CHAPTER TWO: WORK YOUR GRACE
The job interview at Vibe was supposed to take place around eleven-thirty in the morning and all late-comers were immediately turned away at the door by two powerful-looking bouncers. Thankfully, I arrived around eleven-fifteen and had only a few more to spare to take a final glance-over at my sketches that I kept in my brown portfolio. All candidates there were required to at least present ten of their greatest designs alongside three letters-of-recommendation (my late social worker’s co-worker, my luxury design teacher Mrs. Langley, and Marcus from the salon) and a personal statement on the reason I wanted to be a designer. And they all had to be collected in one package in order to get through the next stage and approved by the strict Human Resources director known as Mr. Sayers and the director of recruitment Alan Marzey.
So, out of the nearly ninety candidates considering to be a part of the most talked-about streetwear company, only twenty of us were left- myself included.
Calm mind, strong heart, balance soul, healthy body, I said to myself as I take a few deep breaths while other candidates were either sipping on lattes and coffee, shooting the breeze and making connections, or just making their own mental preparations.
“Hey, you. You definitely look too out of place to be here.”
I sighed heavily, not wanting to cause a scene at the sound of an obnoxious female’s voice that sat at the left side of me. “Oh, I’m just here for the job position just like everyone else,” I replied. “And you are?”
The young woman snorted. “Duh, everyone should know me as Caylee Amerson, Hollywood’s next uber-star and daughter of hotel tycoon Marcus Amerson,” she replied haughtily. “And it looks like that you’re the only dark-skinned kid around here for this place. To be honest, you belong behind a garbage truck or in a school hallway cleaning up the vomits of the other wannabes.”
“Leave him alone, Caylee,” another female voice said in a warning tone. To me, “Ignore her, she’s too much of a Valley Girl to speak to anyone that’s under her. She and her other family are always like that.”
“Don’t I believe it,” I replied. “And I’m not too worried about knowing who’s who in Hollywood nowadays since I’m blind.”
I heard Caylee gasp in horror. “Then what the fuck are you doing here?” she said. “All blind people should be either working in a dark room making baskets or out on the streets panhandling nowadays. You really don’t belong-“
“Miss Amerson, I think that it’s your time to leave,” I heard the stern voice of Mr. Sayers say to hey as he finally enters the room. “And please, don’t ever think about applying to Vibe again. Your father will know of this.”
I heard the thundering footsteps of two guards escorting Caylee out of the room as the rest of the room got silent. “You’ll be sorry for this, Sayers!” I heard the snobby socialite yell. “No one disses an Amerson and gets away with it.”
“Mr. Van Blackwell, I trust that you’re not going to let a bit of bigotry try to deter you,” Mr., Sayers asked me.
I shook my head no, though my emotional scars were ripped open slightly at those venomous words. “No, sir. I just got here,” I said quietly as I took a few deep breaths.
“Excellent, then. That’s what I’m talking about,” I heard Mr. Marzey reply cheerfully as he joined his other constituent in the room. “Listen up, all of you. We here at Vibe thank you all for being here on time and on point. We have a lot of ground to cover, but as you can see we have one candidate already bounced out of the running due to her bigotry. We do not appreciate discrimination or derogatory remarks here. And any sign of that will cause you to get eliminated.”
“But for some of you here, you are already given the axe,” Mr. Sayers continued solemnly. Earlier today, most of you were given envelopes that would determine your fate here past this point. Only seven of you did.
I took a deep breath, remembering the moment that one of the receptionists at the door gave me a thick manila envelope before escorting me to one of the elevators that would lead me to the conference room.
“Those of you that did get the envelope,” Mr. Marzey said, “will definitely be sticking around. The rest of you may kindly take your exit.”
I heard five people stand up out of their chairs and leave the room, most of them spewing obscenities and protests. “My father is on the trustee committee for Fashion Week,” a female voice protested angrily. “No one here will ever be invited to LA Fashion week once I’m finished with you!”
