It’s early June, and the clocks are striking 13. These past two weeks have been blissful, dusky, and honey-soaked. Saccharine, whatever that means. And I reckon I’ve got about three more days before the panic truly sets in. You see, I don’t have gainful employment lined up for this summer. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
How did this happen? Believe me, I have been asking myself that very question for some time. So has my mother who, as my wizened elder, knows what I do not: That at the ripe age of 20, I have squandered my usefulness to late-stage capitalism.
It wasn’t that I didn’t try. I did. For some reason, nothing panned out. Maybe it was the dress-shirt I chose or the answers I gave or the Satanic verses I chanted outside the company windows at 3 a.m. in lieu of the standard thank-you-I-hope-to-hear-from-you-soon-Sincerely-Amanda email. I suspect it was some combination of the three.
A familiar story. Four days pass after your interview, and the arteries of your inbox remain clogged with fatty deposits of Listserv blasts from which you’re too lazy to unsubscribe, rather than life-giving hemoglobin: subject lines like “Congratulations,” “Good news!” or “Welcome to the team, motherfucker!”
I speak from experience. And it’s not work experience.
I suppose all that’s left to do is to let some of my chipper, more employable peers set me adrift on an ice floe. Barring that merciful act of granny dumping, I’ll just toss a bindle over my shoulder and trek into the forbidding Central Park wilderness to feel the rain on my skin. I’ll live among the squirrels and get myself hired as their Supreme Squirrely Leader. What’s stopping me? A squirrel doesn’t have opposable thumbs and can’t put my resume in a shredder. Now, will that all fit into a neat little “~*SUMMER UPDATE*~” Facebook post? Perchance.
The front lines of the employed look like such fun, judging by my friends’ own 500-word posts. One close buddy has been offered $23,000 for “adult foot pics” over Instagram DM. Another hawks a multi-level marketing venture that helps participants develop their “six ethical principles of productive persuasion.” (Reading it, I was productively persuaded to cut this pal out of my life.) If only my own prospects were so shiny, I think to myself, gnashing my teeth together in a smile so tight it produces bone dust. “How wonderful for them,” I say aloud to my room, empty but for me and my homicidal jealousy.
So I find myself in an awful lull.
Most of us suffer through a week or two of free time before we are given meaning through labor once more. Mais pas moi. Staring at the blank page before me, I see a threshold stage between “what is” (school) and “what’s next” (more school): nearly three months of unstructured free time. What does Niamh O’Brien expect me to do with this incessant spatio-temporal death march? Pick up a hobby? Learn to pronounce “Niamh”? Recover from burnout? RELAX?
I spend the first 48 hours at home violently detoxing on the couch. Who am I if I don’t have office hours to not attend? No internships to duke it out for? What’s a queen without her queendom? Two of my high school friends come over to help me make brownies for my little sister’s graduation. I explain my woes. They call me crazy for not enjoying the downtime. They tell me to open up the dirty window. I have them executed for high treason.
Home has its perks. Strange magics are afoot. Food appears magically in front of me. The overpriced “thrifted” coat I bought in the Bowery shows up in my closet no longer smelling of its previous owner who seems, judging olfactorally, to have washed slightly less often than an ancient Celt. I go to local cafés without my wallet, and an odd, middle-aged woman I vaguely recognize shows up with a saintly look on her face, cash in hand. She tells me she’s my mother, and I say, “Yes, ma’am.”
When I come home, my parents treat me like an adult, mostly. I like to think that the person they pack off to college each August comes back to them in May a little smarter, a little tougher, a little more weighed down by the existential knowledge that our fate at the hands of irreversible climate change was sealed back in the ’80s when my father used the last spritz of his chlorofluorocarbon hairspray to set his rockin’ mullet for the evening.
I have to fill my long, unemployed hours somehow. And as long as I don’t talk about my father’s rockin’ mullet, I’m allowed to come with the ’rents to dinner parties. As it turns out, barely sipping wine at an adult dinner party is better than drinking like you’re going to die. I love it. Making the rounds on the dinner party circuit provides an adrenaline rush comparable only to what I imagine Big Papa Gulati experiences on his ninth rep eating a bowl of pain soup in Dodge.
Am I productive at these events? Well, I tell mildly amusing anecdotes. I titter. (I do not get the chance to “titter” in New York City. The subway rats would recognize it as the distress call of their natural prey, the out-of-towner, and rend the flesh from my bones post-haste.) But if tittering is what fills the long hours in a young socialite’s day, then I will gladly mark as spam the McKinsey premium networking event email languishing in my “In” tray.
Speaking of living my life with arms wide open, I wonder who I am turning into at college, this American stranger who shows up at my parent’s doorstep twice a year like one of the two possible definitions for the word “biannual.” Those halcyon days of yore when I was hip, rad, even diggity down with it, are gone. My cousin texted me that his friend was having a kickback, would I want to come? But I strongly suspected there would be drugs present and that I needed a better role model, so I stayed home and watched Fleabag instead.
Truthfully, I was never cool. But I am tense. Or, more accurately, I was—just days ago, when I thought of my looming, empty calendar, my shoulders locked up tighter than the inmates off of whom Aramark profits. Maybe I’m mellowing in my old age, but there’s a new looseness to my upper body that indicates this summer may not kill me. Instead, I’m reaching for something in the distance—it’s so close I can almost taste it.
Exploring my shoulders’ new and improved range of motion. Maybe that’s how I can fill these dwindling summer hours. I can waste some time. I can bake brownies and regale the dessert wine crowd with tales of my father’s unfortunate folli(cl)es of youth. And, hell, I’ve got to be a valuable, contributing cog in the capitalist machinery somehow; I hear the café down the street is hiring.
Finally, when the seasons have turned and my BDE has become my BPE (which will either stand for Barclays Private Equity or Bachelor of Physical Education, or benign prostatic enlargement, depending on how the next few crucial years go), I’ll be able to look back on this summer and say, “The rest was still unwritten.”
Enjoy leafing through our first issue!