Not In a New York State of Mind–Chapter 1

We are half way thorough October and counting down to the November 2nd release of Popstars. Today we catch-up with MG, post-high school. She’s moved to the big city with her mom where things are not going as she planned. 

Some of this chapter comes from my year of living in New York, when I coined the phrase,”It’s like living in a pen of nervous poodles on speed.” Most of this chapter, however, is from MG’s perspective, a Middle-American, suburban girl who’s ideas were painted by too many episodes of Sex and the City and Friends.

Enjoy the chapter and don’t forget you can pre-order an ecopy of Popstars, Friends & Lovers: a dreamer’s tale on Amazon now. One click now and it will arrive on your Kindle or Kindle app on November 2nd.

Chapter One

“Talk for me.”
“What?” MG thought she was ready for this interview, but this? What the hell did he want her to say?  
Last night she had done her nails three times until she got it perfect, not that she would be doing nails, but how the hell do you prepare for an interview to be a receptionist at Manhattan’s hottest nail salon. She desperately wanted and needed this job. 
Four months ago, when she first moved here, she would have laughed at the idea of prepping for this interview. Hell, four months ago she would have laughed at the position and the salary and never even put in an application. Not now. The Big Apple was kicking her ass and beating her down ‘til she was almost begging to be considered to answer phones.
She blamed it all on Friends, not her friends, the TV show. Sure, move to New York, get a cool job, live in a big-ass apartment, date hot, rich guys … uh, no. The thing was, even if she had known what it was like here, she would have come, because moving to Manhattan was her mom’s dream and where else was she really gonna go. 
When her mom had brought up the idea it sounded so cool. MG pictured herself, her mom and her best friend Carrie sharing one of those big, beautiful, old apartments with hardwood floors and huge windows that looked over the skyline. They would get exciting jobs at Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren where they would meet people who would invite them to parties with the rich and famous. She and Carrie would make sure everyone (especially the bitches) back in St. Louis knew that they were livin’ large. She even had a plan (that she didn’t tell Carrie about) to meet and get a date with Edward Burns. She knew he lived in New York and being seen in a gossip mag on his arm would be the ultimate fuck-you to everyone who treated her like trailer trash in high school.
Now she was here, without Carrie, in a small, ugly apartment where she slept on a pull-out couch and had no room of her own. No one welcomed her with open arms and a job at Calvin Klein. She never made it past going in their flagship store. She had worn her CK jeans and tee shirt (that she totally overpaid for at the outlet mall) and was soaking in the rich-smelling air when a giraffe of a sales girl looked her over like she was Daisy Duke come to call. Her wheat-blonde messy curls suddenly felt more like a rat’s nest, her size-ten body a balloon and her favorite Chuck Taylors felt more trashy than funky. There it was again, that sting; that unsaid ‘what are you doing here, white trash?’ She had skulked out of the store. 
It also turned out that Edwards Burns didn’t exactly live right around the corner from her. New York City was much bigger than she’d imagined.
Right now she had no idea what to say to this mafia-looking dude she was interviewing with. Talk for him?  She started with, “Uh, hi, I’m MG.” And she smiled at him and batted her eyelashes, giving him her signature flirt-stare with her soft brown eyes.
He didn’t seem to notice. In fact he was busy typing onto a tiny keyboard on his Blackberry. It seemed like everyone here with any money had one. If she got this job her first paycheck (or first five) were going toward getting one of those.
“Where you from, MG?” He stressed her name like he thought it was odd, and it did sound odd in his heavy New York accent.
“St. Louis.”
He kept typing, seeming to ignore her, so she added, “My mom and I moved here in June.”
He breathed out a sigh of frustration and MG thought he might not like her already. Fuck, she couldn’t win for losing. How could she have screwed up this interview that fast?  
He dropped his phone on the manicure table in front of him. “Alright, you got the job.”
She needed to close her mouth and not look so shocked, but she had almost given up hope of hearing those words. 
“If I find out you’re not from St. Louis, and you covered up a Jersey accent with some acting classes, you’re out on your ass, you understand?”
So much became clear to her in that one sentence. It was her accent, or lack of one, that was getting her this job. Time to talk some more. “Umm, yeah, I understand. Not a problem. I really am from St. Louis. I was born and raised there and I just graduated high school.”
He looked at her like she needed to stop talking. She shut up. 
“MG, what the hell kind of name is that? What’s it stand for?”
“Mary Grace.”
He looked like he might laugh (might). “Seriously?  That’s a Catholic-school-girl name. You got one of them Catholic-school-girl skirts too?”
The way he said it made her think he might have another business making films featuring young girls in Catholic-school-girl skirts. 
“That’s not gonna work. Grace, you’ll be Grace.” He started typing again on his Blackberry. “In two weeks, I’ll order you a shirt with Grace on it. We’ll see if you last that long.” He stopped typing and looked at her. “’Til then you wear a white polo, black skirt, and heels. You come to work with your nails and toes painted, and don’t do it yourself. It’ll look like crap. We’re not doing it for you here, so get it done somewhere. Understand?”
MG nodded. Damn, he talked fast. Everyone here talked fast. 
“Show up on Monday at eight. Krystyna will show you around.”
She nodded again and thought about answering him but he was already up and out of his chair. He was out the door before she could get out of her seat. Everyone moved fast here too. She felt like she was trapped in a pen of nervous poodles on speed.  
     
