Monday could not arrive soon enough. Who would have thought that I would eagerly await the weekend to end? My newfound solitude turned into Alcatraz rather quickly; grey mood, claustrophobia, deafening silence, and a hollowing loneliness that I have never felt. Making me realize that I have never been alone.
Before college I was at my parent’s home, in college I lived with Jodi, first in the dorms and then in our apartment. Last time I was in New York City the excitement of exploring such a great city had me out every waking minute. Plus the housing situation then was similar to the dorms and I had three roommates. These last two days, I could not get myself off the couch aside from my morning runs.
Running in Central Park is magical. In late August the multitude of colors range from the deep green of pine to the tints of yellow and gold, accenting the encroaching fall.
The walk paths are filled with eager sprinters like myself trying to jump-start their days. Serious cyclists bob and weave around the tourists and curse at the tourists attempting a leisurely ride on the city’s rent-a-bikes. Although, how serious of a cyclist can you be touring around the safe confinements of central park. The real cyclists ride the city streets battling against cabs and uber drivers for posturing in the disorganized lanes. Shocking at times when you see road work and new lines being drawn to signify lanes that no one seems to stay within. New York City is built living outside the lines.
I select a vintage Chanel suit that I picked up at Jane’s Closet in Seattle. Jane, a brilliant woman that took all her friends’ used and never worn clothes and opened a vintage clothing store. Her friends were just happy for someone to come clean their closets for free. Most items, like my Chanel, still had tags on them. When Stella and I visited Seattle for one of her college tours, I was able to pick up a few treasures from Jane. Grateful that I am a typical woman’s shoe size 7, I found amazing Valentino’s and Stuart Weitzman shoes, classical and expensive-looking enough.
I am far from a fashionista; I am more of a hippy chic that happens to have a great body, so I make a drape look great. I know that sounded rather vain, but I grew up devoted to dance and now run five miles a day to maintain this great body. I have great pride in the way I fit in clothes, as well as out of clothes. Going vintage will hide the fact that I have not a clue about current fashion, not a good thing when walking into the INK building.
I arise from the dark and crowded subway station into the sunny and busy streets of Manhattan. The INK building sits in the center of Time Square which put me in the thick of the New York City bustle, move fast or get trampled.
Memories of my time here as an intern makes me smile. Glad to be in a familiar place in such a vast cement jungle amongst so many strangers. I miss the small coffee shops of Berkeley, we aren’t quite Seattle with quaint cafes and coffee carts at every turn. But we are not New York City where it’s Starbucks, diners, or breakfast carts. I do remember the great guy on the northeast corner that sells better than average pastries but makes great iced coffee and am glad he is still there.
Through the doors of the INK building, I am hit with a flow of cold air and a wave of stunning people. Everyone looks and dresses like a model. Through the thick sea of people, I find a non-hungover Sylvia greets me at the security area of the entrance of the building, her stature and accent still catching me off guard and leaving me speechless. She must think that I am a mute.
“Good-morning! Gents, this is Val, our newbie.” The men minding the security area just nod, smiling at Sylvia like little boys on the playground seeing their first Playboy pin-up.
“Let me show you to your office. Then we can get you through all the HR protocols and off to your lunch with Jessica.” Sylvia doesn't bother to wait for my response, so like the guys in security, under her spell, my body moves.
As she leads, I follow, which pretty much defines our relationship going forward. We are close to the same height thanks to her six-inch heels, yet I feel as if she towers over me. She has quite a commanding aura about her, it is easy for me to let her take control. Then there is the fact that I seem to find it easy to let people take over these days. I need to find some way of setting boundaries for myself.
“Sorry, I am just overwhelmed, everything is moving so fast.”
“You’ll get used to the pace. Now when I go home to Liverpool, I want to scream at everyone to ‘GET A MOVE ON WILL YA!’ Ha!”
“Could I ask you to help me with something?”
“That’s why I am your assistant.”
“I am a pushover,” there, I said it aloud, “and I need you to help me stop being a pushover. Can you do that?”
“Oh yeh babe, you will get eaten alive if you don’t get over that in this city. And frankly, I like you already so I will do everything I can to keep you from being eaten by this city’s piranhas and sharks.”
Let’s see how well I learn. I have been a great student in the classroom, but my track record with “street smarts” shows I am a C student of life. Jodi was the most patient at teaching me about life outside of books. Thanks to me, Jodi will make an amazing mom and teacher. She and Wynn were the only couple that survived college. He was offered a huge opportunity with an investment banking firm within their technology team to open offices in India. Jodi decided to join him there and is working as an English teacher.
