Push the Button

On Friday morning, my parents and I pack up the car in small town Pennsylvania to begin the drive up to the Big Apple; New York City, my new home for the summer. I have an internship in the performance industry, one that I know practically nothing about but decided to take anyway. My parents continually ask, “Do you know what you’ll be doing in this internship?” and each time I have to respond with, “I guess I’ll find out,” and I worry that I might be crazy for choosing to move to another city for an internship I didn’t understand in an industry I’m not yet sure I want to work in.

But when I meet the other interns that night, I’m relieved. Practically all of them live much further out of state and moved up here too, probably as anxious about their decision as I am. I had been worried I’d be the only one crazy enough to do this, but of course, any college-aged performer offered any kind of reason to live in New York City for the summer would obviously have to do it.

There’s about ten of us sitting around tables in the busy and loud Marriott Hotel, where our new boss Marty explains what we’ll be doing this summer. Actually, I say “explains” but it’s more like he’s spitballing ideas and assignments at us as he thinks of them.

“Is anyone taking notes on what I’m saying? You, take notes,” he says to Kara, the pretty girl sitting behind him. She is startled but overall unphased, and diligently takes notes on what Marty says throughout the next hour. Basically, our jobs consist of promoting performances, promoting the business, and promoting Marty. He is sure to put an emphasis on what a good connection he is, giving examples of all the people he’s helped and insisting to us that his affiliated businesses are the absolute best in town, everyone else is trash, don’t even get involved with them if they offer you a performance opportunity.

Darcy, his assistant, is there to make sure things go smoothly, and I have to wonder what a mess he would be without her. Granted, he’s still a mess now, because he talks over her and ignores her suggestions half the time, and I think if he listened to Darcy a little more, he would be a much more organized person.

After the meeting, nine of the interns go to a pub for dinner (and drinks, for those over 21), and a few minutes after we’ve sat down and most of the group is sipping beers and cocktails, the waitress asks to see my ID, and then Tina’s ID, who is sitting next to me.

“Oh I’m not drinking anything,” I explain. “I’m just ordering food.”

“I know,” says the woman. She checks our IDs and then walks away. A minute later, another woman from the bar (presumably the manager) approaches Tina and I and says we aren’t allowed to be here, no one under 21 can be on the premises. We look at each other and then at the rest of the group, who are all talking amongst themselves, oblivious.

“So, uh…we just got kicked out,” I say, trying to make it sound as normal as possible. Everyone is confused, especially since the host didn’t ask for our IDs at the door, and this bar (Characters NYC Bar & Grille, if you were wondering) serves food as well, so thought we’d be allowed to just sit here and order fries.

But Tina and I leave, having saved $8 on fries, while the rest of the interns, those over 21 and those who lucked out and didn’t get carded, stay and drink.

“I was gonna go hang out in Central Park afterwards anyway, if you want to join,” I tell Tina.

She says she’d love to, so we sit on one of the giant rocks in Central Park, admiring the legendary view and talking about the internship and New York City and anything else that pops into our heads.

“I think that it’s already a major accomplishment that you decided to move up here to do an internship at all,” she says. “It’ll give you lots of experience and material.” She’s right, of course, and the thought is comforting.

We leave to buy New York hot dogs on Columbus Circle, and Tina asks the owner how long he’s been running his food truck; nineteen years, in the same spot every day, he tells us. So this is his turf.

Tina loves to ask questions of any service employee, and it always seems to brighten their day. We walk past a candy shop with a big gumball machine out front, and she asks me, “How many gumballs do you think are in there?” I say 210, she says 250, and she leads me inside to ask the two young gay men working there how many gumballs they think are in the machine, for a fun two-minute conversation that must have been a nice break from selling candy to children all day long.

At around 11 o’clock, much later than the interns at the bar stayed out, Tina and I go our separate ways. I hop on the A train to head home, incredibly relieved and grateful to have found a friend in the big city already.

