I can’t believe that I haven’t posted here for a whole month. It will sound lame, but it was such a busy month. One of the things I’ve been busy with is my creative writing course for new immigrant women.
You know how sometimes you do things that feel great because they are so in line with who you are? Well, that’s what this workshop has been for me. A couple of weeks ago, I felt like a happy little kid when I submitted a short fictional story and the instructor, a published author, said that it’s great and that I have “a knack for character development.”
So I thought I’d share the story with you.
The Flyer Distributor
“Brooklyn Beauty Coupons.” That’s what Simon was supposed to say. But he wasn’t saying it. He just stood, holding in his outstretched hand a card-sized pink flyer advertising two-dollar discounts for select services at Brooklyn Beauty, a nearby beauty salon.
Few passersby noticed Simon. This young man was neither tall nor short, with soft almost feminine features and green eyes. An old woman with black-rimmed glasses and a pink jacket did notice him though. She took a flyer and read it out loud. “Brazilian waxing available? I don’t think I’m interested,” she said, handing the flyer back.
Simon didn’t care about the rejection. Whether people took a flyer or not, he would still get $10 an hour. It was a week-long gig, four hours per day, and this was his last day. It was the first job he had landed, through Craigslist, since he came to New York City from his native Miami five months ago.
It was getting dark. The January wind pierced Simon’s black jacket, which he couldn’t close because the zipper was broken, and went straight to his very organs. He curled up his aching toes inside his white sneakers in vain hopes of warming them up. He wished he had put on an extra pair of socks. He had no gloves either. Now his fingers hurt so much, he could no longer separate one flyer from another.
He noticed a tall unshaven man in a tattered green coat walk by. Suddenly, the man grabbed the white plastic bag with the Brooklyn Beauty flyers. Simon had left it on the ground nearby because it was too heavy to hold. He was just about to say something, when the old man vanished into the crowd with the bag, which said I Love New York.
Simon crossed the street and approached a petite girl with a gray coat and a black knit hat pulled all the way to her arched eyebrows. That was Jo, his co-worker.
“Guess what, somebody just stole the bag with the flyers! He must have thought there was something valuable in it.”
He told her the story and both had a good laugh.
“I was just about to come and get more – I’m running low,” Jo said, pointing to her thinning stack of pink cards.
They didn’t want to call Gina, the salon’s owner. She would arrive with more flyers because they had another hour to go.
Instead, they went to Starbucks, a couple of blocks down. The warmth inside was instant bliss. Simon thought his body was going to melt. The coffee smell tempted him, but he decided not to buy anything.
They sat at a corner table and Jo removed her hat. A mop of black curly hair spilled out. She took off her black gloves and rubbed her hands together. Simon rubbed his red hands too.
“So, what do you do besides this?” she asked.
“I’m a musician. I play the violin.”
“Oh my god! I’m an actress!”
“What is it like – being an actress?”
“It’s not bad. I’m auditioning right now. I’m also doing this unpaid internship at a theater.”
“What do you do there?”
“All sorts of things. Sweeping, taking tickets… Do you have another job?”
“Not right now. My dad is helping me out. But I’m applying. I’m applying even for bullshit jobs until I find something better,” Simon said.
The demand in New York for violinists was not as big as the demand for drummers or guitarists. But he refused to play another instrument because the violin alone perfectly matched his personality. It was gentle, yet high-pitched when you needed it to be.
Simon thought about his only suit, a black one, hanging in his closet, reserved for job interviews. He had a matching blue tie with yellow stripes and a pair of black boots, which he polished daily with a piece of discarded white T-shirt. He couldn’t bear to see his interview boots gather dust.
Another daily task included checking on the condition of his red plastic resume folder. He wiped it with a tissue and then opened it to make sure he had a sufficient number of resumes, which he had printed at the public library. He didn’t have a printer at home. He also made sure the resumes were not dog-eared and the paper hadn’t turned yellow.
The one time when Simon did wear his suit in New York was for an interview with a small Cuban jazz band. They needed a violinist for their engagements in bars throughout the city. Eventually the band decided to go for a Cuban violinist with more experience. Simon had only played jazz in small formations in Miami.
After the rejection from the Cuban band, he had a phone interview for a sales position at a guitar store. The interviewer told him he didn’t have enough technical knowledge.