Yes, when Jodi told me she was following Wynn to India two thoughts crossed my mind; why didn’t Tommy follow me to New York City, and should I have been more compromising? And here I am again, dwelling on the would have, could have and should have. The past is the past and that’s where it belongs, that’s my story and I am sticking to it!
Now, where was I? Oh yes, at my work, becoming an official adult. Human Resources doesn’t take too long since they already had my prints and basic information from my internship there, just a lot more paperwork to read through. By the time I am done, I am starving and looking forward to lunch.
“You will meet Jessica at Fred’s at Barney’s. Your car is downstairs waiting to take you there. Too hot at this time of the year to walk, otherwise it’s quite a nice trek and worth it when you get there, second-best shopping to Bergdorf and Henri Bendel, which are tied for first place.”
I am amazed at how much Sylvia can talk, and you actually listen to her as well because she is so interesting and full of knowledge. I will surely walk through all three stores after work when it has cooled down for the night. Only to find out that unlike the west coast, this city does not cool down at night. It almost feels warmer at night, like the buildings baking in the sun all day turn this city into a brick oven.
When I was here as an intern, I didn’t dare enter any of the shops, not within my budget. I stuck to museums and dive bars. Mostly INK provided breakfast and lunch daily and we had several amazing dinner parties that they hosted for us. Other than that, it was a lot of spaghetti cacio e pepe at home with two buck chuck wine that I lugged with me from Trader Joe’s in San Francisco.
I beat Jessica to Fred’s, the hostess seats me immediately. I ordered sparkling water and waited patiently, taking in the view. The guests here consist of ladies at lunch and business meetings. Occasionally you see the tourist that stumbled upon Fred’s, they are the ones looking around, as I am doing so right now, watching and learning from those that are seasoned.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” offers Jessica as she sits down across from me, “there is just never enough hours in a day.”
“No worries, I am enjoying the people watching.”
“That is one of the things about you that stuck out for me from your internship, you have such an ease about you. It is refreshing, don’t let this city take that away from you. Now, let’s order first then get down to business.” As if on cue the waiter walks up and introduces himself.
“I would like the Ravioli Basilico and a glass of the Barolo.” Jessica orders.
“I would like Branzino, please.”
“I suggest a glass of the Coppi Tirmorasso from Piemonte with that,” Jessica winks.
“And a glass of what she suggested please.”
Growing up and working through college in a bar made me more of a mixologist than a Seminole. With Tommy, I was introduced to some impressive wines but he always chose them for us, like everything else.
“I don’t suggest drinking during lunch when lunch is in the office, which you will discover is 90 percent of how you will spend your lunches. Therefore, when we do get that odd chance to eat out, I always encourage that you enjoy that time to its fullest.”
“That’s my dad’s motto, he calls it the 80/20. Eighty percent of the time we should do what is ‘right’, and twenty percent of the time we can ‘enjoy our way’, as long as none of the twenty percent is to anesthetizes the mind.”
“Cheers to your father’s wise words,” Jessica raises her glass and toasts.
I must admit these days I am breaking the 80/20 rule in many ways. Firstly, it’s more like 20/80 and I am using alcohol to numb my mind and heart.
“I know that it’s hard for print publishing to accept that the Tech and App world is taking over. And the stubbornness of my colleagues will make dinosaurs of us. This summer I was impressed with your writing, but I was also impressed with the ways you were my personal help desk. How much do you know about building an App?”
I open up my notebook which has a well-organized list that outlines a dozen steps needed to build an App, a cheat sheet from class. But the impressed look on Jessica’s face makes my OCD worth wild.
1. Wireframing. This is easy as I love to doodle. I even have the first page of the App drawn out with the Wanderlust logo and all. Yes, overachiever Val moment here.
2. Market research. I spent most of the summer looking at all the other Apps developed by all the big magazines. Noting the pages I liked and ones that we want to avoid. One big note was that they were all so busy, like a mini version of the magazine to fit in the palm of one’s hand. I am a neat freak and minimalist so ours will be sleek and elegant. As well as playful and interactive.
3. Technical feasiblity assesment. This is where I need to start with IT.
4. App’s graphic design. I have Sylvia setting up a meeting with our marketing team so that we can make sure we maintain Wanderlust’s brand throughout our App…
I printed this list out for Jessica as well to have available to give to her at lunch.
“I can empathize with your colleagues. I still buy books versus reading on my devices. I prefer board games and even use my Lan line when making local calls. I have also been known to turn off my phone when I am enjoying time for myself."
To this I watch Jessica's reaction, I don't want to come across as lazy but I do know that with the right amount of me time, I am better at my job. Her face still shows interest so I keep talking.
