I was a stupid girl when we moved to New York, so convinced that I knew how to handle myself in a city packed with millions of people. Wide-eyed, filled with wonder—like a perpetual tourist seeing everything through the lens of a camera. I had no realistic idea of what life would, should, or could be like.
My first job in the city was an absolute nightmare. Save for one man, the team members treated me like the outsider I was. The reception pool leader was the type of heinous you seem to only find in teen movies. I didn’t stay long. They fired me on my birthday.
I didn’t think I even wanted to work in the city anymore. The excitement of taking the train in, walking the remaining nine blocks (past the Empire State Building every single day!) just lost its luster. But I kept at it, and just a few short weeks later, I found myself in the office of United Staffing Systems.
My first interview was brief but seemed positive. I’d been called in to talk about a position as the Human Resources Assistant. I had no Human Resources experience. I had little experience in anything beyond working in my dad’s real estate office and being shunned by the Sex in the City girls at my previous job. When the staffing agent asked me if I had time to meet the owner, I figured I had nothing to lose but probably wouldn’t gain anything, either.
I waited in an empty office devoid of much personality. Scattered papers covered the desk and one of the doors to a cabinet hung open. The room obviously wasn’t someone’s home away from home but rather a place to meet or maybe yell at people in private.
And then this…force walked in. His suit, I could tell, cost more than all the money I’d ever seen, but he wore it over a fuchsia V-neck sweater. No collared shirt. No tie. He shook my hand, waved me back to my seat, and then plopped down behind the desk. There weren’t many questions. He seemed to have already made up his mind about something. Instead, he just talked. He told me about his business, how it had been decimated since 9/11 but was back on track to grow exponentially. He told me about his deceased business partner, using such glowing terms that his respect for her was palpable. He told me about the job, little more than filing and faxing forms for disability, unemployment, and workers’ compensation. He propped his foot up on the desk, showing off the black Chucks he wore with his thousands-of-dollars suit, and I knew I wanted a job in Manhattan again. I wanted it so badly I didn’t know how to tell him.
Then he walked me back to meet the Director of Human resources, who was also his wife, and told her he’d found her new assistant. I was to start the next day.
After three weeks, he called me back into that little office, which hadn’t changed one bit since my interview, and asked if he could give me more responsibility. Slowly, I became something like his right-hand man, gathering all the bills and presenting them to him for payment. If I handed him one that didn’t have red ink at the top, wasn’t set to be sent to collections, he’d do something crazy, like set the bill on fire and drop it into the trash can or take his gum out of his mouth and wrap it in the paper. He was nuts. Crazy. The best kind of off-his-rocker.
The reward system in the office was a little slapdash, but he always knew what was going on. Everyone received “doobie points” when they went above and beyond. Those points could be used every other week to bid on some incredible prizes. Every day before the auction, he’d put me in a cab with the company credit card and send me on a mission to find those prizes. One day, I was in Tiffany, the next at the Apple Store, picking up huge gift cards, iPods, and other amazing things for people to win. He always suggested that I take my time while I was out. That I get some lunch, or walk to some cool New York thing that was nearby so I could see it before grabbing my cab back to the office. I never actually won any of the things I picked up, but that’s okay. That iPod would have broken by now. I still have the memories.
He called me mini-mogul and promised me that someday I’d make more money than he’d ever seen. It hasn’t happened yet. And if it does, he won’t get to see it. Yesterday, this boss—this man who convinced me that I did have a place in Manhattan, who reminded me that I could do more than sing on a stage, who professed such confidence in my abilities that I actually started to believe him—passed away.
I only saw him once in the twelve years since we moved from New York. By that time, it had been eight years, and I was afraid he might not recognize me. But he did. He walked over, gave me a hug, and asked how his mini mogul was doing. He told me how he’d just been having a conversation with someone while he was in the stall in the bathroom, but he didn’t even know who he’d been talking to. Then he charged off in those Chucks, waving over his shoulder, probably secure in the knowledge that we’d see each other again.
Maybe we will.