” he said slowly. “We still come to work.”
“Oh,” I said and offered a strangled, fake laugh. “I know. I was just joking.”
Fuck! What was I thinking?! How could I ask such a stupid question?! This was New York City! Of course people went to work when it snowed. It wasn’t like Los Angeles where a light sprinkling of rain would shut down the city and you would break your dinner plans.
I bit my lip. I had really messed up. I really wanted this job. No. It was more than that. I really needed this job.
People often ask me why, when I moved back to NYC, I didn’t work at night and pick up my acting career during the day. There are a number of reasons but the main ones are – I was scared to work at night because I didn’t know the city that well and didn’t know how safe it was to commute. I also, at my age, really needed health insurance and most restaurants, which were the chosen places for night work, did not offer that. But the main one was – I wanted stability. Things had been so chaotic for me, I just wanted to find a decent day job and try to settle my life. I was stressed out and exhausted and just wanted to go to the same place every day and go home every night. I figured I’d deal with the acting thing later. I knew a corporate job would be my best bet but to be honest, I would have worked anywhere. I dropped resumes at grocery stores and drug stores, retail chains and off-the-beaten-path boutiques. I applied for assistant positions, writing positions, receptionist positions. And after 3.5 weeks of this daily dogged determination, I’d had a total of this many responses: Zero.
A friend of a friend of Mia’s happened to be a recruiter and she’d taken pity on me, as she’d also gone through a harrowing break-up recently and, after bolstering up that Guns & Ammo experience, had gotten me this interview for an assistant at Newsweek Magazine. I would be supporting the Director of Editorial Business, Stan, and the Director of Advertising, Norm.
Stan glanced over my pathetic resume. “So, it doesn’t seem you’ve had a lot of assistant experience recently.”
I lowered my eyes. “No, I was an actress in L.A. so…,” I felt defeated. This was not going to work out. I had burned through the loan from my parents faster than I’d expected, as living in Manhattan was more costly than I’d ever imagined. If I didn’t get a job immediately, I didn’t know what I would do.
Stan placed the resume on his cluttered desk. “Why do you want this job, Tracey?”
I looked up at him and he was looking at me with such kindness, I just told him the truth. “I’m starting over. I…I have to start over.”
“I see.” He sat back in his chair. “So what sort of salary are you looking for?”
I had meticulously gone over my expenses, including a monthly plan to pay back my parents, and I told him.
He folded up my resume and threw it into the trash. My heart skipped. It was over.
“Well,” he sighed. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with bonuses this year, so how about this.” And he offered me $3000 more than I’d asked for.
The next day I was an employee of Newsweek Magazine.
“Hi, I’m Thalia,” she said and offered her hand. Of course I knew who she was. You couldn’t work at Newsweek and not know Thalia. She supported the Director of Sales and was a force to be reckoned with. She was always rushing authoritatively about, ordering her boss here and there and pretty much running our corner of the office. She was the one who taught me how to be an assistant. She taught me how to use Lotus Notes and write appropriate work emails and keep my bosses in line. Not that Stan and Norm needed much managing. They were old-school self-sufficient magazine guys and were much more interested in arguing about the Red Sox or whatever other sports situation was going on, than finding things for me to do. Because they handled the budgets, to the rest of the company they may have seemed heavy-hitters who would not hesitate to become brash or loud when necessary. But when it came to me, they treated me with a sort of bemused curiosity. Whenever I made mistakes, they would just chuckle as if to say, “What has she gotten herself into now?” and then patiently tell me how to fix it. I could not have prayed for nicer bosses.
I’ve often asked what made her help me out so much in the beginning and enfold me into her life so completely but Thalia just laughs at that, so I don’t know the answer. But soon she introduced me to her friend Sean, who quickly became my brother, and then to the rest of her close-knit group. In L.A., I’d only had friends in the entertainment industry and now I knew people who were in marketing or were police officers or firefighters or in technology or animal welfare. These were lives I’d never known anything about and it was all so fascinating to me. Slowly but surely, I started to create my own life.
But let’s be real here – it wasn’t like I was living in some Broadway musical, skipping down the street to work every day and tossing my hat up into the air like Mary Tyler Moore. Far from it. As another funny-or-not-so-much coincidence, Newsweek was located on 57th Street. Only a half block away from John. Even six months after the break-up, it still killed me when I saw him around, which I did often, before work when I was getting coffee or after work when he was getting out of a cab, laptop-bag flung casually over his shoulder. Each time I saw him, it made me weep. I wondered if I would ever get over him.