“Now, to the rest of you, each of us here will be asking you all a question on why do you think that you’re a good fit to work for Vibe,” Mr. Sayers continued on. “Then, if we like the answer you give, you’ll show me and Mr. Marzey your profile. Be warned, however. We don’t accept suck-ups or threatening auras at all. And if you’re too emotional, then you can leave while you can.”
To me, “Mr. Van Blackwell, we’d like for you to wait to be last at the moment. It’s not because of your race or anything. We’d like to know more about you as a blind artist.”
I nodded. “That’s fair,” I said. “I’ll gladly wait.”
“Excellent,” Mr. Marzey said. “Now, Mr. Walcott, tell me your reason that you’d be a good fit for Vibe.”
I heard a chair being scraped up as heels clicked onto the floor. “Well, Mr. Sayers and Mr. Marzey, I’d be a great fit for Vibe because unlike most of these candidates here I take great pleasure of doing what I love,” I heard a rich young man’s voice say in a condescending tone. “I worked for my father’s textile company and also have been known to have a few other sponsors support me for my journey to be a business tycoon.”
“But have you any experience on designing anything?” Mr. Marzey asked, his tone less optimistic and more annoyed.
“Not really, sir. I usually did-“
“Then please see yourself out,” Mr. Sayers boomed. “No amount of business experience can ever sway our opinion.”
“What?! You can’t do this to me!” Mr. Walcott’s voice replied angrily. “My father knows the company and he can easily-“
I heard someone snapped their fingers and the same thundering footsteps of the bouncers carried out the protesting candidate out of the room.
“Miss San Luis, you’re next,” Mr. Marzey said in a too-cheerful snake-charmer purr.
I heard the woman next to me burst into tears as she quickly gathered her belongings and quickly left the conference room.
“All right then,” Mr. Marzey said. “Now, we’re getting down to business. Miss Lanier, you’re up.”
The woman on the right side of me stood up. “Good morning,” she said in a thick Texan drawl. “My name’s Dan’Yetta Lanier and I’m originally from San Antonio but recently moved down here to LA after getting my bachelor’s in design at Art Institute of Atlanta. Most of my experience came from helping my late grandmamma out of her tailor shop fixing church robes and I even did a bit of a fashion showcase during junior year that got me a scholarship. My dream is to mainly start out somewhere in the fashion business, but I would like to get a position here at Vibe because I really know the label well.”
“Really?” Mr. Sayers said, his tone more impressed. “You wear the label a few times?”
“Sadly, I couldn’t afford to buy some of the stuff with my high-school job as a cashier at McDonalds,” she admitted, “but I did some research about the diversity goals of the company and decided to add my name into the list.”
“What’s your style?” Mr. Marzey wanted to know.
“I can describe it in three words: comfortable, sassy, and a bit of sexy in the mix,” Dan’Yetta listed off, handing the men her portfolio. “I may have a few flaws in my sketches, but I do think that I can handle my own here.”
“Can you really work your grace?” Mr. Sayers asked her. “We can be very demanding and it’s all about what the people want, you know.
“Sir, if y’all give me a chance here, I can show y’all that I can take this place global and Vibe can really take the streetwear world by storm.”
“Stick around, then,” Mr. Marzey said. “You might have a shot here.”
“Thank you,” Dan’Yetta said as she sat back down.
“That was pretty amazing,” I whispered to her as the men talked to each other about her. “I bet that you’ll get the job.”
“Thanks, child. But you might have a bit of good stuff yourself,” Dan’Yetta replied.
For the next ten minutes or so, the interviews went forward. The man in front of me was also approved of sticking around while the other two candidates (two crybabies) left while the getting was good. And finally, it was my turn.
“Mr. Van Blackwell, I can see that you’re still here after all of the interviews that went forward,” Mr. Sayers began. “You can see-oops, sorry.”
“That’s fine,” I said. “My blindness doesn’t stop me from going after what I want, even after what Caylee Amerson said.”
“That we can tell,” Mr. Marzey noted. “Still, we’d like to hear from you and what you can offer Vibe.”
