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Authors: Jennifer van der Kwast

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BOOK: Pounding the Pavement
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I smiled politely and continued on.

Despite the exodus of former employees fleeing the building that morning, I did manage to shove the office chair and halogen lamp onto a crowded elevator and head downstairs. I needed a second run, however, to retrieve a metal filing cabinet and a small bookcase. And a third and fourth run to pick up the three empty copy-paper boxes I had stuffed with paper clips, staples, Sharpies, and other supplies. A helpful cabdriver found a way to cram it all into his backseat and insisted I join him up front. The entire ride uptown he ranted and raved about the terrible state of our country’s economy, the vicious trick America had played on her citizens.

The cabbie helped me unload my pilfered goods into my apartment lobby. I offered him a gracious tip for his trouble, but he refused to take a dime. He settled instead for a heavy duty three-hole paper punch.

My apartment bedroom is now but a glorified version of my office cubicle. And if you were to see me dwarfed among all my office luxuries, you’d probably think I’d been vindicated. So did I. But in retrospect, I didn’t even come close to getting what I deserved. Two weeks after my termination, when the doors to 451Films.com would close for good, one plasma TV would be reported missing and twenty-six laptops would be left unaccounted for. I guess I could very well have walked out with my computer too.

But at least I got the Aeron. And I do love that fucking chair.

A
t 8 p.m. I decide it’s
really
okay to watch television. At 8:30 I decide it’s okay to start drinking.

I grab a bottle of Merlot—and a wineglass, for propriety’s sake—from the kitchen and bring them both back into the living room. After a few moments of channel surfing, I am delighted to see that
Tootsie
will be on AMC in twenty minutes. I pour myself another generous glass of the wine and get comfortable. This is shaping up to be a perfectly pleasant evening.

And it is all ruined as soon as I hear the rattle of a key chain at my front door.

Bitch. I never hate my roommate more than the moment she’s about to walk in.

The jangling at the door scales up for an incredibly long, drawn-out moment until it finally reaches its shrill crescendo. The door flings open and in spills a white blur of blonde curls and long legs.

Amanda straightens, and with one graceful sweep of her long, swanlike arm, she brushes back her curls, smoothes out her white blouse, and delicately plucks down the hem of her skirt. Casually slipping her keys back into her purse, she is the picture of poised perfection. But there is a pink flush to her naturally pale white, porcelain cheeks. I can tell she’s been drinking.

Amanda smiles brightly. “You find a job today?”

“No. You find a boyfriend?”

Her smile dips. Opting to ignore me, she breezes into the kitchen.

I can hear her rattling. The refrigerator door squeaks, cabinets slam shut, silverware clatters. Annoyed, I turn up the volume on the TV.

“Hey!” Amanda pokes her rosy red face into the living room. “Any idea what happened to the wine? I know there was at least half a bottle left over from last night.”

It is too late for me to feign innocence. My wineglass is poised
an inch away from my lips. The empty bottle is on the coffee table, not a foot away in front of me.

Amanda frowns and crosses her arms over her chest. In the background, I can hear Dustin Hoffman pleading with producers who want to cast someone taller—“Oh, I can be taller!” Normally, I’d already be giggling were I not being seared by Amanda’s poisoned, humorless eyes.

She cocks her head at the TV screen. “Whaddya watching?”

“Tootsie?”

“Yeah, I don’t think so.” She grabs the remote control and switches off the television. And the simple, quiet evening I had so been looking forward to goes dark with it.

“I think we should go out,” she says.

“No.”

“Why? It’s not like you have to be up early tomorrow morning.”

“But you do,” I point out hopefully.

She rolls her eyes. “I’ll manage.”

I’m fighting a losing battle and I know it. “Where do you want to go?”

“A friend of mine is having an office party in Tribeca.”

“Tribeca?” I grimace. “Do I have to get changed?”

“Of course you have to change! You’re wearing a bathrobe!”

“Can I wear jeans?”

“Fine!” She throws up her tiny, manicured hands in exasperation. “Wear jeans!”

