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Being offered an internship at Seventeen magazine the fall after I graduated college was comparable to being spotted by Rihanna on Instagram and flown out to LA to be in her BBHMM video. Boom! That just happened!
But having never lived anywhere except for my home in Kentucky, I had no friends in New York with a couch to crash on, and my parents said “Hell no” to the idea of bunking at the Y. So I pursued every threadbare lead I could to find a place to live.
The summer after graduation had me doing PR and marketing for a summer stock theater in a small town in Kentucky. At least a dozen actors from NYC had packed their bags and made the trek down south to bulk up their résumés.
This town, though quaint, is incredibly small (14,000 people at the time), so that meant everyone at the theater really only had themselves to hang with between practices. This gave us all plenty of time to get to know each other really well.
After evening performances, the actors were hyped so we would stay up late sharing our past and hopes for the future. These liquor-fueled discussions often led to many bared souls and coming out of closets. But it was a safe environment, everyone honoring the unwritten code to accept each other unconditionally.
About halfway through the theater gig is when I learned I would be headed to NYC that fall for my internship. Now surrounded by a bevy of New Yorkers, I used their resources to help me find a place to live.
Finally, one of the actors said she had a spare bedroom, and knowing the shitty pay interns get, she was willing to rent it to me on the cheap. She talked it over with her husband, and he happily agreed.
In August, I packed up my car with all of my clothes, my portfolio of clips and my mother/brother/sister entourage, and we arrived in Queens 15 hours later.
I don’t know what it’s like now, but in the early ‘90s, Vernon Boulevard wasn’t exactly the nicest area. The stench of piss in the subway entrance a block away made its way up the street in the heat of summer. But I didn’t let that deter me. I was at the turnstile, crossing over from Kentuckian to New Yorker, and I wasn’t going to let any pungent odor take that away.
I pulled up to the apartment where I was to spend the next three months working by day and sleeping on a futon by night.
Sketchy? A little, but once I got inside, it was cozy enough. The owners’ description of the place seemed pretty spot on.
“A garden on our back deck” actually meant a raised box with a couple of struggling tomato plants, but I assumed that was “New York” for garden. They showed me to my room, where I was a bit put off by the futon (translation: rolled up futon mattress sans frame), but it was clean with a window for extra light, so I was cool. I dropped my bags and went to the living room to chill after the long drive.
About an hour or so later, I took a closer look at my bedroom. It was a bit crowded, so I looked around to see where I could stash my things. The small vanity was covered in a lace doily with a handful of trinkets for good luck and a well-used Catholic prayer candle.
Which saint it was I don’t remember, but I know it wasn’t the one for purity. Taped on the wall above the dresser were the most descriptive thank-you notes I had ever read. I have no idea what the protocol is according to Emily Post, but these thank-you notes were for the sexual forays my host had participated in with people other than her husband. Or maybe he was there, too. I didn’t read on to find out.
She must have been very proud of her achievements, I assumed, since they were proudly displayed for all to see. But then the truth bomb it took to get me to realize what was happening finally dropped. These notes weren’t for all the world to see … they were for my eyes. My naïve, baby blue, 22-year-old eyes.
OK, OK. Let’s not jump to conclusions. I turned around to look at the other side of my 100-square-foot room to see a nicely curated stack of pornos placed neatly beside my mattress. No fresh linens or chocolates, but only the best in porno for their guest. And the one on top? A homemade tape with their names in black Sharpie on the side. Oh hell no!
I peeked out into the living room and gave my brother the look, you know, the one that says “Get in here!” without saying a word. I pointed to one particular note on the wall, tattered blue stationery with a huge black heart drawn on it and the words “Next time we’ll try fisting!”
We stood there, slowly letting the reality of what I had walked into sink in.
They only asked me to pay $200 a month in rent, which was a screaming deal. Until I began to suspect that the rest would be paid in sex.
The brilliance of the golden ticket I had made my internship out to be suddenly started to tarnish. It was a Saturday, and their apartment was the only place I had to stay before my internship started on Monday. Was it worth it? Could I just hang out at the Hearst offices in Midtown all day then barricade myself in my Queens bedroom at night?
That thought lasted about 3 minutes before I gave the “Fuck this” look to my brother. We crashed on their living room floor that night, woke up the next morning, packed my stuff back up and sped out the door in one of those trippy dream sequence montages from a David Lynch movie.
I think I said goodbye to my hosts – I am from the South after all – but I didn’t stay to see the look on their faces as I closed the door behind me. There had to be a better way of breaking into the magazine industry. There was: I started my own magazine, Story, four years ago. And no fisting was required.
My Seventeen internship turned me into a New Yorker. For exactly 17 hours.