Sunday, February 13, 2005

 

Love's Labour...Found (A Random Anecdote)

It's early June. I've just moved into a small apartment complex where everyone else is just like me: a summer intern for the largish publishing company that is based here in the South.

Oh but one difference: most of these folks are still in college. They did what all good journalism majors do, and go their internship taken care of in the summer between their junior and senior years. The summer between my junior and senior year, I hauled trash for my uncle, worked in a bank and was a receptionist at a hotel. This was because the only internships I could lineup that summer were unpaid ones and, really, I needed cash more than I needed a line on my resume.

So now here I am, one week after my 21st birthday, three weeks out of college, actually ready to start working a full-time job. Except...it's the Recession. There are no jobs! Oh, but there are internships, and this was a paid one: $250 a week (before taxes, but rent was included). So I jumped at it.

I arrived late last night and unpacked. Today, my roommate arrived and we decided to go exploring. I need to find a supermarket, a laundromat, a bookstore, the usual essentials. I meet my next-door neighbor, another intern. We hit it off and he decides to come to the mall with us, which is where the local bookstore is. My roommate goes back into the apartment to get sunblock or something, and while we're standing there in the parking lot of the little complex, I hear a voice somewhere above me.

"Are you guys going to the mall? Can I tag along?"

Our building is a two-story affair with a front balcony running the length of the second floor. A young woman is leaning over the balcony. She's wearing a skirt and front this vantage I can see right up it. Cad that I am, you'd think that's all I'd look at, but instead my gaze is riveted on the perfect lips that just uttered the words.

Her blonde hair and hazel eyes remind me of Patty's, but this is no high-school girl. This is a Woman. She has a hand on her hip in a pert, expectant way. Several seconds have elapsed and it sinks in that she has introduced herself and is waiting for a response.

"Um...hi. Hi. Hi there," I say stupidly. "Yeah, yes. We're going to the mall. Right now in fact. Come on along!"

She bounces down the stairs and I make my neighbor clamber into the back of my car so that she sits in the front seat next to me. She's absolutely lovely. She's an intern, too, and is curious and inquisitive about her newfound friends. I start doing my Smart-Ass Talking thing, which makes her smile, but not laugh. I think: Oh God, she doesn't think I'm funny. But girls always think I'm funny. It's one of my assets. Hell, that ALL I've got going for me. Feeling a little panicked despite myself, I pull out of the parking lot, partly intent on the road, mostly intent on getting this woman to laugh.

We're a mile from the mall when I realize that I've left my roommate back at the apartment.

By the end of our trip, I realize that the woman I've begun to think of as Her Lovely Self is way out of my league. Hell, scalpers wouldn't sell me tickets to watch her league play, as the saying goes.

So for the rest of the summer, I spend my time breaking up with my girlfriend and sort of hooking up with another intern, Kiki. But every time I'm walking from the building where my magazine is to, say, the library, or a coffee shop, I always find myself going way out of my way to pass the building where Her Lovely Self works. And once I'm there, I often find a reason to end up on her floor. And once I'm there, well, it would be rude not to poke my head into her cubicle and say hi. She is always nice, and seems pleased to see me. But I never quite get her to laugh. And that fact reminds me just how far out of my league Her Lovely Self is. Too bad: There is just something about her, that face, that smile, those lips that beg (for someone. Not me, but someone) to be kissed.

And then the summer ended, and that was the end of that sad little crush. I departed for a long driving tour of the Midwest, a trip which took me through Chicago, where I stayed with a friend. While I was there, I looked into a graduate program that the boss at my internship told me about. Then I drove back east, and embarked on a long and terrible fall and winter where I proceeded to remain unemployed in my career. I did, however, get to watch from a distance as Gretchen, my college girlfriend, got a job in her chosen career, promptly got a new boyfriend and moved in with him. In fact, I got to watch all my friends from college get jobs and marry or move in with significant others...except me. For a time I had a sort-of long-distance thing going with Kiki, but in the end, she turned out to be more interested in the idea of me than the actuality of me. Looking back on how I was then, I can't say I blame her.

In a moment of sheer boredom and a desperate desire to move forward somehow, I dashed off an application to that graduate journalism program my old boss had been so keen on. The application deadline was that week, and I liked the excitement, however forced and fake, of rushing to meet a deadline. It felt like work. It felt like I was doing something.