T
he bar in Tribeca is not as obnoxious as I had initially feared. The last time Amanda dragged me out to this neighborhood, she took me to a place Citysearch had voted the “Best Singles Scene.” It
didn’t have a name or a sign, just a funny silver symbol above the door. And to make matters worse, the inside looked as though it had been chiseled out of ice. Like the clientele it served, it was cold, sleek, and utterly transparent. I spent the entire evening on tiptoe, trying not to touch anything with sharp edges, in constant fear of breaking martini glasses or knocking over rail-thin models on six-inch stilettos, and grazing past men in slippery, silk shirts. Yet inevitably, as I forged my way to the back room, I smacked straight into some poor, unsuspecting woman. I started to apologize profusely until I realized the woman I had bumped into was my own reflection in a mirror. The back room was but a mirage.

The bar we are at tonight, however, is a welcome surprise. It’s a seedy throwback to an era when bars were bars—a saloon for a weary gunslinger, a dive for a thirsty sailor—and not high-gloss hotel lobbies for Bellini drinkers and ditzy cocktail waitresses.

Amanda, as always, lingers by the door. Even at a dingy hole-in-the-wall like this, she still feels the need to make her entrance as if she were a nubile young debutante presenting herself to high society. Her cover girl smile, however, is lost on this crowd. The patrons of this particular bar look as badly shaken as their martinis, their faces soured from having sucked on one too many olives.

Furthermore, as soon as we’ve walked in, the walls resound with the echo of a shattered glass, followed by an appropriate “Shit!” All heads swivel, not toward Amanda, but to the bar itself where an assembly of stockbrokers—or are they investment bankers?—with discarded jackets and shirttails untucked, cheer wildly. The pound their pints against the wood countertop and chant, “Joe! Joe! Joe!”

A man at the very center, soaked in lager, smiles good-naturedly and fixes his comb-over.

“Well, now that I have everyone’s attention …” He motions for his friends to quiet down. The middle-aged, gray ponytail-sporting bartender hands him another beer.

“Cheers.” He raises his new glass and addresses the room. “Friends, loved ones …” He points his glass at an overweight man at the rickety table in front of him, “and Charlie.” A few of his colleagues snicker. Charlie holds up his own glass to accept the toast. Joe continues.

“I just want to take this moment to thank you all for the loyalty, the memories, and even the tears. And although I’d like to say the booze is on the house—it isn’t. But don’t let that stop you. Here’s to buying your own drinks, and may there be many more in your future!”

He pauses, waiting for the rallying call.

“And fuck Seaman Partners!”

The members of the bar lift their glasses and respond with a furious, “Hoorah!” Another glass slips and breaks, warranting even more raucous cheers. A thought dawns on me and I turn to Amanda stricken.

“Please don’t tell me you brought me to a
pink slip
party.”

“Oh, come on.” She grins and wraps her arm around mine. “Isn’t it wild?”

I am too stunned to resist as she leads me to Charlie’s table, smack dab in the midst of all the hoopla, and pulls up a chair.

“Everyone! Everyone!” she calls out. All heads turn. Amanda has that wonderful, mysterious power afforded to strikingly beautiful blondes everywhere. When she commands attention, people give it to her.

“Everyone, this is my roommate, Sarah. Sarah, this is everyone.”

Unlike Amanda, I don’t really command much attention. The group acknowledges me with a collective nod and a few grunts. But
just as soon as they are about to return to their drinks, Amanda makes another announcement.

“Sarah has been unemployed for six months!”

And just like that, I am the life of the party.

I
realize now this whole evening has been a setup. After Amanda has paraded me around like Westminster’s prize terrier, she introduces me to Monica. Monica is a college friend of hers from U Penn. Because I’ve never even heard of Monica before tonight, I think I can safely assume her relationship with Amanda consists mainly of a few unreturned e-mails, the occasional trading of voice mails, and canceled brunch plans here and there. Perhaps Amanda just felt a little bit guilty when Monica called this afternoon to tell her she had lost her job. And, ever the humanitarian, she probably offered me up as consolation.

While Amanda leaves to entertain a group of men vying for her attention, I get stuck with Monica at the bar. I’m nearly done with my beer. Monica is staring morosely into her full bottle, as if she can almost see her aborted career floating inside.

“I’m thinking of seeing a therapist,” she tells her beer. “My mother thinks it’s a good idea. And a friend of mine knows someone who works on a sliding scale. But, I don’t know.” She looks up at me with big, dopey brown eyes. “What do you think about therapy?”

What do I really think about therapy? I really think it’s the East Coast alternative to the Church of Scientology. But I can tell Monica isn’t in the mood to hear any of my cynical, albeit astute, observations.