A job! She finally had a job! Her excitement lasted all of ten or fifteen minutes before the reality of her current situation set in. She just landed a job that paid minimum wage (woo hoo) where she would schedule appointments for, not hang out with, the richest women around. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. She had always had better luck with men. Except for Carrie, Gina, and Casey, she had never gotten along with other girls. Her best friend was a guy, or he had been before the whole love thing, and her leaving without saying goodbye thing …
It was telling that her best day in New York City so far had her wanting to cry, and she never cried. She felt so stuck. Her life here sucked in a way she never imagined it could, but it’s not like she could go back to her friends in St. Louis. Her mom and only home (couch) were here. And she had acted like a totally stupid bitch before she left anyway, bragging to everyone about how cool her life was going to be while they died a slow death in boring, old St. Louis. 
And then there was Steve … she had just left him hanging. He had been her best friend in so many ways and she loved him. But she never told him, because if she did she might not have left, and then she would be stuck back there, in some minimum-wage job, kinda like she was here. She blew out her frustration and pain and started walking the fifteen blocks back to her apartment. 
Lunch was another bag of the candied nuts from a street vendor and a coffee with lots of cream and sugar. It was cheap and the combo of caffeine and sugar would keep her going for a few hours. At least her checks from the nail salon would buy more groceries. With their savings running low and no commission checks for her mom yet, they had been living on the cheap. Just the smell of ramen noodles was starting to make her gag. Her visions of a Blackberry faded into grocery sacks of food. 
She sat on a bench on the edge of a little square park near their apartment, watching the office workers pour out of the high rises to catch a little sun and fresh air on their lunch hour. There was a mild breeze and the drone of conversations was making her drowsy. Her head flopped back and she jerked it up with a start. No one seemed to notice her falling asleep, but she feared someone would if she nodded off. That would be the highlight of her NY life; mugged on a park bench because she was wiped out from too little sleep and food.    
Then it started… again. At about one-thirty, when the lunch crowd thinned out it started behind her right eye, this horrible sharp pain. It felt like someone stabbed her in her temple with a pencil. Aspirin didn’t do much for it. When she had one of these god-awful headaches last week she took four aspirin and still had to lay with her head on their cool bathroom floor tile for hours. At least the apartment would be quiet. Her mom was putting in long hours learning the ins and outs of New York real estate.
     
Amber looked at the proof sheet of headshots. Wow, it’s amazing what a really good photographer can do. She looked sexy and expensive. The photos could probably work for an escort service or selling apartments. She filed that idea away as a back-up plan should she fail here. 
The New York realty firm she worked for, The Brighton Group, definitely had better resources than the one she had left in St. Louis, but they also had higher expectations. Right out of the gate her sales quota for her first quarter was four times higher. Then again, the apartment she was hoping to list this afternoon could cover half that quota. She was swimming with the big fish in a much bigger pond now, and she loved it.
She felt as energized as she did when she started selling houses after her second divorce. Adversity fueled her. Being single, again, with a child to feed fueled her. She had no regrets about letting go of her life lines in St. Louis (namely her married boyfriend, Vin) and letting her fears push her to succeed again.  
Speaking of her child … poor MG. She hated to see her struggling so hard. She kept telling herself that MG would be fine once she got a job and made some friends. Her daughter was an irresistible, beautiful ball of fun; there was no way the Big Apple was going to beat that out of her. Once they got some money coming in they could go out and have some fun, get to know their new home; shopping, Broadway shows, museums. Right now it was nose to the grindstone to get those checks. 
Amber marked the three photos she liked best and popped the proofs into an inter-office envelope to send to her boss, Art. She pulled a mirror from the center drawer on her desk and went to work fixing her makeup so she would look as much like her sexy head shots as possible. Her new realtor campaign wouldn’t do much good if no one recognized her from the pictures. 
She made a quick stop in the bathroom to adjust her dress before she headed out to look at the possible new listing. Technically the dress was too small, but it was the only size on clearance and hence the only one she could afford. Her hips were straining at the zipper now, but another month or two on a “we have almost no money” diet and the designer dress would fit perfectly. 
It was four-twenty when she left her office. The downtown streets were already filling up with afternoon commuters that would bring everything to a crowded crawl in the next hour. She checked the time on her cell phone and debated how long it would take her to reach the apartment by subway versus how much it would cost her by cab, if she could get a cab. The subway won. Visions of her and MG running out of food before her first commission check put power in her walk to the station.
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