From One Thing To The Next

I’m not sure if it’s normal to ask your boss for his opinion before you give your two weeks notice, but that’s what I did anyway. I had been extremely uneasy for the past 24 hours, ever since I got the job offer while I was in the middle of a meeting the day before. At the time I felt like I was going to either throw up or cry (three months later I realize it was undoubtedly a gross overreaction). Tim told me to sleep on it, and I shouldn’t make any quick decisions, and he didn’t think I should leave Tech Start Up, and I wasn’t sure I should either. Tech Start Up was my first real job, and I had became very comfortable and at home there over the past one year and ten months. Tim was my boss, but he was also my friend, and when I pulled him into the break room the next day to tell him I was going to accept the offer at Ad Agency, we cheers’d with our water cups.

Working at Ad Agency is a completely different lifestyle than working at Tech Start Up. It’s not better or worse, exactly. Even though I have the same job title, I’m doing very different things at a very different pace and with a very different attitude. At Tech Start Up I was on a marketing team of one for a long time, with no one to really tell me what to do or how to do it. I became self-taught, in a way, and made the rules up as I went. I was the voice of the company, and I truly cared about what that voice sounded like and how we presented ourselves to our customers, and the world. A month into working at Ad Agency I still referred to Tech Start Up as “we” when my new co-workers asked me about my old job as if I was still employed there. I missed it. I obsessively checked Tech Start Up’s Facebook and Twitter accounts to see what what was happening and if my replacement had started yet. “They didn’t fire you,” Zack would remind me. “You left them.”

The view from the 25th floor.
The view from the 25th floor.

The thing that made me most nervous about Ad Agency was that I didn’t think I was creative or driven enough to actually be hired there. My interview was at the Royal Tavern over a beer and we had talked more about my love life and what I like to do in my spare time than my actual work experience. Ad Agency has a reputation for long hours and quick turnover and I wasn’t sure I was cut out for such an environment. At my Tech Start Up goodbye happy hour, Tim asked me what my career goals were.

“I don’t know. I don’t really have any career goals.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you want to become a partner at Ad Agency some day?”

Our team had just done a round of lemon drops and I was feeling it. My eyes brimmed with tears as I looked down at my shot glass.

“I don’t know. I kind of just want to see where this takes me. And I want to learn a lot. Then I want to raise babies and stuff.”

“You wanna be a good mom. That’s cool.”

I felt stupid the next morning, even though I know Tim respects that sort of decision. It’s not that I don’t have “career goals,” I just honestly don’t really have a plan. And yeah, I do want to raise babies. I also want to write a young adult novel.

It’s been about ten weeks since I started at Ad Agency and for the first time, “climbing the ladder” has organically appeared on my radar and doesn’t seem nearly as scary as it once did. I’m learning so much, so fast, and the pace at which Ad Agency works is thrilling, if not satisfyingly exhausting. My office hours have shifted. Zack and I eat dinner later and I work out in the morning. I’ve adjusted.

The new plan is to seize opportunity, take it, and move along. It works or it doesn’t. In this case, it’s working (for now). I have a new boss named Annie who’s been in the biz for more than half my life and she’s teaching me everything there is to know. (Advertising language and tech speak are two very, very different things, by the way). She wants me to think as big as possible, and I am pushing my brain in ways I forgot existed.

Every once in awhile it hits me that ten years ago I was a sophomore in high school. Sometimes I think about my sixteen-year-old self who used to stare and prod and contemplate in front of the bathroom mirror and wonder, with a great sense of both fear and happiness, if she ever would have expected any of this.

House Hunters

Our realtor knows us pretty well by now. She knows she has to bring snacks in the car or else I’ll get cranky and that Zack will only consider homes with basement storage so that he can have his bikes and beer brewing. The man wants a man cave, and I don’t blame him. We’ve only been looking at houses for a little over a month, but it feels like a lot longer than that. The listings have started to blur together. Row homes are cool because they feel adult and complete. Condos are enticing because there’s less of a commitment in the event that we want to leave Philly. We’ve probably seen two dozen places.

Liz has a bright personality and a deep, throaty laugh that catches you a little off guard because she’s so tiny and high-energy. I met her when I participated in Le Grand Continental, and she gave me her card after our last performance. “Standing up to serve you!” The card has a cut-out of her body that flips upward. She orders new ones when she changes her hair color.

We go looking on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons, mostly. When we get in the car Liz blasts pop music and grins. “Are you ready to find your house today?!” We have lists and lock box codes and open houses and rating scores. Most places rate a six or seven and we’re striving for that nine-point-five. There are three things we want the most: closet space and outdoor space and counter space. Oh, and a decent block. Gotta have a decent block. Liz says when you buy a house it’s gonna be 80% of what you love and 20% of what you’re going to have to make your own. We understand. A small bathroom isn’t a deal breaker. A crack corner is. “You can change anything about a house except it’s location.”

We circle blocks and listen to Siri give directions. You think you know this city like the back of your hand, but then you forget about the side streets that only exist on one side of Broad. Liz constantly touches the talisman that hangs from her rearview mirror. She got it in Asia and she says it brings her good luck when it comes to finding parking spots. I believe her.

Last week we fell in love with one of Liz’s “wild cards,” a house on Madison Square, which is a historically certified block in Graduate Hospital. It’s one of those streets you can’t drive on- there’s a wide brick walkway and a well-kept garden that runs down the center. I had never heard of it before. It amazes me how much Graduate Hospital has changed in the past three years. Zack and I lived on 21st and South when we first moved to Philadelphia and there wasn’t much south of South. I know gentrification gets a bad rap, but I think it’s pretty great.