I took a deep breath, ready to dive right in. “Well, despite my blindness, I never let anything or anyone hold me back,” I began. “Most blind kids would accept working at some other job at a hidden-closet making baskets or something like that. I see myself as a revolutionary that a background-kid.”
“And your style?” Mr. Marzey asked as he took my portfolio for him and Mr. Sayers to review.
“My style is all about adding class in the streetwear, yet having the no-nonsense, in-your-face kind of style,” I continued on. “I mainly designed how I’d envision in my head. It all comes to me in different auras.”
“That’s pretty amazing stuff,” Mr. Marzey said. “No one really does that anymore.”
“This is pretty tight right there,” the male candidate left known as Tyler Savion Newnan noted as he took the portfolio and looked it over. “I’d kill to wear the gray track suit with the lime-green accents. That kind of reminds me of my dad’s old church suits.”
“I’d pay to wear the ladies’ cocktail-styled separate,” Dan’Yetta commented. “You do plus-sizes?”
“Had a bit of experience working as an intern for La Dolce,” I replied. “Had to for my junior-year experience.”
“My thing is, Mr. Van Blackwell, is not why you design but how you do it,” Mr. Sayers said. “You told us that you have this blindness in which you can see shapes and silhouettes, but you can really see patterns and detailing as well.”
Oh, boy. “Well, I mainly rely on touch-therapy when I design,” I continued on. “I can identify fabrics and their quality with light movements across the fabrics that I need. As for the patterns and detailing, I can easily imagine what I have in mind just by using only dim lighting and what I can use in my head.”
“But can you really keep up with the demands of the people?” Marzey asked me, his tone a bit uncertain on what I could do. “We are one of the fast-growing leaders of urban wear and streetwear, mainly for people of color.”
“Sir, with all due respect, I can handle my own weight while working my grace,” I replied. “I’ve been bounced around in foster homes and shifted around in too many schools to know that many people doubt me on what I can do. I’ve been told that I’d need a housekeeper or that I’d be content on being a basket-weaver or a mosaic-maker. Hell, many vocal naysayers all but condemned me to be a beggar on the street. But I don’t let anyone tell me what I can and can’t do.”
I sat back down, my nerves a bit on edge but my soul at ease.
“We’ll need a moment to make a decision,” Mr. Marzey muttered. “For now, please help yourself to some lunch catered by La Venizia.” He and his partner left the room just as two receptionists came in carrying carry-out plates from the fancy Italian restaurant.
“Man, I think that either one of us is bound to get the job,” Tyler said after a bit of silence while eating chicken paninis, truffle fries, and a slice of chocolate cheesecake. “The three of us really got some amazing balls to still be here.”
“I can’t imagine who will it really be at the moment,” Dan’Yetta replied, wiping her face with a napkin. “But I can tell that it’s Isaiah who’s bound to get the job here since he’s got that flair going on.”
“Please,” I piped up before polishing off a bottle of Diet Pepsi. “You, Dan’Yetta, have that ‘comfy, sassy, and sexy’ line while Tyler’s more of the ‘suburban/Western kind’ of designer. I mean, I can feel the fabric of his jean jacket as I felt the design myself. Is that supposed to be a blend of denim and silk?”
“Yeah, but I want to make the denim more synthetic and less genuine,” he replied. “It’s still a bit in the works. But bro, that track suit looked really amazing. Perfect for a marching band or something that Team USA would wear for the Olympics or something.”
“Well, in either case, only two of us are going into the company while the other’s left on the outside looking in,” I said in a somber tone. “I just wish everyone here the best.”
“Same to you,” Dan’Yetta said as the door opened, revealing Mr. Sayers as he came back into the room.
I looked at the smiling faces of Dan’Yetta and Tyler as they shook hands with the gracious Mr. Marzey while he handed them welcome-aboard packets that ensured their position as co-designers for Vibe. Me? I wasn’t given the job. But that was expected, anyway.
“Mr. Van Blackwell?” a petite secretary said to me in a British accent.
“Yeah?” I said, keeping a calm face.
