It’s the official first day of fall and that means change is whistling through the air—from the snappy winds to the browning trees—and with change comes a distinct sense of newness blustering around town. Whether it’s a new school, a new job, a new shirt or just a new pumpkin spice latte Snapchat filter, the first day of fall has always been that late-in-the-year do-over, which seems to arrive at precisely the right time.
Soooo, to celebrate all this newness and change, I’m posting an old story (ha gotcha!) I wrote two years ago about a boy who is presented with a grand opportunity one rainy, fall day that takes him on an adventure very unlike the one he expected might come to pass …
An Interview Near Signal Street
The subway car came to an abrupt halt.
With a polite nod to the plumpish redhead whose morose stares he had endured for the larger part of his 57-minute trip from Eagleshead to Signal Street—“So sorry miss, didn’t mean to bump you there,”—Daniel Plinkers departed the car, feeling confident and possibly sick. He had always been a planner, except for with his groceries, and so felt less than culpable about eating a browned, stringy avocado for breakfast the morning of his big interview to become Assistant Research Editor at Turnkey Press, the largest and most respected publishing house in the city. He knew the scant meal had little to do with his anxiety about the day and everything to do with his terrible ability to stock a fridge. Oblivious to the shoddiness of his fridge-stocking abilities, his stomach whined in protest while Daniel climbed a tall and narrow set of stairs to the street. The ride was only supposed to take 41 minutes and not 57; with 16 minutes wasted, there was no time to eat.
He reached the top of the stairs and stopped to glance at the sheeny wall on one side. His blonde hair billowed toward his neck in neatly gelled waves; his eyes were clear blue and focused; his face clean-shaven and almost dewy from the trek up the stairs. It was just the look he imagined for an Assistant Research Editor, if a little on the lanky side, but Assistant Research Editor dinners would help fill him out over the years.
Exiting the station, Daniel breathed in air streaked with moisture and a faint September chill. He was glad to discover the rain lacked the same angry intensity he awoke to this morning when his alarm went off at 5:43, but was disappointed that large drops still fell in arrhythmic morsels onto the sidewalk of Signal Street, liquid-made traitors sent to wreak havoc on his borrowed Giuseppe Zanotti shoes and rented Italian wool suit.
Outside—and despite the weather—everything hummed with the formulaic exactitude of a Monday morning. Daniel, who thought himself creative despite his penchant for punctuality and detail, likened the scene to a nest of swarming bees and vaguely thought about jotting the metaphor down somewhere in case he should need it during the interview if Janice Kloppler, managing editor at Turnkey Press, asked about the kinds of things he might consider to be good writing. A glance at his brush-gold watch told him he couldn’t afford the pause.
Thankfully, the worker bees hurried at a good pace along Signal Street and it only occasionally became clogged by unruly students on school trips or ambling tourists, eyed fixed to the soar of skyscrapers above. The Turnkey Corp. building was perhaps the most impressive of any in the downtown area and Daniel could discern its scalloped roof even from fifteen blocks away, slickly mirrored edges taunting him to quicken his step. Could he see the office of an Assistant Research Editor from here?
The next leg of his journey took Daniel down Otting Street, a wide, methodically paved road bordered by unopened storefronts and small kiosques, bland colorless curtains drawn to hide knock-off purses and cheaply made jewelry behind. In less than an hour, Otting would teem with city life but by then Daniel would be sitting in the office of Janice Kloppler, reminiscing about his four years as a philosophical literature major at Saywater University … How he graduated with honors, how he received an A in his Introduction to the Art of Writing class—a coup d’état for a freshman—how his dreams of becoming a writer jangled in his chest like an unused set of keys unlocking his bright future. (Oh that was good! Shameful there wasn’t time to get it down on paper.)
Millburn, the last street, stretched meagerly to the left of Otting, and it too was empty except for one elderly woman lingering at the corner, gray hair short and spikey, pale skin like curdled milk. She frowned at Daniel as he passed but she couldn’t know she had just frowned at the probable new Assistant Research Editor of Turnkey Press, thought Daniel. If she had, she would never have been so rude.