"I also see how an App could carry our stories to all generations and inspire culture and travel to all socio-economic classes. To me, making an App is like creating a work of art or curating an amazing dinner party. You are trying to capture the eyes or please the pallet of a group of people that you may not know personally but your creation manages to grab ahold of them all.”
“You have my attention. Go on.”
“Take the dinner party for example. You want the dishes to please a group but you also want to make it memorable. Unlike the menu selection at a wedding or a gala where you have the choice of steak, chicken, or fish accompanied by mashed potatoes or sautéed spinach, you want to be more inventive. A buffet is tacky but allows for selection."
Whenever Benji would talk IT to Mikey, I would see a glazed look and save the conversation by translating nerd to everyday life. As I am doing so now with Jessica.
"So how do we offer selection, stay withing a workable budget and framework but offer the guests pleasure in every bite? Your dishes must be unique but not strange. Your drinks and sides should complement the courses.”
“I can see that,” Jessica orders us another glass of wine as I start to fill my vision with the possibilities of what this App could be. “I want this App to be fun and different.”
“What if we had a section that allowed people to share their travel stories? We can set it up as a usable format that can even collect data for us. Yet we can give viewers a chance to share stories. But not tacky or judgy like the other Apps out there. We can have a point system and travel giveaways. We are Wanderlust, let us make people lust over the wonders of the world through the eyes of others.”
A nice buzz always helps me speak freely and think outside the box.
“Make our guests an active part of the dinner party. Let them help to curate the meals. That’s why at buffets, the omelet station is so popular because the guests have some control over their choices.”
“I like where this is going.” I finally pause to let Jessica comment and to take a sip of calm.
“I have a cousin, Antonella, who is a travel guru. Every penny she makes is spent on experiencing the world. I am always telling her she should start a travel blog. Writing has never been one of her things but if I need to know the best places to eat in any city all over the world, she could give me a list. Most she has personally tried, others, she has researched and is on her to-do list."
How we do this remains to be seen, Benji says I dream big. But I know with Benji's help, we can conquer this together. Until then, I won't let Jessica see me sweat.
"We could curate a section where people can recommend their favorite places to dine in their cities. The locals know best and travelers can dine where the locals do. Help a non-writer like Antonella write her stories like a blog or article versus a review.”
“I love everything that you are saying, but how do we put it all into an App?”
“Like any new development, we need to draft the layout of the App, sketch our idea. Then we need to do market research and create a mockup if our App. Brainstorm all the graphics.”
My mind is working faster than I can speak. I am starving and excited when our dishes arrive but yet I want to rush back to my desk and start working.
“Looks like you have a starting point.” Jessica winks towards the sketches I made. Benji said I had a habit of drawing out my thoughts.
I have a lot of work ahead of me. The dynamics of the APP is far more advanced than the coding that I learned at Berkeley, I will need to contact Benji and see if he can help me. Along with my father’s 80/20 philosophy is my mom’s “never burn bridges.” I keep in touch with everyone as well as I am capable, you never know when your life can change, and those that may not fit at that moment fit perfectly in the next.
Just like with Nate, Tommy wasn’t fond of me seeing Benji, and just like with Nate, I stood my ground with Tommy on that. It’s Benji’s girlfriend that keeps our communications short and infrequent.
“Enough of the boring stuff,” Jessica starts as we dive into our lunch, “how are you?”
“I am great! How can I not be? I have a glamourous job working for one of the most important female-forward companies, in the best city on earth.” I can tell I am not convincing her any more than I am myself.
“Valentina, I have an open-door policy. I keep strict boundaries where they are needed and necessary, but I also know that if I am human with you, you will be your best when you can be human with me.”
“I am desperate to start working, this loneliness is killing me and it’s only been a few days. I am also trying to avoid grieving the loss of my engagement so I am grateful that I have a lot of work ahead of me. I am scared of failing you, this is the bravest thing I have ever taken on, and I am very shocked that I am being such a lame and babbling idiot.”
Wow, that came oozing out easier than I expected.
“Don’t worry, all my staff finds it a little too easy to talk to me.”
Jessica offers when she sees the shock on my face.
“We are a tight-knit team, we must help hold each other up. Most of us are here, far from our family so we have to be family to one another. Just don’t take advantage.”
“I won’t and your honesty is very refreshing.”
“You are in New York darling, everyone is going to be honest with you, some just deliver their honesty more, kindly. You will find it makes it easy for you to know where you stand with everyone."
Jessica has a way of lecturing me softly.
