ARIELLA PAPA: writer, mother, friend

An Excerpt from

“On the Verge”

by Ariella Papa

Sometimes I think I should have just had my nervous breakdown and gotten it over with. In high school, okay, maybe it would have been a little dramatic, but in college? I know I could have done it then. Lots of people did. I could have created a small but forgivable scandal. Nothing bad ever really happens to girls who take “time off.” It’s cool. I could have gone from gossip for a week to a point of reference for depressed women in future semesters. I kept waiting for the right time to give in to my depression, but I was too busy holding everyone’s hair as they puked up cafeteria pesto and Natty Lite.

I plan to talk to my bosses about doing a little writing for the magazine. Mind you Bicycle Boy is hardly what I had in mind when I spent those four and a half years not breaking down in college, but it’s a start, right? Something for my portfolio. Something my mom could boast about to her cronies who couldn’t care less, “Yeah, a journalism degree and she just did an exposé on helmet straps.”

A few months back I wrote a totally fabricated piece on a man who fell off his bike as a child and refused to ride. In the story, my character, the narrator, had become a surgeon, only to feel something was missing. He had no release after extracting all those hearts, until he returned to his first love — cycling. The fresh air calmed him, he shed pounds and reconnected with the outdoorsman he yearned to be. I wrote it from a thirty-two-year-old guy’s perspective and it was complete bullshit, but I was appealing to the demographic. I mentioned it to my bosses and they said we could talk after that month’s deadline. We never did.
Unfortunately one of our major advertisers, a water bottle manufacturer, is under investigation. Seems some guy in Dearcreek, Montana — no doubt one of our readers — got very sick after a twelve-mile trek. He claims the water tasted funny and some scientists are thinking this brand may not be the most hygienic. Luckily, it hasn’t been publicized, but you can well imagine it isn’t the best time to broach anything with the big men.
I comfort myself with the knowledge that the interns think I’m cool. They respect my power because I provide the supplies and order lunch. If they’re nice to me it’s a plethora of Post-it notes and maybe even a slight fat content in the bland vegetarian lunches I am forced to order. Also, one of the interns is exactly a year and three months my senior. She would kill for my job.
I have been working as an assistant for this magazine for almost seven months. I was temping for the large magazine conglomerate that owns this and many others, Prescott Nelson Inc. — I’m sure you know it. Right here in the crossroads of the world, Times Square. Although I harassed the human resources department to let me work for their feminist magazine, Angry Beavers, they assured me Bicycle Boy was a great place to be. I sucked it up, because I noticed a cosmetic ad or two slipping into the back pages of Angry Beavers. This allowed me to create the line, “Well, I wanted to work for Angry Beavers but I question their agenda. Fabian Nail Products has some shady investors that smell right wing to me.” This usually got the desired nod of understanding to the slackers or barflies I was explaining myself to. I was anything but a sellout.

The barfly I happened to be explaining myself to on the night the water bottle scandal erupted (well I guess “scandal” might be a tad exaggerated, but this is New York and I am all about image) was not just your average white shirt and khaki accountant that dressed down for a night of fun. This guy told me he had perhaps one of the coolest jobs in the city — he was an A&R guy, or at least reported directly to one. He alluded to a lot of things as he plied me with vodka collins (my drink of choice; I had switched from gin and tonics three months ago — too college).
I noticed, as he was explaining the hype over a new trip-hop artist who only pretended to be British, that he had chest hair curling out from his black T-shirt. I found it strangely attractive, a sign that I was indeed maturing. His name was Zeke and we were just beginning to do the drunken lean-in when Tabitha, whose place I was crashing at, staggered over to us and slurred her desire to leave. It was with great reluctance that I agreed.
I knew it would be uncool to do any kind of deed with him so early in our relationship (listen to me naming our children) but I must admit my plan to take over the city wasn’t quite going as expected. This might be largely in part to my lack of a power partner. I needed the kind of man who could help me, support me, be my date to all the too urban charity functions, and who secretly aspired to be a filmmaker. I wanted a guy I could feel comfortable referring to in my essay in a trendy online magazine. A guy who, like me, was on the verge.