————————————–

I wake up after my first night spent living in New York City to an email from my boss, subject line: “Urgent!!!” It turns out he needs me to come help move a small bit of sound equipment from his studio to a concert venue for tonight. First, though, he says to meet him at his home office, about 20 blocks away from where I live in upper Washington Heights. I have an hour to get there, and I’m not especially enthusiastic about having to pay for three whole subway rides today (starting to consider getting that monthly pass), so I walk.

Marty lives in a weird neighborhood. As I walk down the last block before his building, I feel the eyes of several men in a group glued to me, whispering to one another. It’s nine in the morning. I look at them, because I’ve taken to the habit of staring people down when they’re gawking at me in public (something I learned to do in Hong Kong, where everyone stares at the white girl in the crop top like I’m a 5-eyed green alien picking its nose), and the closest man to me just keeps staring, so I give my patented eye roll of deep disgust and keep walking.

“Yeah, you tell him that you’re too good for him!” yells another guy. I’d love to do just that but I don’t have time to get into a whole conversation with straight men, so I flip them off as I walk away.

I get to Marty’s, and fortunately I’m not the first one there this time; Darcy and Charlie, another intern, are already in his office. (Nothing against Marty, I just hate making small talk, and a group makes it less awkward.)

Just like yesterday at the welcome meeting (though Marty would never call it that; it was mandatory), Darcy is a fantastic and dutiful assistant, all the while making evil eyes at Marty when her frustration bubbles over just a bit too high, something he never notices. Marty is a classic example of the straight-white-man-gone-liberal-for-the-trend, who announced that anyone who supports Trump can’t be part of our internship, but also mentioned that he thinks Louie C.K. is a good comic. He thinks and acts erratically, but is always undoubtedly sure that he is correct. At one point on the car ride later (Charlie chooses to drive a car for some reason), Marty asks Charlie a question and then as Charlie begins to answer, he immediately says “Don’t talk, focus on driving!” which is definitely a joke structure used on dozens of sitcoms (The dentist asking you questions while his hands are in your mouth? Or that Parks & Rec bit where the neurologist asks her to talk and consistently tells her to stop moving when she does?), and made this day seem a bit too surreal.

First, we go to Marty’s rehearsal space in what I eventually recognize to be Pearl Studios, and grab one speaker and a microphone stand to then put in Charlie’s car to take to the venue for tonight, where Marty insists with great concern that the sound guy teach Charlie and I how to set up the audio system (plug one input wire in and press one button to turn on speakers for Zone 2, if you were wondering).

Marty believes his knowledge and opinions to be absolute truth, so in the car ride he gives us plenty of comedy advice, and derisively shrugs off anything I mentioned learning from a past comedy teacher as incorrect or at least insufficient. He asks about my recent dog attack, and then goes on a rant about how awful pit bulls are, even when I try to interject and explain the story and how pit bulls were bred by humans, since it was our family dog and I think I knew him better than Marty does.

“Forgive me but I’m glad that dog is dead, I don’t want him hurting my interns,” he says. I decide to drop the subject, because someone who is glad that my dog is dead is not someone who can ever be properly educated on the behavior of pit bulls.

Then Marty needs us to find a Capital One bank that is open on a Saturday morning, so that he can go inside to do something that apparently can’t be done on an ATM, which Charlie and I speculate about for a while.

At another point on the drive, Marty asks me out of the blue, “What’s your ethnicity?”

I am taken aback. No one has ever asked me this before, because I’m white, so no one cares where in northern Europe I’m from. “Norweigan, German, and Irish,” I say.

“What about you, Charlie?”

Ah, so that’s why he was asking. Charlie is Latino, specifically Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican, as we find out.