And of course what I was really doing was a whole lot of nothing. The job market in magazines was pitiful: I interviewed for an editorial assistant job at a small gardening magazine. The spot paid $18K a year and I was one of 400 people who applied. And that was considered a good prospect! So that should give you some idea how things were.

Six months out of college and the first of my student loan payments began. The old bank I worked for a couple summers earlier had offered me a job through the holidays, so I jumped at it. After the bank (where, incidentally, I met J.D. Salinger) the only job I could get was on the night shift downloading computers at a medical billing office at the hospital near my parent's house. So I had to move back home where, for the first time since childhood, I was forced to share a bedroom again with my brother, who still lived with my folks (in fact, who STILL lives with my folks. My brother is worthy of a blog devoted just to his misadventures, so I won't go into them here).

This was problem because my brother had a girlfriend, the first serious big-deal girlfriend of his life, a real hot nursing student named Kristi. My parents both worked days and my brother and I both worked nights, which meant that during the day, Kristi would sneak into the house sometimes and I, um, would be forced to vacate the room. One time, when my brother was out of town, I woke up to find Kristi getting in bed with ME! And she was wearing her student nurse's uniform (just the uniform, if you follow me). I was pretty goddamn depressed, and not a little lonely at this nadir in my life, and well, I'm as susceptible to womanly charms (and a nursing uniform) as the next man. But when your brother was the previous man, well, that was too weird for me. Oh, and I had some self-respect and a sense of loyalty to my brother. That too. So like I said, it was a time where I did a whole lot of nothing.

The medical-billing-computer-downloading thing was a good gig in that it was two hours of actual work, followed by six hours of waiting for the computers to download to the backup tape drive. I figured I might as well freelance, so I used that time to write stories and pitch letters to magazines. I sold one story to a magazine that folded one issue before running my piece. I placed another story with a local magazine that paid in contributors' copies. I tried to write for a lot of publications, including a certain kind of men's magazine ("Dear Sirs: I never believed the letters in your Forum section were true, until my brother's girlfriend, a hot nursing student, climbed into bed with me early one morning...") I collected a metric ton of rejection letters.

And then on Valentine's Day, 15 years ago, I got a phone call. It was the chairman of the graduate program at the school I'd applied to. Apparently my old boss had written quite a recommendation for me. I was offered a full-tuition scholarship to attend the program. All I had to do was pay my own food and rent. Which meant going out to Chicago to find an apartment. And starting work on my master's degree that fall.

It was an accelerated program and I got my degree in a year. I did some of the hardest work I've ever done since starting the job I have now. I also spent a little quality time with Ariana, who I had a major lust thing going for, right up until the moment we were driving to a show when, upon realizing we'd be a little late, she threw a hissy fit so severe, she lost control of the vehicle. Later she apologized and recited a list of various psychoactive pharmaceuticals she was taking. We didn't see each other much after that.

Months passed. A week before I was set to graduate, I got a call from a local publisher of trade magazines. They needed a bright new editor to come in and write stirring prose about store shelving and chain link fences. I went for the interview and met their human resources manager, who was impressed with my resume, especially my time working as a summer intern. She smiled and said, "We have somebody else on staff who was there. I think she went through the same program."

When the manager said "she" I felt every hair on my arms and neck stand up. Even though no name was said, I suddenly knew who it was. Knew it. On the way upstairs to meet the hiring editor, the human resources manager took me down a side corridor, and into an office space full of cubicles. Suddenly she stopped and peered into one cube. "I thought you might like to say hello," she said.

And there was Her Lovely Self.

"Well, there you are! I've been looking all over for you," I said, as though I'd just seen her yesterday. The human resources manager shrieked with laughter. Her Lovely Self just smiled. We chatted for all of 10 seconds--not nearly enough time to cover where we had each been since we last saw each other, nearly two years ago and 1,000 miles away. But when the manager took me upstairs to meet the editor, I knew I had to get this job. Had to. The editor was a complete dink, someone in any other circumstance I would have--should have--avoided working for. But I didn't care about this guy, or the work, or my career, at that point. Somewhere beneath my life, the great, long-dormant engine, the one labeled FATE, had begun ramping up and I knew what had to be done. I threw everything I had into winning that job. I remember gritting my teeth, making a physical effort to will this editor to hire me (and readers who followed the Salinger link earlier may recall what carried the day). Two weeks later, I got the formal job offer ("The editor thought you demonstrated a lot of passion," the human resources manager remarked at the time).

