ARIELLA PAPA: writer, mother, friend

An Excerpt From

Up and Out

by Ariella Papa

Prologue – Mo’ Money Mo Problems

I like to think of money in terms of the rock shrimp tempura at Nobu Next Door. When I take a cab I think, that’s about a third of a plate of tempura. So I prefer the subway. Sometimes, I don’t buy clothes because, that’s two to four plates worth. I try not to think about my rent in those terms. That might make a girl lose her appetite.

The city is filled with food. Everything from the beef cheek ravioli at Babbo to the pumpkin pomegranate soup at Mesa Grill. Don’t even get me started on the loads of possibilities opening up to me every week in the Dining In/Dining Out of the New York Times. It’s almost too overwhelming for this foodie to bear.

So every two weeks I invite a friend out for rock shrimp tempura, always with the spicy creamy sauce. It just sort of keeps things in perspective. In a city full of savory tempting substances, there’s got to be one thing that’s familiar.

I was your typical working girl struggling to make ends meet and pay off my credit card and student loans. Next thing I knew ON THE VERGE magazine named the character I had created and animated a feminist icon for the tween generation.

Esme’s Enlightments was just a bunch of short interstitials, which are like short film commercials, I worked on between animating title sequences and doing promo graphics for Explore Family! They were an upstart channel trying to make their way in the tough world of kids TV. Unfortunately they had no animated series but as soon as Esme got on the radar, (and who would think any one even read that magazine?) Hackett the head of programming called me into his office and set unbelievable deadlines for me to get an actual episode produced. He wanted me to turn my sixty second shorts into an actual TV show!

I loved my character, Esme. She may have been a bespectacled smart-aleck thirteen year old, who was a glorified imaginary friend, but she was my baby. She was comfortable with herself and her smarts. Everything I hadn’t been at thirteen, everything I still wished that I was now. I couldn’t believe people liked Esme so much. Overnight, I got a staff, a promotion, a fat raise and a hair cut. I busted my ass to get the first 22 minute episode of Esme’s Enlightments ready for the Upfront, where all the advertisers would lay their money down for the following season.

It was a huge success. The licensing department worked up all these plush Esme dolls and created an Esme’s board game and the advertisers spent their money if there was no tomorrow. Hackett gave an inspiring speech about how Esme was going to help shape the future of the network and even though she was a girl, she had tested well with boys who thought she was a techhead. I felt tears coming to my contacts when he talked about how Esme had tons of possibilities and it was all thanks to one young woman who believed. Me.

I stood up and got a huge round of applause. If my life were the movie I often wish it was, the credits could have rolled right then. Okay maybe, Tommy my recently exed boyfriend who I still found time to have stress relieving fantastic sex with, would have come from the side of the stage and lifted me up into a freeze frame, just like in Dirty Dancing. Then the audience to my movie could have left with feel good smile that you always see in the commercials for blockbusters.

Like many people who work in TV, I’m obsessed with film.

But, he didn’t come and the credits didn’t roll and even though it was a really great feeling. I still had to produce 13 episodes in a matter of months and I barely had time to breathe, much less properly blow out my new haircut.

The first few episodes of Esme’s Enlightenments The Series got exceptional ratings and press, but my work wasn’t done. We are constantly rolling out new episodes and that meant late nights. And believe me, all the delivery food I have to order in to my office doesn’t satisfy this food addict’s jones.

But, I was an adult and these were adult responsibilities and I had to deal, right?

So, I was out for an every second week dinner at Nobu with my roommate, Lauryn. I barely saw Lauryn with the hours I kept. When I arrive, she has already ordered a mango martini for me. We kiss hello and I take a bite of the dried piece of mango that comes with the drink.

“You seem very happy.” I say. Since Lauryn realized her marriage to Jordan was really only a starter marriage and his ideas about commitment involved spending her money and sleeping with other women, she had become very bitter. It was nice to see her smile and not mention that I was twenty-five minutes late.

“Well, Rebecca, it’s finally over.”


“My D-I-V-O-R-C-E became final today,” she sang.

“Wow! That’s great,” I said. I’m not sure I really think so. I mean, we’re barely 27 and she is divorced, but I guess it’s cool because she is happy and Jordan is a dick. I hold up my martini glass and clink it into hers and a little bit of our drinks spills.

We order our meals, we each get shitake mushroom salads and she gets yellowtail sashimi with jalepeno. I approve, knowing I will be able to sneak a bite. I try not to associate with anyone who don’t believe in sharing foods.

We get more drinks. I’m exhausted, but kind of enjoying just listening to Lauryn chatter about her day after going to the lawyer. She is telling me about all the birds in Central Park and how she had always been a closet birder.

Suddenly, I realize that Lauryn is telling me something big.

“Wait a second! What?”

“I’m quitting my job and going up to a study the feeding habits of piping plovers on Martha’s Vineyard this summer. I’m also applying to get a Phd in Ecology in Boston.”

“But, what about our apartment? Your apartment?”

“You can have it, if you want. I just figured you’re never there and the lease is up in June and you’re probably moving back in with Tommy soon anyway.”

“Why? I’m not dating him anymore.”

“But, you’re still sleeping with him.”

“Three times!” I said holding up my fingers. “Three times in five months. And they were all after extremely stressful days.”

“This city is full of stress,” Lauryn said suddenly, strangely at complete peace with herself. “That’s why I’m moving out. Anyway, I think you’re forgetting a few drunk dials.”

“They were stressed out drunk dials.” She smiles at me. She has been more cheerful since starting therapy.

‘You can keep it if you want. I bet you can afford it now with your promotion.” The waitress sets my tempura down in front of me. For the first time ever, I wasn’t hungry for it. There was no way I could afford $2,100 a month and ever expect to see this plate in front of me again.

The next sip of my drink tasted more like vodka than mango and only one thought occurred to me: What if this was my last plate of rock shrimp tempura ever?