I race through Times Square with half a chive cream cheese bagel in my purse, the other half in my mouth. Sixty degrees and humid, it's the wrong day to be wearing a down jacket, but I can't take it off: I have four full bags of clothing slung over my shoulders and one more in my hand. The gray sky cackles then breaks open in rain just as the handles of one of the paper bags tears through. Rip! Broadway splayed in a panoply of silk shirts.
People glance over and chuckle, but no one stops to help. I stride to a nearby bench and set the other bags down next to a homeless man who sings himself a Bill Withers tune. Then, I run to collect the shirts. My hair sticks to my forehead and inside my coat it feels like the Amazon, but I don't have an extra arm to carry the jacket.
So, I continue my trek through the urban jungle after scooping up the mess of clothes and I waddle five more blocks to the fashion stylist's office for whom I was working that day.
As a New York dreamer, you'll do just about anything to make the hard dollar. A friend of a friend knows someone that's looking for someone to do something and you, struggling to make ends meet, have become the point person even if that day it means scrubbing sweaty yoga mats or serving Tyra Banks eggs Benedict. These deviations from your real career path pay for your East Village apartment and fund the true dreams you keep alive. Actors, artists, writers, we're all struggled deviants of the same vein.
"Here are the receipts," the fashion stylist says. "I need you to return all these clothes to Macy's." I look down at three IKEA-sized bags that brim with shirts and pants.
"What do I tell them exactly, aren't they going to ask questions?"
"I don't know," she says "Just tell them that nothing fit or something."
I hesitate for a couple seconds, then with alacrity grab the fifty-pound bags and sling them over my shoulders smiling as Donna Summer's voice pops into my head saying, "She works hard for the money."
At Macy's, I sling the bags onto the counter as the cashier approaches.
"Can I help you?" she asks.
"Yes," I say, clearing my throat. "I'd like to make a return." I hand her the bundle of crumpled receipts. She looks them over.
"So, what did you want to return exactly?" she asks.
"Um, well... all of this." Then I begin to dump everything out in front of her.
"Oh. My. God," She says as she raises her palm to cover her mouth in devastation. Neither of us knows where to begin; I have no doubt she'd like to start with my execution as she grips the register's gun.
"But why!" she says shaking her head, rummaging through the mound of clothes as if it were the wreckage of a town destroyed by a hurricane.
I couldn't bring myself to deliver the lines I was coached to say. So, I did what any reasonable, starving New Yorker would do. I lied.
"Well you see," I said, "I just started working as a personal assistant for this rich woman. And... well... uh I showed up today and she told me to return all these clothes. She has a shopping addiction." There's a long stare down, then an expression of mutual understanding. We're both working hard for the money.
"Alright then, let's do it," she says. "But you go back and you tell this woman exactly what I think of what's she's doing. It's wrong." I nod.
The cashier and I become a team. Each time we successfully return an item we cheer.
Beep. "Yes!" She'd yell, "We got a winner!"
Between beeps, we ragged on the upper echelon who don't understand or value those who shlep for dreams and dollars.
"People and their money," she says.
"Yeah, people and their money. Forget this woman, I'm getting a new job!" Beep.
"Yeah, a new job!" she says. Beep. "Who does this woman think she is?"
Silk shirt by silk shirt, the pile slowly disappeared. Beep.
"Well, I guess that's it," she says, somewhat resigned. It felt like the end of a long journey.
We gave each other a nod of satisfaction, and I thanked her for the assistance before slinging the empty bags over my shoulders and walking away with diluted dignity.
On the R train uptown back to Times Square, I cracked open my most recent book Seneca's On the Shortness of Life and read, "There is no evil in poverty, as anyone knows who has not yet arrived at the lunatic state of greed and luxury... It is the mind that creates our wealth."