The futility of Simon’s application efforts exhausted him. His situation reminded him of the Asian man who sold DVDs on the subway every day. The guy walked up and down the cars of the train holding a fan of DVDs, yelling in a heavy Asian accent, “Dee Veee Deee! Deee Veee Deee!” Simon had never seen any of the jaded passengers even express an interest in the DVDs, let alone buy them, but this didn’t stop the man.
Like the Asian guy, Simon kept up his efforts. He even bought a book for 15 bucks – Job Search For Dummies 2009 With Recession Tips.
He religiously followed the rules in it. He tried, for instance, using the law of attraction by writing down the qualities of his desired job and then visualizing the job and feeling what it would be like to have it. “Visualize every night as your head hits the pillow and every morning as your feet hit the floor,” the book advised.
Still, nothing. At times Simon felt that writing yet another cover letter – he had already sent out over 100 – or making yet another phone call would be too much of an effort. The more rejection he faced, the more his morale sagged though the book said the opposite would happen. “When your application process takes momentum, rejection is not going to faze you because you will have all these applications out there. You will just keep moving until you get the job. After all, what you need is just one yes.”
To get that yes, Simon was applying even for unskilled jobs. He had recently applied to an Urban Outfitters store in Manhattan for a sales position. The application form he was handed upon walking in had all sorts of unusual questions, such as “What magazines do you like?” and “What is the last book you read?”
Simon did not read books, so he put down “The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama” in his uneven childish handwriting. Can’t go wrong with that, he figured.
In response to the question about work experience he listed a history of retail jobs in Miami.
“You know what annoys me here in New York,” he said out loud to Jo. “Even with crappy jobs they want you to have experience. Like, last month I applied to be a server and they said no because I didn’t have New York experience. You have to be so special to get jobs that nobody wanted until recently. Now I bullshit on my resume. I figure, once I’m on the job, I’ll learn.”
“Yeah, totally,” Jo replied. “And there’s so many people applying for jobs. Everybody’s out of work.”
“I know. I always see like a hundred people with resumes waiting to be interviewed at the open calls that restaurants have. I guess everybody sees the open call announcement on Craigslist and comes. And most of these people don’t even belong there. They all look so educated, you know, like people with college degrees, at least.”
Jo’s brown eyes shifted slowly to the big round white clock on the wall.
“Oh my god, it’s almost seven!”
Both dreaded going out, but they knew the salon’s owner sometimes drove by to check on the flyer distributors.
Outside, the effect of the warmth disappeared immediately. They took their posts. Simon started doing a mental countdown to the next break. That was the only thing his brain was capable of doing. He tried job visualizing, but the thought froze before it developed. He was able to sustain the thought of the money he would get from this gig for a little bit longer, but eventually that thought froze, too. He leaned against a storefront and held out one of the few flyers left. “Get your Brooklyn Beauty coupon,” he announced in a weak voice.
Then he looked around. It was a typical downtown Brooklyn street – a vibrant mixture of quaint mom-and-pop establishments. Sweet-smelling bakeries with perfect cupcakes boasting icings in every imaginable color. Cute second-hand clothing shops. Tiny book stores brimming with rare volumes and luring customers with offers such as “give us your used books and we’ll give you a bottle of wine.”
But as far as Simon was concerned, it was the people that made Brooklyn – and the entire New York City – so unique. In this part of town, the people he saw were primarily hipsters dressed in frayed vintage clothes, wearing oversized black-rimmed glasses. When he went to Manhattan, many of the people he saw looked like they had enough money to buy the entire city.
And that’s what he loved about New York. It attracted the best and the brightest from all over the world, the kind of people who wanted to achieve, achieve, achieve! Whether it was in finance or arts or whatever, the people of New York wanted to achieve. You could inhale their ambition as soon as you stepped on the dirty subway or opened your apartment window overlooking some rusty fire escape.
He was reminded of a quote from author E.B. White, a quote he recently saw on a friend’s Facebook wall:
“There are roughly three New Yorks: There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. […] Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.”
Ah, the starry-eyed New York settlers! Simon was one of them.
While he was thinking all that, 8 o’clock came and Gina’s white rickety van pulled up nearby.
“You guys still alive?” she asked, handing Simon and Jo white envelopes.
They ripped them open and counted their money for the week. Each had $200. This wasn’t going to solve Simon’s biggest problem, the monthly rent of $800. But holding that money was great. Ten awesome, amazing, crisp bills. In his chest, he felt the onset of something he hadn’t experienced for months – joy.