The next stop is the grocery store. It looks like Charlie, the poor sucker, got roped into being Marty’s chauffeur for the entire morning. Of course, I then have to be Marty’s personal shopper in the grocery store, because I mentioned that I needed almond milk, and then Marty offers to pay for my groceries inside (generous, maybe, but very weird). He is weirdly controlling about where I go in the store, which I’m not a huge fan of. There are ravioli samples that I never get to grab because he never stops near them long enough.

We get back in the car, and Marty is still dumbfounded that Charlie has a car at all. “This is your car? You have it all the time?” he asks for what must be the fifth time. “So you can help me out with stuff if I need you to.”

“I can help if it’s comedy stuff, but if you need me to like, take you grocery shopping, I can’t do that,” says Charlie, and I admire his ability to set boundaries right away. Smart, since Marty is definitely the kind of person to take advantage of something like this.

Finally, Charlie and I drop him off outside his building, and I have to help carry groceries into the apartment before we can leave to park near my place, just twenty blocks away, and walk somewhere to eat. I turn the wrong way out of my building on the way out but I don’t want to look stupid, so we keep going until we find a Salvadoran restaurant that is absolutely fantastic (good Latin cuisine in Washington Heights is the only food in Manhattan worth the price).

————————————–

That night, we return to the bar to watch the show. As soon as I arrive, Marty tells me to fix the speakers by pressing the button I learned about earlier. I tell him, again and again, that the button is already on. It can’t be pushed again. That would just turn it off. And besides, the issue isn’t the button because the point of the button is to turn on Zone 2, and Zone 2 is already on, it’s just these two individual speakers at the back aren’t working.

Charlie walks by, and Marty is relieved. “Charlie, fix this.” Charlie also agrees that the button is already on and therefore not the issue. He messes with some other wires and levels that I am not paying attention to, and gets one of the speakers to work, which I guess is good enough.

“Have you ever worked in a restaurant?” Marty asks me a few minutes later, with a great sense of imperativeness. “Can you seat people for the show?”

“No, but I can figure it out,” which is my standard response to being given a task I don’t understand.

He then proceeds to explain to me several times that we are seating people left to right and front to back, and demonstrates as if I didn’t know what that meant, and now I and one of the comics for tonight, Jeff, have to act as hosts for a bar we do not work at.

Hostessing is entirely too stressful for me, and soon it seems like Jeff has it under control, so I stand near the bar and discuss with Charlie and James (another intern) whether or not I should pin up my bangs and try to order a gin and tonic without getting carded. But every two minutes or so, Marty comes back over with another menial task for me, and only me. There are four other interns here tonight, but for some reason I am saddled with doing all the work. I wish Marty would leave me alone.

But no, once the show has started he asks me once again to fix the speakers, because they stopped working since Charlie fixed them.

“All I know how to do is turn the button on, and it’s already on,” I explain, making sure to lower expectations of me because I have no idea how this sound system works. Marty doesn’t care, and makes me stand on a chair to find the button. The chair is leaning on the cabinet so I start to fall and catch myself, moving the chair to a more stable position to stand on it again. Marty puts his hand on my back to steady me, and I say, aggressively, “I’m fine!” several times because I do not like being touched, especially on my exposed back, especially not by this guy. My fault for only owning crop tops I guess.

“Alright, alright,” says Jeff, uncertainly trying to diffuse the situation. I step off the chair and leave, because I’ve had enough of this bullshit.

“The button is on, that’s all I know how to do,” I snap. Marty isn’t convinced, but I bet he’s never been able to find a button in his life, you know.

After the fourth comic, I leave the entire function with James, because he has to go to perform at an open mic, and I have to go to anywhere that is not here.

————————————–

Two days later, Marty wants Charlie and I to move the microphone stand and speaker (that went unused) back to the studio. At the bar, Marty and I run into the same sound guy from Saturday.

“How was the show? Did everything work alright?”

“We couldn’t get those speakers in the back to work,” Marty complained, retroactively getting angry again. “I mean, that was the whole point of coming here, to learn the setup. Still couldn’t find that button.”

I just grit my teeth and nod along.

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