UPTOWN GIRLS will feature two novellas, “Waking Up,” and “Making Up.” COMING 2017.
“Waking Up” by Kathryn Lively was part of the CURVED LINES box set, now out of print. This story will return in a revised, expanded edition.
Worn down by unrealized dreams and a cynical view of reality, Blair has settled. Her daily schedule of coffee, work, books and bed leave no room for surprises and therefore no disappointment. Romance remains a stranger because, honestly, who wants the big girl with the unpublished notebooks and the dead end job?
Gordon does. A chance encounter in her building becomes a date, then two, then more. Soon Blair’s windowless office offers her a view of amazing, happier possibilities. The woman with dormant dreams begins to wake up.
So you want to hear the story of my life. Okay.
Every morning at six I arrive at GAB Studios on West 44th and Broadway and take the elevator to the eighth floor where I work. In my office I keep a mini-fridge in one corner, and on top of that a small, single-serving blender. A large calendar blotter covers most of my desk, with dozens of tiny Post-It notes affixed to various weekdays because I prefer not to write on the actual sheet and leave pen indentations on the following months. I’m also not a doodler, and I keep all writing implements in a drawer to discourage visitors from doing just that.
A wall of shelves, divided into three parts, faces my desk. I’ve designated each section to a specific purpose. The left shelves contain unopened testing kits and clipboards which I administer throughout the day to scheduled guests of Live With Morton Willard, the middle holds the completed tests in bubble-padded envelopes, and the right holds all the books I read while I was studying literature and screenwriting at NYU. To the people who bother to ask, I say my apartment is too small to keep them and I’m too sentimental to let go of print in the digital age. In actuality, the range of Austen to Syd Field to Woolf serves to taunt me and expose what I could have become had the stars aligned and had I only applied myself a smidge harder.
At the right corner of my desk sits a plastic cookie jar shaped like R2-D2. It used to make those squawky droid noises whenever somebody lifted the dome head, but after the first two weeks I pried open the battery hatch with a letter opener and brought blessed silence to the contraption. I keep Oreos in R2 to distribute as rewards for guests’ patience—sometimes Thin Mints if a co-worker’s Girl Scout daughter comes by bearing green boxes—and I write off refills as a business expense. My accountant, aware of my line of work, has seen fit not to question it.
My office is situated within the floor, therefore I have no views of Times Square or even the side streets filled with scarf and postcard vendors. It’s the first thing some new visitors remark to me when they come inside, as though I haven’t the aptitude to deserve the distraction of miles-high movie billboards. Windows are for winners.
The books, and the fact that I’ve read every last one, also rarely impress. The Star Trek anti-motivational poster hanging on the wall behind my chair—Captain Picard slouched at the ready room conference table with his hand shielding his face in utter exasperation—offers little in the way of visual entertainment as I administer the tests. The other option is to stare out the frosted pane of my office door, watch the pixelated shadows pace the waiting area, and strain to decipher the voices. Occasionally a loud argument breaks out, and by occasionally I mean daily.
Live With Morton Willard, now in its sixth year, is the longest-running original program on GAB, and the show that launched a new era of the all-talk show network. GAB came to life initially as an archive of classic shows for which licensing could be obtained on the cheap. Viewers in want of a morning jolt of nostalgia could enjoy select episodes of Dinah Shore, Merv Griffin, Rosie O’Donnell, Mike Douglas, Joan Rivers and a few short-lived oddities and travesties. At night, you could tune in to classic Carson and Letterman and a few popular Australian and British presenters. Morton’s show, conceived by the network president to give his son-in-law a job, airs every weekday afternoon.
As with any themed television channel that begins with good intentions and quality programming, execs gradually traded out reruns for new programming as each license expired and thus sent GAB on a rapid spiral into televised Hell. Why pay exorbitant royalties for a clip of The Rolling Stones performing “Angie” while Dave looks on, when you can toss fifty bucks at a publicity-hungry, starry-eyed wannabe? Their words, not mine.
Talk turned from topics like an actor’s craft and scientific discoveries to details of an amateur porn star’s wild eleven-way and/or his latest stint in rehab; cooking demonstrations gave way to red-nailed scratching catfights, and…well, you don’t need me to recap the history of civilization’s downfall. Turn on the TV and watch it unfold.
Every morning at ten after six I enter my office carrying a black messenger bag and a Thermos of organic, single-origin coffee. I pour the coffee into the mini-blender, add a tablespoon each of grass-fed butter and coconut oil from my fridge, and mix until frothy. From six-fifteen to six-fifty, I sip my good-fat-heavy latte and read from one of the books I tote in my bag. I spend the ten minutes before work begins in quiet meditation. I wouldn’t call it prayer, but more of a general plea to the enveloping universe to take it easy on me. Rarely does the universe concede, and at seven o’clock I reach down to the lower left-hand desk drawer for a stack of blank forms.
