This afternoon I was laying in bed nursing Theo when I had one of those Talking Heads “how did I get here? … my god, what have I done?” moments. That loop of song somehow led me to think about my love affair with New York City. This particular affair was a case of fast and furious infatuation. One moment I was working in Los Angeles as an assistant media buyer, fresh out of college, and the next I was on an airplane to JFK. Or at least it felt that speedy. If I rewind a bit, to just three weeks before that plane ride, I’d find myself arriving super early to work at the ad agency on a Friday morning. Lo and behold, there was one of my favorite colleagues furtively faxing resumes. “Around town?” I asked. No, she was faxing resumes across the country. Faxing resumes to New York, to be exact. Ding, ding, ding! Something within me sparked. A small fire began to burn. (Cue Rod Roddy: Jennifer Liberts, come on down! You’re the next contestant on Change Your Life!“) My brain started going a mile a minute. Like some oddly costumed contestant I was suddenly running down the game show ramp, resume in hand, ready to lay it all on the line for a chance to spin the big wheel.
I went home that evening and told my parents I would be moving to New York City. Soon. And I already had a roommate! (My mother was eerily calm.) The next day, in the early morning hours at the ad agency, I started sneakily faxing off my resume to New York. It didn’t take long before I started hearing back from employers and booking interviews. Back then everyone wanted to hire a kid fresh out of college who didn’t care how much money she made as long as it landed her right in front of the big wheel of New York City. I booked my flight. It was on. I had never before been so resolute about anything in my life. By God, I was moving.
I flew to New York by myself, sublet an apartment for a week, ate greasy food from a little Bodega, cried a little on the phone to my mom (“how did I get here? … my god, what have I done?”)(she was eerily calm), and landed a job as an editorial assistant to Sean Frawley (you must say his name with a brogue) the president and publisher of Howell Book House, which was part of Macmillan Publishing and Simon & Schuster.
On my first day of work I took the subway, and as I made my way up Broadway, some guy grabbed my umbrella from out of my backpack. I think he was probably aiming for the backpack but accidentally grabbed the umbrella. Well, the umbrella got caught in the backpack. Being young, and stupid, I held onto the backpack for dear life and started yelling obscenities at the guy. After much pulling and tugging the umbrella came loose, he got it and promptly wacked me on the head with it and ran in the other direction. All for an umbrella. It wasn’t even raining. I walked into my new cubicle stunned and a bit shaken. Before I could even put said backpack down, Mr. Frawley bellowed from his office, “GIRL!” (I looked left. Looked right. Was his granddaughter visiting?) “GIRL! Get me a coffee, light and sweet. And a bagel, toasted with butter.” And down the elevator I went again, into the newly mean streets of New York City. This would be the daily ritual, but after a few days I learned to just pick up his snack on the way to work. Many mornings he would say, “Shut the door. We have business to attend to,” and then pull out a copy of the Irish Times. He would then quiz me on Irish history for twenty minutes.
Sean Frawley truly had a twinkle in his eye. Not only was he brilliant, he was kind (if not a bit stuck in traditional 40′s ways of thinking about women), funny, quick to laugh (the kind of laugh that made the office walls shake), and very invested in the success of his editorial assistants. After a few weeks he called me into his office. “THE TURTLE,” he said, with a grave tone. “What do you know about the turtle?” I think I launched into a story about how when I was a kid my family had rescued a turtle from a two lane highway in Pennsylvania and named it Langhorne. Before I could finish he handed me a manuscript: “The Turtle: An Owner’s Guide to a Happy, Healthy Pet.” I pretty much floated back to my little cubicle. My very first manuscript. To edit. By myself. I could develop a relationship with an author! I could work with photographers. Turtles! Weren’t they all the rage? I recall a couple of weeks of passing the manuscript back and forth to Mr. Frawley before he proclaimed, “Mizzzzz Libertzzzzz, you aren’t half bad.” Elation! Joy! Turtles! I was on my way to being an editor! Months passed and turtles led way to hedgehogs, then hedgehogs led way to lizards, rabbits, pugs, birds, and even hamsters!
All the while I was exploring New York City, making new friends, eating pints of Ben & Jerry’s and smoking cigarettes with my roommate. Every street seemed to have something more fascinating than the next to behold. Every apartment was lit up at night with the lives of strangers. Interesting strangers! Weird strangers with their own stories unfolding. There were bus rides, subways, the fish gut streets of Chinatown, the always-having-a-festival streets of Little Italy (where my roommate and I first lived), lions in front of the New York Public Library. And on and on and on. All thanks to a fax, a friend, a chance, and a touch of bravery. And so began my love story with New York City, one that continues to this day. Now if I could just convince my sweet husband to move back…