Madison Square was the first place we saw that I felt could be ours. The second time we walked in I got butterflies, like I was in the same room as a middle school crush. It was wide with high ceilings, loads of charm and character, counter space and outdoor space and a basement. No central air, but it wasn’t a deal breaker. Not a lot of closet space, but we could make it work. It was out of our price range, but it was vacant and had been on the market for almost three months. Liz said it was overpriced and we should give it a shot if we wanted to, so we put in an offer that night. I was terrified, but it was thrilling. In a matter of weeks, my entire life savings could be gone and Zack and I could own a house. I started pinning ideas on how to make the most out of a small bathroom.

The seller countered our first offer, slept on our second and denied our third. There was a $10,000 difference between our highest and his lowest, and I wish so badly that he would have just accepted it. I know everything happens for a reason, and what’s meant to be, will be, but goddamn, I wanted those built-in bookshelves. I wanted that dining room, I wanted that crown molding.

“You have to think about how you’re going to live,” Liz tells us often. “It’s going to be your house. How will you live in it?”

Cry When You Get Older

My grandma never comes to Pennsylvania. Last August was the first time in six years since she’s left her Florida condo for the likes of the northeast, and when she came up she stayed for a couple weeks. She was in Devon for my littlest brother’s graduation party, saw the family, met Zack. I didn’t think she’d be back for awhile, but my uncle is having surgery and she wanted to be there for him. She wanted to take care of him like another mother would, even when her son is sixty years old.

I was really excited to see her. I talk to my grandma on the phone every week or every other week, usually when I’m walking somewhere. Gotta walk 15 blocks? Time to call Leone. She’s always there, she always makes me laugh, she always wants to know what I’m wearing, who I’m seeing, and how much wine I’m going to drink. We like to gossip about celebrities and family members.

My office is really close to Suburban Station, which makes getting to suburbia a breeze. I took the 5:05 Express to Bryn Mawr with about a million other main line commuters and sat down with a book. I’m rereading “Local Girls,” by Alice Hoffman, which was one of my favorite Young Adult novels when I was of age. I plucked it off my bookshelf in Devon last time I was at home, along with “Chasing Redbird,” by Sharon Creech. When we approached Wayne, I took out my toiletry bag and started applying makeup, because I wasn’t wearing any. Eight hours at the office with wet hair, no makeup, a striped jersey dress and stinky cotton sandals. Professional? Eh.

I took out my blush and mascara, then hesitated. Uncapped the eyeliner and eyebrow pencil, because why not? Every time I see my grandma she tells me how I would benefit from eyebrow pencil. A few months ago I finally took her advice, bought the damn thing and you know what? My face looks way more complete. Grandma knows best. At least, mine does.

When I take the train to Devon from work I feel so grown up. I walk up Station Avenue, cross the five-way intersection, wave to the neighbors. I open the side door of my parents’ house, and my mother greets me from the kitchen, always. My grandma was in the living room and said slyly, “who’s that?” as I walked through the doorway, and immediately complimented me on my eyebrows, figure and face. She didn’t like my dark nailpolish, though. Five minutes and five hugs later, she gave me a beautiful gold ring she purchased in Florence in the 1970s. It is so very chic.

My brothers, parents, grandmother and Zack started sipping on wine, nibbling on a sharp cheese from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, when I brought up Le Grand Continental, which I started rehearsing for at the beginning of July and will continue until the performance weekend, which is the same weekend I turn twenty-five. Two hundred Philadelphians of all ages will perform a thirty minute performance piece in front of the Art Museum steps. My grandma laughed at the idea of me in a “dance recital.”

“Oh that’s right,” my mom said. “I think Justin has something that weekend, too.”

In case you didn’t know, my 19-year-old brother Justin plays guitar for a band called McLovins. They tour nearly every weekend in New England. They play festivals, concerts, and they are recording at the ESPN studios this week for the second time as Sportsnation’s house band.

“What, no,” I started in. “You have to come see me. You can’t miss this. You see Justin do everything.”

“We’ll see, I’m sure it will all work out.”

“But you drive everywhere for him! You watch him play all the tiiiiiime! Moooom!”

Zack kicked my foot under the table. “What?” I snapped.

“You’re whining.”

“I can talk to my mother, she’s my mother.”

But I was whining. And even though I knew it didn’t sound good, or professional, or adult-like, I didn’t care. I’ve been working hard, trying to memorize a half hours worth of choreography. I’m doing my part within the community! I’ve been putting four hours a week into this thing! And fuck, it’s going to be my birthday!

I asked Zack to accompany me to the garden to pick some rosemary for the dipping oil we were going to eat with dinner. “I turn into a child when I’m home, you realize that, right?”

I didn’t go up to my room at all. Most times, when I’m home for an afternoon or just for dinner, I don’t. I get lost in it. I open all the notebooks, the drawers, the closets. I read passed notes and finger through jewelry and shuffle papers. My room overwhelms me. So I avoid it.

I was planning to spend the night in Devon after Zack went back to Philadelphia, but the thought of not sleeping in my “own” bed at my parents’ (currently occupied by my grandma) was making me anxious. Like, how weird that for half a dozen years growing up I would never sleep anywhere but home, and now I’d rather be in my “own” bed, in Queen Village, with Zack. As I dumped a quick load of laundry into the dryer, I apologized to my mom for whining, or being rude, or as I often do, “jump down throats.”I felt bad. I always say the wrong things, say too much, get emotionally involved too easily- even after just one glass of zinfandel. She said not to worry, and that she wouldn’t miss my performance for anything. I made sure I’d see my grandma again sometime before she left to go back to the sunshine state and got into the passenger seat of Zack’s car.

After the doors were locked and teeth were brushed, Zack said out of nowhere, “You’re a good daughter.”

“Why?”

“You love your mother and grandmother so much. You treat your mom like she treats her mom. With care and love.”