By this time many people have queued up in the waiting area outside my office door, shuffling for arm space in the chairs or else leaning against the wall. They come in all colors and genders and sizes, from all the boroughs and surrounding areas. There isn’t as much noise in the morning as opposed to after lunch, but the first wave of future Morton guests have enough energy to text and take pucker-faced selfies while I distribute the forms and clipboards. Each has a pen affixed by a string, and every morning I predict how many will go missing before the day’s end.
Such thefts baffle me—it’s not like the pens have the show logo on it. In fact, nothing about my floor gives the impression that we work for the most repugnant television network in the world, much less any field of entertainment. It looks more like a clinic, and in some ways it is. We have weeks-old tabloids for people without phones to read while they wait, a bin of toys to occupy small children, and a filled coffee maker with a sleeve of foam cups next to it. Some of our repeat guests treat the place like home and will brew the next pot.
I instruct everybody with a form to place it, once completed, in the plastic wall pocket by my door, and to leave the clipboard in the file box beneath it. The forms are quite detailed and require people to consult driver’s licenses and other cards, so I sit in my closed office for fifteen minutes and read a few more chapters before the first check. Forms come in throughout the day, and I administer tests according to the schedule set forth by the showrunner and the labs that assist us in the results.
Here’s the breakdown:
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays on Morton are devoted to resolving paternity disputes. These test kits take about two days to process, so I swab the potential sires who will learn on the following Wednesdays, Fridays, and Mondays whether or not they’ll need to dash off a support check or two each month. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for people who wish to discover in a public forum if they have a venereal disease or a genetic deformity. Those tests may be completed in my office in twenty minutes, and the guests appear on the set the same day. After they’ve seen me, they go down to the studio where they spout their sob stories on the air to Morton, then angrily confront the people who may have infected them or passed on the bad DNA. Once they’ve reached a peak frothiness around the mouth and nostrils, Morton teases everybody with the sealed intra-office envelope I’ve had delivered and releases a new round of fireworks with his signature address/pause/proclamation.
Joe Blow…you DON’T have chlamydia.
Yay for Joe.
I swab cheeks and gums from morning until lunch, which I eat at my desk. One might think that odd, or squeamish, but I savor the solitude of this space as opposed to the noisy commissary, which always smells like sour bacon. I use the entire hour and typically pack a sandwich on low-carb bread, a baggie of celery sticks, and bottled water. In my top center drawer I keep a bar of 88% dark chocolate, and allow myself one square a day. I read throughout my lunch and set the phone to mute.
At five o’clock every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, a man in a blue jumpsuit with a white cross stitched on his breast comes to my office to collect all the bubble envelopes from the day’s visitors. It’s a different man from the one who comes in the morning on those days to drop off completed tests. If the lab is running particularly spiffy, we’ll receive a surprise visit on the off days. It’s rare, but as it doesn’t affect my routine much I never panic.
My official quitting time every day is five-thirty, when I return all implements to their proper drawers or shelves. I fold the paper bag that holds my lunch—with the baggies inside—and tuck it into the front pocket of my messenger bag. By five-forty I’m out of the building and jogging to make the next train to my apartment in the East Village. I’m quite a sight, though thankfully in the city nobody pays attention to a fat girl’s mad sprint.
Once home, if I haven’t prepared anything in my crock pot, I cook dinner (unless it’s Friday, when I permit myself a few treats from Russ and Daughter Appetizers) and sit to eat at the table by my window overlooking 3rd Street and watch people enter and leave the frozen yogurt café, the occult bookshop, and the Duane Reade.
I cut off all food at eight o’clock, drinking water only if parched. I replace my plate at the table with my laptop and write until nine, then spend the remainder of the waking period engrossed in a book, or listening to music until I drop off, usually before eleven.
That’s my life for the last four years. Routine, free of complications and headaches. It’s boring, yes. I don’t mind boring, I can predict boring.
I used to think I’d make adjustments if my job situation changed, either via the show’s cancellation (unlikely, as Morton has the network’s top-rated show and its popularity is seriously threatening legitimate programming elsewhere) or my success in selling a TV drama (a prospect more unlikely with each day Morton and his motley guests trend in social media, because reality costs less to produce and other networks know it).
I never anticipated meeting Gordon, or falling in love. When you live in a world that takes pleasure in driving the idea of romance existing only for specific demographics, and dress sizes, you eventually succumb to such “truth” and accept your lot in life.
Here’s a spoiler, that’s all bullshit.