“What floor?” A balding security guard asked from behind a swirled marble desk, the lobby of Turnkey Corp. swelling behind him in flourishes of gold-painted plaster and steel. Daniel remembered reading about the extravagant renovation of the building last year. A very famous architectural firm from Europe had remodeled the space, subsequently declaring it the new paradigm for business design, “a carefully crafted amalgam of old-world charm and inventive modernity,” if he remembered right.
“Fifteen. Turnkey Press,” said Daniel, watching a few people swivel past brassy turnstiles in a clatter of leather briefcases and heels made squeaky from the rain.
“You’ll need to sign in,” said the guard, waving to an electronic touchscreen set into the desk.
Daniel signed with a little more flair than usual (in case he would one day want to go back for posterity and look at what he wrote), curving the “P” with added extravagance and taking care to fully dot the first “i” then the next and draw a long end to the “s” of his last name.
The badge he received let him through the turnstile and he was soon standing in the very center of the voluminous lobby—and maybe at the very center of his new life of Assistant Research Editorhood—directly underneath a stained glass cupola surrounded by gleaming gold stones. Then it was up a tightly packed glass elevator to the fifteenth floor.
The elevator doors opened slowly, with just the right amount of drama to form the overture of his Assistant Research Editor career, revealing a small room filled by a dark wood desk and high bay windows. Two plush red velvet couches were positioned at even distances on either side. Intermittent drizzles speckled the high-rise view and Daniel paused to admire the tops of tall buildings slip into a muted gray sky.
He might sit in this room if he ever got to work early and would enjoy how shards of sunlight warmed his face in the summertime and how when it snowed, you could see the frost accumulate from fifteen stories above the street. Although, he reasoned, Assistant Research Editors probably didn’t have time to waste on windows.
“Yes,” smiled the thin brunette behind the desk and her skin crackled under the pressure of too much makeup. “You can wait in Janice’s office while she finishes up a meeting. It should only be a minute or two.”
Another smile forced a clump of rouge to peel away from her angular cheeks. Months from now Daniel would tell her politely that she was beautiful without the gunk. She’d believe him a few months later and they would become close friends. Maybe more.
Janice Kloppler’s office was a short walk away and proved a cramped room of red-inked manuscripts and stacks on stacks of books. Daniel would keep his office much neater than this.
“Daniel Plinkers,” said an extraordinarily short woman as she entered. Her features were hard-set but shadowy, her voice marred by unmistakable petulance and gruff. She neglected to shake his hand and instead sat with a grimace and an “oof” in the chair behind the paper-strewn desk.
“Does your email work?” she asked.
A strange opening question for his Assistant Research Editor interview but Daniel was ready with an answer. “Yes, well, no, not my school email. They deactivate it once we graduate.” Should he ask her why she would like to know? Was email marketing a necessary job skill for the position?
“I see,” Janice snorted. “We’ve been trying to reach you.”
In the small distance between them, Daniel could smell cigarettes and orange juice on her breath.
“I should have given an alternate address,” he replied, undeterred by her harsh tone or the citrus-laden stench of her mouth, which all fit squarely into the perfectly theatrical grandeur of his hours-long odyssey to sit before her on this day. He thought then of the rotted avocado breakfast, of the cantankerous redhead on the subway, of the surly old woman at Millburn Street, of the irritable security guard and the painted secretary with rain dancing just beyond her reach.
Janice Kloppler of Turnkey Press fame parted her wiry lips to speak, a smudge of fuchsia lipstick on one of her front teeth, the other stained a light gray, and Daniel almost held his breath, ready to hear the words that for weeks, since he had received the email asking him to interview for the position of Assistant Research Editor, he knew she would say …
You’re the best candidate for Assistant Research Editor we’ve ever seen … We love everything about your writing … Could you write a novel for us in your spare time? … Will you use a pen name or keep your own?
“Thank you for coming, Daniel, but we’ve hired someone else.”