Pfft
,” I wave off her question dismissively. “I am so beyond therapy. I am actually thinking of seeing a philosopher.”

Monica’s dopey eyes blink twice. “A philosopher?”

“Uh, yeah … See, only a philosopher could answer the questions I have.”

“Oh, no, you don’t understand!” She becomes inexplicably animated all of a sudden. “Therapy is supposed to teach you the answers are inside yourself.”

See? That’s exactly the kind of shit I don’t need.

I polish off the rest of my beer and figure, to hell with it. I am going to lay it all out on the line. I’m going to tell Monica her mother is absolutely right. She
should
see a therapist. Because pretty soon all her friends are going to get really sick of her fucking whining. And when she can’t complain about not having a job, she’ll find herself at a loss, completely unable to contribute to a conversation in any other way. She hasn’t seen the hot new FedEx deliveryman. She isn’t flirting with any cute new interns. Desperate to participate, she’ll laughingly bring up Kelly Ripa’s latest faux pas. When she is met with only a sea of blank expressions, that’s when she’ll realize. No one has time to watch morning television. Nobody knows who Kelly Ripa is.

In the end, I don’t get to say any of this. Because as soon as I slam down my beer, as soon as I’m about to launch into my tirade, a finger taps me on the shoulder.

I pivot around to find a boy standing behind me. He’s a short boy with hair thinning out to carve a permanent yarmulke on the top of his head.

“Hi,” he says shyly. “You the girl that’s been unemployed for six months?”

He smiles. It’s a nice smile, and he’s got friendly eyes, so I grin and hold up my empty beer bottle.

“Yeah. Wanna buy me a drink?”

It’s a mistake I make only far too often. I am happy to accept free drinks from eager young men simply because I cannot afford
my own. But a beer is never just a beer, is it? A beer is a conversation, and usually a dull one at that. The boy plunks down a twenty-dollar bill and immediately the bartender scurries over to take his order. The drinks arrive swiftly and the boy settles down on a barstool beside me.

“I’m Artie.” He extends a hand.

“Sarah,” I say, shaking it. And already I feel as though I’ve disclosed too much.

Oh, but it gets worse. Within another few minutes, I learn that Artie’s favorite movie is
Braveheart
. And his favorite author is Hemingway. I can feel my eyes rolling around inside my head like a rack of billiard balls knocked cold by the cue ball.

“And what about you?” he asks.

“Me? Well, I kinda like
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

“Isn’t that a play?”

“It’s also a movie. Liz Taylor? Richard Burton?”

“Oh, sure, I’ve heard of them.” He takes a hearty sip of his beer. “And what about your favorite writer?”

“Haruki Murakami,” I say decisively, even though that’s not necessarily true. Why risk the fact he might recognize a name like John Irving or Tom Robbins?

Artie gulps hard. I use the lull in our conversation to cast a none-too-discreet glance at my watch.

“Oh, Jesus, I gotta go.” It never sounds quite genuine when I say that. Nevertheless, I grab my purse. Artie stands abruptly.

“Which way you headed? Maybe we could share a cab?”

“I’m going to New Jersey,” I lie.

“Where in—?”

“I’m just gonna walk over to the PATH.” I thrust out my hand before he can even consider moving in for a kiss. “Nice meeting you. And thanks for the beer.”

“Sure. Anytime.”

I dart for the door without even so much as a good-bye as I slip past Amanda. We wouldn’t have been sharing a cab anyway. Earlier, a stockbroker offered to give her a tour of his penthouse loft, so she tossed me ten dollars in guilt cash, making me promise not to travel solo on the subway. She’s still where I left her, kneeling under a table trying to locate her cell phone.

To eliminate any chance of Artie coming out after me, I sprint five blocks toward Canal Street. When the bar is safely behind me, I slow down to a trot, and finally come to a breathless, sweaty halt. A hopeful cabdriver creeps toward me, but I wave him away. I still have Amanda’s ten dollars in my purse, but I’ll be damned if I spend it on anything as frivolous as a car ride.

I crouch down and hang my head between my legs. My whole body aches and my breathing isn’t getting any easier. I wonder if it isn’t just the running that makes my heart race. Maybe six months of anxiety have finally caught up to me. Maybe I am in the throes of a full-scale panic attack. Just that thought alone spurs another spasm in my back. I lean back against a brick wall, momentarily paralyzed with dizziness.

BOOK: Pounding the Pavement
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