I never let him see me though.
After some time, a night position opened up at Newsweek supporting the Editor-in-Chief, who worked practically 24/7, and Stan let me work it concurrently with my day job. This role ended up really only requiring me to get him dinner, file invitations and manage last minute travel but it looked very, very good on my resume. When Stan and Norm decided they would leave Newsweek, I was prepared to go too.
“You have to get a suit,” said Thalia definitively.
“No way.” I looked down at my Newsweek uniform of my high-school mascot hoodie and jeans. “I’m not going to wear a suit. I’ve never owned a suit in my life.”
She glared at me. “If you’re going to join the real corporate America, you need an interview suit.”
I rolled my eyes. But she was right.
Sometimes I had good and supportive bosses and sometimes I had bad and demeaning bosses. But with each experience, I learned how to be a better assistant. I moved through different jobs, stealthily asking for bigger salaries, until I landed at a well-respected consulting firm. There, I met and worked for Wade and when he left the company, he took me with him. I’ve been at the start-up with him ever since. And I can honestly say, I love it. I like being an assistant, controlling and meddling in my bosses’ lives (yes, I have two other bosses besides Wade, but I keep forgetting to ask if I can write about them, although they probably wouldn’t care – being two of the funniest, laid back guys ever), I love setting up Office Lunches, being President of the Fun Committee and Co-Founder of the Gum Culture Task-Force.
When people ask me how I feel about never going back to acting, this is what I say: “I was not good enough to be very successful. And I didn’t love it enough to learn to be good enough to be very successful.” This is 100% true. I don’t miss acting at all. What I miss is the money I made, being able to point to my big head on the TV and the ego I could inflate by telling people I was an actress. The actual acting part I wasn’t that interested in. You know you might be in the wrong career when you’re in a class and you can’t stop yawning and thinking about what you’ll have for dinner.
My biggest goals in 2005, when Nicole sent me back to NYC, were to pay back my parents and eventually get my own apartment. The first goal took some time. The second, considerably longer. But after a few years, I had saved up enough money to do it. I looked long and hard and finally found an apartment that was safe, in a great neighborhood, had enough space I could have people over and had a lot of charm and personality. My friends moved me in with the fierce happiness of those who knew they’d helped someone achieve a huge milestone. It was a group effort. But I realize now, my whole life here has been a group effort.
The morning after I moved in, I stepped out of my apartment on the way to work and smiled as I passed by the elementary school on my block. The children ran this way and that, as their Upper East Side parents drank expensive coffees and looked chic in their Pre-Summer apparel. School was about to shut down for the season and Break was on everyone’s mind.
Like the first time, on that sound-stage, I heard him before I saw him. I would have recognized that voice anywhere. I followed him for awhile, just to be sure, knowing he wouldn’t recognize me as I look very different from when we were together. But it was him. John. Dropping off his child at the school. I dare not do the math to figure out when his son was born. He was old enough that it could have been…well, it doesn’t matter now.
I don’t want to lie, there are times when I wish I was still a trophy girlfriend. Those days when I am running out of money or have to carry 20 pounds of laundry up a 5th story walk-up. I wish sometimes I could have been that person who just stayed and ignored that little voice that said something wasn’t right. Just pretended all was well and good. But then I remember how I felt when I saw him that day. I felt nothing. He could have been the guy who delivered my mail for all I felt. I didn’t miss him and I didn’t miss our life. That is the reality I hold onto.
That same night after I’d seen him, I returned home to continue unpacking. In one of the boxes, I found an old journal dated 2003 – 2005 and I sat on the floor and began to read. In it, I’d chronicled all the joy, the pain, the strife. I also found a check from John. Folded and tucked away amidst the wine-soaked and tear-stained pages. For $3500. I’d made him give it to me before I’d left L.A. because our relationship had already been so tumultuous, I feared being left in the lurch with nothing. I’d wanted some sort of insurance that no matter what, I would be okay. But somehow, incredibly, miraculously, I’d forgotten about it. I looked at the check, running my finger over the address where we’d lived together in Michigan. All those hopes I’d had in that townhouse. All those hopes I’d had in our apartment on 57th Street. Man, this check could have helped a lot. I laughed to myself. It still could help a lot. I thought this over for a moment.
Then I tore it up. Because I realized then, I was already okay.