My head was spinning in the back of the cab. Tabitha was slumped over on my shoulder snoring softly (alliterations are my forte). I wondered if I would have to carry her up the six flights of stairs to her apartment. Maybe she’d do a nap by the toilet and I could snag the bed. I shirked any pleasantries with Yaleek, our driver, who was competently zipping along, and thought of Zeke’s promises. He had said we should go out sometime for sushi, sake, and cannoli. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t dare hide my delight. This was the life I wanted to be living. Who knew that this midtown watering hole could prove to be so fruitful? In a daring temptress of a move I had taken his number and not offered mine. I was golden, this was the start of it. I was taking Tabitha’s bed. There was no stopping me. I was going to be running the magazine soon enough.
What you really want to know is what happened with Zeke. Well, so does Tabitha. Although I only met him on Thursday and spent all weekend with her partying, recovering and watching Valley of the Dolls, she wants to know if I disobeyed her dating mandates.
“Tab, what was the last thing you said to me on my way home yesterday?”
“First off, I’m Tabitha, not Tab. I’m neither calorie conscious nor from the eighties.” She loves that line. “Secondly, I know what I told you, but who knows, once you crossed state lines the Jersey girl in you may have come out and disobeyed.” Aggh, as always, the Bridge and Tunnel stigma rears its ugly head. If only I lived in Manhattan, I could squelch it once and for all.

“You said wait three days. I’m waiting more than three days. Above and beyond what is required. Although, I know he’s beyond those boyish games.”
“Why, because he wasn’t an ex frat boy? You don’t even know that. He just impressed you by knowing what chopsticks were. The fact that you took his number means he probably thinks you are a feminist, which you are, but as far as he’s concerned that means you like weird sex. The moment you call he is going to start polishing the cuffs and the dog collar, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but you know you are strictly a first date missionary style ‘take me to a place I’ve never been before’ girl.”
“Do you ever take a breath?”
“Don’t have the time. Oh, shit!”
“The Big C has the Prada suit on. She’s going to assert some power today.”

“I thought Prada meant she had her period and was retaining water.”
“That’s the black suit. Don’t call me today. And remember, wait till tomorrow to call the musician.”
“A&R guy…” I say as she hangs up on me.
Lorraine, my supervisor, is standing by my desk when I hang up. She hates the city, but is always asking me where the hot spots are. If only I was as cool in reality as Lorraine’s husband and dogs must think I am. Lorraine gives me data to input in the assignment grid. This is what I am paid eighteen fifty an hour to do. Other people stand over hot grills making French fries for a quarter of what I make. I type names into slots of stories that are being published over the next few months. Who is working on the bike of the month, what is the best bike seat, and, for fun, what books have significant cycling scenes in them. (Like any of our readers ever get off their bikes.)
Inputting this data is tearfully boring, and since I have a week until it is supposed to be in the system I put it off as long as possible. I can do it ridiculously quickly and it is my only real responsibility. The Internet only occupies so much of my time. I spend a lot of time staring at my screen saver, which is really just the standard stars that come with Windows. It was left behind from the last temp, whom I’m sure also spent a lot of her time staring at it. I know I could be using this time a lot better. I could be writing. I could be coming up with freelance articles and researching them (I have unlimited phone calls after all), I could be trying to contact other magazines to get a new job. But, for whatever reason, I spend a lot of time just sitting here. But, it’s all good — it’s New York.

For the past eighteen years, September has meant change. I looked forward to the fall because it meant new clothes, new classes, a new year. There is always that hope from kindergarten to my very last extra semester in college that something new and wonderful was going to happen. That anything bad that had happened in the past year was going to be magically wiped from the slate.
I’ve been working since February, when I finally graduated and moved home. Despite a couple of storms, it was a mild winter. Mild enough to keep me deluded into thinking that maybe this was all some big summer vacation that was eventually going to end in either another leg of my academic career or fame and fortune. There is no way this, the tedium that is my life as an assistant, could be (gulp!) my life