When I was twenty-nine and a regular participant in conversations (if we were going to hand in the receipts to our office accounting departments we called them "brainstorming sessions") about What's Happening in America Today, I was an associate producer at a local television magazine show called New York Up Early. Despite not being on a major network, it had two million viewers in the metropolitan area. Hosted by Bonnie Crawley and Samantha Frank, a pair of thirtyish women positioned to "complement" each other (one was perky, the other, who wore nerd-chic glasses, quirky), the program dealt with a variety of New York issues: mob-related crime, the Bryant Park fashion shows, the rooftop gardens of rich people. I was the Lifestyle correspondent, a position I'd achieved after five years of fetching espressos and making restaurant reservations for Up Early's bipolar, metabolically freakish senior producer, Faye Figaro (at five foot eleven, she weighed 119; she also threw staplers at people). Though my annual salary had been raised to a mere $31,900 (this made tolerable only by my rent-stabilized one-windowed cell on West Ninety-fourth Street), I enjoyed the privileges of a minor celebrity in that I appeared on camera and interviewed people about What New Yorkers Are Thinking About Today, which, in most cases, was what Faye, Bonnie, Samantha, I and the rest of the staff (all female except one gay guy) were thinking about.
Some examples of my journalistic endeavors:
* -Lucinda Trout on takeout sushi and how it has replaced the soup and sandwich for the midtown office worker's lunch of choice.
* -Lucinda Trout on thong underwear: can you learn to live with a permanent wedgie?
* -Lucinda Trout on bridal registry etiquette: is it fair to expect your friend to spend eighty dollars on a single piece of flatware (especially when your friend has no marriage prospects!)?
* -Lucinda Trout on adopted babies from China: the Upper West Side is overrun with them.
What are the implications for the future mating patterns of this generation? In 2015, there will be seven teenage girls for every teenage boy on the Upper West Side. Are we not simply creating an equal and opposite paradigm of the unbalanced gender ratio in China? Will these girls have to move to Beijing to find a husband? Will Manhattan become a playground for men with Asian fetishes?
The Chinese baby story didn't delve as deeply as I would have liked. It ended up essentially being a plug for a store on Columbus Avenue called Asian Infant Accessories, which sold teething rings and mobiles in Asian designs so that the children wouldn't lose touch with their heritage. I almost quit over that. But I almost quit over half the stories I did. I had a degree in nineteenth-century American literature from Smith. My goal was to work for PBS or National Public Radio. And somehow I'd ended up holding a microphone in one hand and sliding a finger of the other hand under the thong underwear of a willing clerk at a SoHo underwear boutique to show "how roomy a thong can really be."
The day I decided not to quit over the Chinese baby story was the day my landlord slipped a note under my door saying the building management was changing hands and that starting September 1, my rent would be raised to twenty-one hundred dollars a month. It was June 1. I needed to ask Faye for a raise, though it was unlikely I could get her to triple my salary, which is what would have been required to stay.
Faye wanted to see me in her office anyway. Though it was muggy and 87 degrees outside she was wearing her usual getup--skintight black leather pants, a sleeveless (apparently wool) turtleneck sweater, and Jimmy Choo mules with three-inch heels. Her black hair was tied in a severe French twist that appeared to be pulling back the skin on her temples (a do-it-yourself face-lift technique? This itself was a possible story idea...). Faye's background was in the art world--she was rumored to have been, in the 1960s, the lover of either Gerard Malanga or Cookie Mueller, depending upon who you asked. From there she had migrated into the fashion world and eventually into television and she was as out of place in the business as I was, though in the completely opposite way. While she looked like a fifty-year-old version of Lara Flynn Boyle (though every year that I'd worked for her she'd claimed to be thirty-seven) I looked like a graduate student who sprang for good haircuts but wouldn't shell out for an iron. I was perpetually rumpled. Faye, for her part, was practically illiterate. She had been hired for her celebrity connections; I for my ability to write all of her memos and anticipate the fluctuations of her volatile brain chemistry.
From The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum. Copyright Meghan Daum 2003. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher Viking Press.
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