“Mr. Sayers would like to see you in his office for a few moments.” She took my hand and led me out of the conference room and down the hallway. “If it’s any comfort to you, I’d think that you’d have a better chance here because you got that bit of ‘dreaming-designing’ technique that you use. I’d definitely wear that separate with the cocktail-dress concept, if it’s in blue.”
“Thanks,” I said as we reached the office. “But Dan’Yetta and Tyler were the ones who got it with their own flair.
The secretary knocked on the door twice. “Mr. Van Blackwell, Mr. Sayers,” she said.
“Send him in,” the large man said.
The two of us slowly walked inside the large office where I heard a bit of Norah Jones play softly from the stereo at the older man’s bookshelf behind his desk. The room had a classical air in the mix with the shades pulled halfway down and the smell of tuna-on-wheat lingering in the air. “Here you go, Mr. Blackwell,” the secretary said, leading me to sit in one of the leather chairs. “Mr. Sayers.”
“Thank you, Mariana,” Mr. Sayers said gratefully as he threw away a piece of paper (the sandwich wrapper, maybe?) into the trash.
As soon as she left, I turned to the man sitting in front of me. “Mr. Sayers, sir, I just want to say thank you for letting me have this opportunity to try applying here,” I began. “And I know that I’m sounding like a suck-up, but jut having a chance here really proves that I can go after something I want.”
“Oh, I know that,” he said. “I just wanted to see if you did.”
My eyebrows were raised high. “What do you mean?”
The older man took a deep breath. “Son, most people with disabilities- physical, mental, and emotional- are given a bad rap nowadays. They’re mainly told to stay in the background and keep out of sight of the able-bodied and more socially acceptable. I took a look at your background, son, and was amazed on all that you can do despite being sightless. If we were in different worlds, you’d be the go-to designer most companies would kill to have on board. And from what I heard from your cooking instructors, you’re a genius in the kitchen. You do music?”
I nodded. “I’m a piano lover,” I admitted. “Self-taught mainly, but I had this teacher back in boarding school who didn’t show me any mercy at all when she wanted me to blend classical music with today’s music. And I dared not disappoint.”
“I bet you’re really good. But sadly, son, when it comes to your designs you’re a bit too regal and sophisticated. It’s not an insult or anything- you just don’t have the ghetto mentality that we’d saw in Dan’Yetta and Tyler. Your personality mainly fits you in the world of Jessye Norman and Greta Garbo rather than Kendrick Lamar and Tinashe. Now, I’ve been contacted by the boss and founder here and he did look at your portfolio. He agreed with me on this. But we were also given a call by someone from our affiliate company- House of Suez.”
If I could feel it right now, I’d let my eyes go as wide as saucers. “You mean the House of Suez led by the Saint Croix brothers?” I said, my voice barely audible.
The man nodded. “And guess what? Mr. Salim Saint Croix has heard a lot about you and wants to meet with you tomorrow morning for an interview and wants to make you an offer that you can’t refuse. Sounds good?”
“Mr. Sayers, I think I need to sit down,” I said.
“But you are sitting down,” Mr. Sayers said.
Oh. “Then let me stand up, if you don’t mind,” I said as I did so. “This is huge news. My barber Marcus said that the House of Suez is boasting of opportunities and that most people would kill to work there, even if they weren’t designers. I just never imagined that-“
“Believe it, son. They really want you. Believe you me when I say that this is an opportunity that most aspiring designers never get a chance to have like this. They would kill, lie, cheat, and steal to be in your shoes at the moment. So, should I make the call to let them know that you’re passing it up? Or are you in?”
I turned to the man in front of me, noticing his no-nonsense profile. “Tell him that I’ll need a limo to the business early in the morning,” I said. “I’ll be there.”
And I know that I couldn’t see it, but I felt the man smile, the room suddenly relaxing a little. “You won’t regret it, young man,” Mr. Sayers said as I took my hand into his work-worn hands and we shook. “I know that you got promise.”
“I believe it,” I replied.