Two weeks after that, I pulled into the parking lot of my new publisher, the first day of my life as a full-fledged magazine man. As I was getting out, another car pulled up next to me, and Her Lovely Self got out.

"You got the job!" she cried, smiling that gorgeous smile.

"I got it, all right," and I made some smart remark about my new boss. She laughed. She actually laughed, a sweet, slightly startled noise, as though she had surprised herself. And perhaps she had. The engine under my life was roaring, almost deafening. But even over the thrumming in my ears, I could hear two voices: a small, desperate one that said, She's still out of your league.

Almost in rebuttal came another voice, the voice of the boy who had made Liz and the other second-grade girls laugh. The kid who made Maryanne and Robin laugh. The smart-ass who made Gina and Patty laugh. The young man whose college life had become a sit-com, one with a laugh track populated by women giggling with him (and at him).

I watched Her Lovely Self walk across the parking lot. As I did, that other voice said, You're going to spend the rest of your life making her laugh.

And so I have.

Epilogue:

Thirteen or so years later, I'm eating dinner. I ask my son, all of 6 years old, how his day was. He rarely talks about school, so I usually have to prod. Not this time.

"Oh!" he says, dropping his fork. "Today was library day! And Mrs. Dodd let me and...well, she let me go." He says, stopping suddenly and picking up his fork and stabbing his food.

"Let you and...what? What happened?" I ask, turning The Dad Voice on. My son occasionally gets in trouble for not quite doing what he's supposed to.

Stab stab stab at the food. Head down. I'm about to repeat the question, when he looks up and says, in a funny, quavery voice, "Mrs. Dodd let me and Alyssa go." He drops his fork and lifts his arm up to cover his eyes. "And Alyssa grabbed my hand and pulled me down the hall!" His arm is still covering his eyes. He can't look at anyone, but I can see the flush in his cheeks.

Oh, my God.

From across the table, Her Lovely Self looks up. "What's wrong with your eyes?" she asks our son. She hasn't caught on. Or she's in denial.

I try to wave her off, but it's too late. The Little Sister goes into mimic mode. "Yeah, what's wrong with your eyes?"

"NOTHING!" he shouts and dashes to the bathroom.

I turn to Her Lovely Self and hiss, "It's not his eyes! It's Alyssa!"

She blinks at me, and for a second, the light flickers on. But I can see her push the idea away, violently. Her baby boy, smitten with puppy love? Impossible!!

Her Lovely Clueless Self looks concerned now, but determined to ignore me. "His face looked a little red," she continues. "Maybe he's coming down with something. Maybe I should call the doctor."

"Trust me," I say. "There's no cure."

Yours (and Hers),
From Somewhere On the Masthead

Comments:
What a beautiful love story! Thank you for sharing it.

Like father, like son. No?

Cheers and Happy Valentines Day.
Give 'Her Lovely Self' something special today. Does she read your blog?

Sharfa
 
After 15 plus years, I just made my better half laugh such that cereal milk came out her nose.

The magic is still there. Never stop making them laugh.
 
No words could come to mind when it revolves around making my love laugh.

I can't stop even if I wanted to.

Its the reason for me being alive at this very moment.

Thanks for the lovely memory.
 
What a beautiful, beautiful story! I especially love the epilogue :)

I'm visiting via Thomas's art blog, but I think I'll stick around! Your writing is wonderful.
 
That is so sweet. :3

BTW: I've read alot of the rest of the stuff you've written, and I've been in stitches at almost every story you've had to tell. It reminds me alot of the stories my grandparents tell me of my own father. I love it all. Keep it up!

-Flip
 
Bee-yoodiful.
 
I followed the link off of Art Lad's page.

I love the Epilogue! :)
 
Alot of interesting comments on this blog, I was searching for some doctor related info and some how cam across this site. I found it pretty cool, so I bookmarked. I'll really liked the second post on the front page, that got my attention.

My site is in a bit different area, but just as useful. I have a why does sex feel better for men related site focusing on why does sex feel better for men and mens health related topics.
 
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