"The rest of the world is to busy walking on eggshells. Eggshells and limbo will leave you paralyzed. Speak your mind and stand by your ideas. Someone will always try to break you down, don’t let them. I knew when you interned for us that you will be the hardest working person I hire yet. With that being said, you are from California, born and bred, so you are soft. You can be kind without being soft.”
“You sound like my grandmothers.”
“They are Italian, they understand the burden of women to hold it all together. In order to do that, you have to be a strong foundation to yourself first, others after.”
“I am afraid that may be easier said than done. I am here because I seem to have lost my little girl and I don’t know where to find her. Through a soul searching weekend with my little sister, I looked to the last time I was truly me, and that was when I was here interning. I just hope I manage to find her and nurture her into someone functional, let alone awesome.”
“Well, you can start by giving the big girl version of you some credit. I saw a lot in you when you were an intern, and I am so excited to see what you can accomplish as well as how you can grow further."
Jessica also knew how to criticize inspiringly. No matter how many edits my pieces I submitted came back with, I was more excited versus disappointed.
"You are also great at following directions and learning beyond when your ego may hold you back. Your writing improved dramatically over the year which shows that you took those extra writing courses as I suggested. Most of my counterparts run their team through fear and exhaustion, I like to think that I am here to help you all by helping you find the best parts of yourself and to conquer through the weakest parts of yourself.”
“I just don’t want to let you or myself down. I also want to be happy again. I know not every day can be sunshine and lollipops, and not all of this last year was bad, but I do miss laughing, singing, and dancing.”
“From what you showed me as of far, failure is not in your vocabulary. Make great use of Sylvia, she is sharp. The two of you will have the guys and gals in IT mesmerized. Two beautiful and charming tech nerds can be inspiring."
It does feel better to use what we have as women when our female leader gives us permission. We know it's hypocrisy but sometimes a girl has gotta do what a girl has gotta do.
"As for singing and dancing, you are in New York City, plenty of both happens here. And as for laughing, visit the cafeteria every so often, there is a lot of laughing happening there. Although if you don’t dress or look the part, the laughter might be directed at you.”
“Ouch. I guess I better start paying better attention to how I look when I leave the house.”
“Valentina, you are stunning, that comment wasn’t criticism just playful advice. As I said, work on that self-image of yours. From your submissions alone when you applied for the internship I saw and still see so much potential in you. Your writing is exquisite and your connection to logic is impressive. It’s rare to find someone that is both creative and logical. It’s time you start giving yourself more credit."
Everyone keeps telling me this. You figure it would soak in by now.
"In this town, you don’t get anywhere waiting for someone else to recognize what you are capable of. I know that’s not your style anyways. You are fierce in your drive and motivation towards perfection. Forgive yourself now and then because no one can be perfect. And let go and let fun happen on its own, stop trying to control it.”
I was a weirdo in college; my major was Computer Science and my minor was English Lit. I loved math and science and took well to writing code throughout high school. The artistic side of me loved to read and write, the perfect nerd.
My parents are first-generation Catholic Italian immigrants, church and college were the only two absolute. They worked hard to save up for my college but they had two daughters, so I worked harder to get the scholarships I needed for UC Berkeley. I did not plan on wasting my education. I knew a degree in dance and art history would get me only so far in life, although I loved every class.
The pragmatic side of me was grateful I found Computer Science. Who knew that I would land a job that uses both fields? With the App world exploding the publishing world is slowing moving from print to technology. A computer geek that can write colorful stories.
Now our team, which composes of Sylvia and myself and the tech team will be trying to figure out how our launch will look. Arts and crafts were a form of entertainment in a poor household. I am a master at the cut, paste, and presentation boards.
Lunch was beyond delicious and returning to work with a nice little buzz feels naughty and fun. I miss naughty and fun, can’t wait to do a lot more of it.
“Jessica’s boss, isn’t she babe?” Sylvia walks into my office behind me.
“She is. I am excited. And I am excited for you and I get to know each other better.”
“Let’s get together for a bevy.”
“Drinks? I just got back to the office.”
“Test all your log-in and set up your email and voicemail, return these phone calls and then let’s go and have a one-on-one the Londontown way.”
I am starting to wonder if I am her boss or she is mine. Either way, I can tell she has my back regardless. She is a tough cookie, filled with melted chocolate love for everyone. I feel like such a smalltown girl in a big city. I call my mom, wait until she sees my office, Working Girl all the way.
“Ciao mamma, mi manchi!”
I get her voicemail, of course, she hates phones, let alone cell phones. No point even trying to get her an email account. She is probably practicing with her new acapella group. I found a group through Berkeley, and although most are alumni of the school, they don’t turn down voices like hers. “Mi chiami.”