The END OF MY COLLEGE CAREER, Part II: THE UNEXCITING CONCLUSION
To read the more interesting Part I first, go to: http://www.addledwriter.blogspot.com/2012_04_01_archive.html#7767805703886587017
On or around January 5, 1993, I tried to get into my dorm, but this time, my ID card didn’t work.
The security guard at the front desk looked puzzled. “You live here,” she said, and buzzed me in.
After that, I would slip in through the visitors’ gate when the guard wasn’t looking, or if I happened to see someone I knew, I asked them to sign me in.
Classes stared again, but not for me. I was a woman without a campus. I kept sleeping on my roommates’ couch.
Soon I looked in the campus paper and rented a room for $275 in an apartment with a chemistry grad student who lived three blocks off campus. I took the subway downtown to Odd Lot and paid $30 for a futon and hauled it back and plopped it on my rug to sleep on at night. All of my life’s possessions were in a few boxes.
I had managed to save a little money over the past summer and from my new job. For $1,000, I bought a Macintosh Classic, my first computer. That way I wouldn’t have to keep going to the library to write and to update my resume, or to work on my fiction. My new roomie said that her ex-roommate was a writer and had used a discarded door that was left in the hallway as a desk. I found the door, positioned it on top of two milk crates, and stationed my Macintosh on it.
From then through May, I went to my internship in Trenton twice a week, and worked at a heavily windowed building on Arch Street in downtown Philly for the other three. The building was near the Ben Franklin Bridge and I enjoyed watching the light bounce off the cars heading to New Jersey each morning. I wondered when it would be my turn to leave. I sometimes took the train to New York for publishing job interviews, even though the three-hour trip each way on commuter trains was long and expensive. I also had time to enjoy the Penn campus, going to more club meetings.
I landed a few second interviews for jobs, requiring me to head back to New York on the train. I found out that the Helmsley Hotel had bathrooms on the first floor that you could access without staying there, so I often used them to freshen up before an interview. I walked all around the city in heels because it didn’t dawn on me to use sneakers and then switch.
In May, a girl I knew who had graduated from Penn the year before me had a room for rent in her apartment in Weehawken, N.J. for $330 per month. $330 per month! I could afford that. It wasn’t in New York, but commuting would just mean paying a dollar for a shuttle bus through the Lincoln Tunnel. There was even a view of the Empire State Building from the apartment bathroom.
I hadn’t realized there were affordable ways to live so close to New York City.
I finished my internship in Trenton, gave notice to the disability job in Philly, and loaded up all my stuff in a junky used car to head north.
I lived in Weehawken for three months, temping and still looking for that full-time job in the publishing mecca of New York. During the recession, it was difficult to find any work, and I was competing with every English major on the planet – including women who had taken the fabled Radcliffe Publishing Course. The jobs started at $17,000 to $23,000. One job as an assistant for a literary agency was paying $16,000.
Luckily I had the typing skills to secure lucrative temp assignments. Even though the agencies insisted on testing us on typewriters, I clocked in at 80 words per minute.
But three days after I moved to Weehawken, I got sick.
I was sitting at a temp job in my navy blue suit and having chills.
At home, my insides felt heavy.
I looked up the doctors who would take my insurance. There was one a mile away in Hoboken, a city I’d never been to. My dad had mentioned that it was becoming known as a hot town for young people just out of college. It was a mile square in area and directly across the water from midtown Manhattan.
I headed out in my car. When I got there, I was amazed. A mayoral election was being held. Since I was interested in politics, I looked around curiously.
One group of people was clustered around a huge electric sign that said “Big election today.” Folks were yelling at each other across Washington Street, the main thoroughfare. Also on that street: Brownstones, historic buildings, bars, restaurants.
The doctor examined me, asked for a urine sample, and said I probably had hepatitis A (the kind you get from eating contaminated food). I figured the food trucks of West Philly were to blame. The doctor said I would have to stay home for several weeks to recover. It was my first full week on my own in (well, near) the big city, and now I couldn’t earn a living.
While I was home in bed, my roommate, who worked for a publishing company, brought me freelance editing assignments to do. I revised my novel. I wrote forlorn letters to friends, most of whom did not have e-mail yet. Summer got hotter.
I got a call from a young editorial assistant at a publishing company in response to a book I had submitted. She said her company was interested and not to send it anywhere else. Yesss! That was welcome news. It was a book full of lists of Gen X pop culture called “The Twentysomething Fact Book.” But in the end, nothing came of it.
Eventually I started temping again. In September, I moved to Hoboken, taking an apartment share for $375 per month.
Over the next few months, I worked at some long-time temp assignments and even got a job with a Democratic political consultant in New York (more on that another day, maybe). That job came to a crashing halt when the consultant failed to pay his bills. I kept looking for something in book publishing.
In spring, more than a year after I’d graduated, a full-time job opened covering Hoboken for the town newspaper. It was, in some ways, more alluring than publishing: I’d be dealing with fact rather than fiction, what I wrote would have an impact on people’s lives, and I could walk around town during the coming summer and get to know my neighbors. I was tempted to take it. But as usual, I didn’t make things too easy for myself. I told myself that I should continue trying for a publishing job in New York, even though I kept jumping through hoops.
I thought about the reporting job. I could spend that spring and summer doing something I loved. Why kill myself trying to commute to the Big Apple every day when I could cover Hoboken?
But was I dooming myself in the long run, since I’d gotten a bit turned off to journalism in college? The career progression would be to move from a weekly to a daily paper, and I really didn’t want to write about murder and crime for a living.
In the end, I took the job. I got a new apartment and it happened to be just four blocks from the newspaper office. I pinned the painting of the dove on a bulletin board on my bedroom wall. I’ve been in Hoboken ever since.