When I was 27, I decided to leave PR and instead become an extremely successful magazine writer. I quit my job, which was terrible anyway, and took an internship at a now-shuttered magazine with a popular component website. All the writers there were desperately smart and cool, and for the most part, younger than me with very few exceptions. I felt like a fish out of water, a very old fish at 27 (which now, ugh, really?), but I came to really like it and convinced myself it was the path to magazine writing success. Toward the end of my internship, the website’s editor-in-chief, a man I really liked and admired, asked me if I wanted to interview for a full-time job on his side of the operation. I eagerly accepted. My first internship out of the gate and I was already getting a job interview? Clearly I had chosen correctly in my new career path, was well on my way to being Vanessa Grigoriadis Jr., and life was great and always would be.
The day of the interview I was extremely nervous. I dressed in what I thought was an outlet-appropriate outfit: a pair of white, work-appropriate, shorts, a modest yet cool shirt, and a pair of brand new, then-trendy gladiator sandals. Deep down, I didn’t feel I was good enough to be part of this hip intelligentsia, but thought if I looked the part, and just really, earnestly tried, maybe I could be. The editor took me to his local watering hole for our chat at noon. He ordered bourbon. I ordered a beer. Food, I realized too late, wasn’t on the docket.
I hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning. As quick background, I’m a pretty cheap date. Two beers in, I’m looking for the dance floor and if one isn't handy, my immediate standing space or chair will do just fine. And this is great in a bar or club! But in an interview, when you’re nervous, trying to sound smart, and also the skinniest you’ve been in years because you’ve been subsisting on ramen and spaghetti for months trying to make this new career “happen” — getting drunk quickly is not as great a quality as it might seem. Making the situation even more uncomfortable, as we rounded drink number two and moved onto three, it became obvious — to the both of us — that I wasn’t the right person for the job. He needed someone who knew politics well, who knew the cool bands before the hipsters even did, and who would feel comfortable discussing these topics on-camera — and that just wasn’t me. Even now, at 31, I find myself analyzing, more often than I’d like if we’re being honest, the very real and problematic shortcomings of One Direction and The Wanted, whom I discovered via my 14-year-old cousin on Facebook rather than my keen eye for the British teen pop scene. So as I got significantly more buzzed pretending I wasn’t, I was also growing significantly more sad — and these are feelings that, in my vast experience, rarely mix well! But the worst was yet to come.
Quick background number two: in my entire life, I have never fallen down from drinking. Thrown up? More times than I can count. Woken up face down on the bed fully dressed? Duh. Scrolled through my phone and gasped out loud in abject horror? Of course. But falling down? Just not something I do. But as we exited the bar, my brand new, smooth-soled gladiator sandal made contact with a street-hardened, weather-worn glob of New York City gum so black and shiny you could see your reflection in it. In the blink of an eye, my left foot was out from underneath me and I landed on my left wrist so hard I felt the bones crunch up and in. By the next blink, I had shot to my feet so fast, bullets everywhere stopped to applaud. Two seconds, that’s all the entire episode took, but it happened so quickly the editor actually said, “Did you just fall?” which I know he did not mean to say. It was just that shocking. I said the only thing that came to mind — “I am SO SORRY!”
We walked back to the office making the world’s worst small talk. We couldn’t say goodbye quickly enough, we were both so embarrassed for the other. I made as if to go to my desk, but I actually turned right back around, left the office, and texted my supervisor that I had an emergency and needed to take the rest of the day. Then I started walking. About 10 steps into the walk, I started crying. The office for the magazine was in the 50s on the east side. I cried all the way to Soho. Somewhere in the middle, I called my mom, blubbering about how I would never amount to anything, that life was over, and that my only wish was that I had kept falling into a hole that should have magically opened and transported me into a world where bad things never happen to good people. She tried to assure me it couldn’t have been that bad, I assured her it was actually worse, hung up the phone and cried some more.
Miles later, I found myself on Broome Street standing outside a store with beautiful dresses in the window. I wiped my tears and went inside. You know what’s worse than falling down while accidentally drunk in front of someone you are trying your hardest to impress? Standing in the center of a room filled with beautiful things you can’t afford. In fact, what’s worse than terrible? That’s what this is. Compelled to somehow make the situation worse, I found myself drawn to a gorgeous gold silk dress with a jade green bow. It was the cheapest dress in the store at $80 (the most I had ever spent on anything at the time) and it looked nice on me. I shuffled my way to the cashier, charged it to my just-about-maxed credit card, and stepped outside, where I immediately felt like the world’s worst cliche. I started crying again, except now tears of extreme guilt flowed just as freely as the sad ones. I looked up and saw a bar across the street. I decided I would go drinking alone because why stop now? Drinking had brought me this far, let it carry me home. But when I got inside, I realized I hadn’t ever drank alone in public before, and got cold feet and asked if I could sit at a table instead of the bar.
When the waiter came, I got double cold feet and ordered a coffee along with my beer, which, looking back, looks stranger than just ordering a single drink, but it felt right at the time. In any case, I opened a book and decided that for as long as I could make these two beverages last, I was going to read and pretend the entire day had never even started. A few minutes later, I looked up to see what the only other patron in the restaurant was doing. To my surprise, it was Kristen Schaal. At the time, Flight of the Conchords was still on TV and I had developed a decent girl crush on her after doing my research. I straightened up in my seat. She took a phone call. I imagined it was her agent on the line and they were talking about something cool. I tried to eavesdrop but failed. It was no matter. I went back to my book. I finished my beer and coffee and left the bar with her still talking on the phone. If Kristen Schaal and I were in a bar together, how bad could it be? I took it as a sign. Four years went by. Recently, I sat in the center of a sweltering Central Park for a Comedy Central Summerstage event. I was with co-workers who have become friends. I live in a better apartment. I’m in a healthy relationship. I'm happy. I thought back to that insane, sad summer day and how it ended at a bar on Broome Street, when New York City put Kristen Schaal and I in the same place, at the same time. I remembered the question I asked myself — “how bad could it be?” and then I zoomed back to the present and smiled at how far away from that girl I now am. I realized I finally had my answer. It’s never that bad. You always wind up exactly where you’re supposed to, even if you have to trip and fall to get there.
Previously: Scenes From My Recent Cruise.
Lia LoBello works in public relations and marketing by day, but spends her nights crafting, cooking, and watching real-crime television. She blogs about her projects and recipes at Pretty|Delicious. She lives in Astoria, Queens, with her boyfriend G.C. and her dog, Pelusa.