FRESH YARN presents:

By Lou Lou Taylor

"Welcome aboard Class of 2000. You are all here because you have exemplified a strong sense of logic, intelligence and adroitness that exceeds the norm of the 'average' college graduate. We are confident here at LouZachary & Sons, that these next two years will reap a plethora of opportunities for all of your future aspirations. You're part of the family now. And if you're loyal to us, you can be assured that everyone here at LouZachary & Sons will be right by your side, supporting your endeavors. You are not venturing down an easy path, but we feel that all of you here today can handle the rough terrain. We didn't hire you to play it safe. We want risk takers. We want people who will make strong choices and of course work their asses off! You'll work hard and play hard. All right… on that note… let's start shaping Wall Street. Make us proud!"

With my adrenalin pumping, I looked at my ivy-league peers surrounding me in the large auditorium. Suddenly, I began to doubt that my Midwest public schooling would ever be able to compete in this financial arena of blue bloods. After all, I had never even heard of the word, "adroitness". I quickly buried those grating insecurities, and embraced my new position in the firm wholeheartedly. Being one of the select few female financial analysts in the Mergers and Acquisitions Department of a major investment banking firm was a medal to wear with pride, not bury with the fear of failure. I was all set to be the next Mary Tyler Moore with an I.Q. of 200.

Coming from a middle class family that was habitually reminded of its financial shortcomings amongst its yuppie neighbors, this was a huge outbreak from my existing economic status. The average mean salary for a financial analyst was $34,000 plus a hefty bonus at the end of the year ranging anywhere from ten to twenty thousand dollars. I eagerly calculated that within two years, I could actually be making more money than my father ever brought home. Not bad for a twenty-two-year-old. Of course, it goes without saying that my father also wore my medal of achievements in his blue-collar commune. The financial success of his children gave birth to his dreams for a life of autonomy and elevated him amongst his working class peers.

Having grown up with purchases from The Hadassah House, and Garage Sales of the Affluent in Suburbia, I became insanely intoxicated with the fine threads of Ann Taylor and the Sex in the City favorite, Bebe. (Real clothing stores!) I no longer dashed to my car discreetly holding my non-descript plastic bags with the handle tearing in half. Now I paraded out of 5th Avenue stores like a proud poodle displaying my three-ply fancy shopping bag bearing a high-end label. And, of course, it had a proper handle created perfectly for a woman's delicate hand to grasp. My entire line of Maybelline and Cover Girl cosmetics were disposed and upgraded to Clinique and Lancôme, a prerequisite for being a polished female executive. Yet the novelty and wonderment of these riches quickly wore off. Working 100 hours a week in a small cubicle left me with no public notoriety. While I appreciated that secretaries on my floor were the largest fans of my fashionable trends, I desired more. My colleagues, all of whom were men, were married to their numbers, and sought affairs with ditzy blondes, not intelligent brunettes. When I did manage to escape the confines of my analytical prison, the spotlight of my success lasted for a mere three minutes in a dimly lit bar. Good-looking twenty-something guys pretended to be interested in my I.Q. as I elaborately explained what I did for a living in my drunken stupor.

During those first six months as a financial analyst, my boss and mentor instilled some "tricks of the trade" in order to become a successful high-powered executive.

1) Never bring emotion into the job (I thought that was reasonable).

2) Work your ass off (I firmly agreed that discipline is the key to success).

3) Dot your I's and Cross your T's (Crosscheck all my colleagues and especially those lazy secretaries!).

4) And never, ever take "NO" for an answer. EVER! (Although that statement could be politically debatable amongst feminists, contextually it meant that there is always a solution).

Sure enough my boss's advice came to successful fruition. Although the odds of survival in the M&A department were 10-1 against me, according to a discreet insider, I made my one supporter some extra incidental cash. No longer was I the sunny All-American Midwest girl with that sweet enveloping smile. I trashed that image and resurrected myself as the "Barracuda" . . . with a capital B. Being "nice" got me nowhere but no man's land. Being a bitch resulted in a speedy progression of my work. Intimidating those with some strategically placed higher octave notes in my speaking voice and some glaring eyes became my oasis of power. On days when that behavior didn't resonate with my support staff, I threw in a little profanity to shake things up and jumpstart their motivation. No longer was I the gal who finished last.

I had managed to emerge as a "hitter" (a favorable and endearing term amongst investment bankers.) Sexy "live" deals were thrown at my voracious appetite. And, to my fortune, our clients had headquarters in "happening" cities. While my colleagues were stuck in the office crunching numbers, I was flying on a private jet to hot spots like South Beach, Los Angeles, and Mexico City. Ordering overpriced continental breakfasts from room service and ravaging the mini bars at five-star hotels became my favorite pastime on these business trips. Seeing the "closed" deal printed in the Wall Street Journal was the ultimate grandeur of my embellished ego.

The dangerous dichotomy of success elevated me to such an enviable spotlight amongst my female friends while simultaneously planting an embryo of self-loathing that slowly simmered into my self-esteem. My pugnacious spirits, while illuminating respect from my financial mentors, exploded into a volcano of alienation amongst my family members. Evidently, my parents would never be able to relate to the demanding lifestyle of a young rising investment banker. Wall Street was an unforgiving ally to humanity, a quality that my parents successfully implemented in their small world of Midwest suburbia. I cholerically disregarded my parents' reactions to simplistic ignorance and plunged forward with my self-defined altruistic stoicism.

Within a short time, the young blooming finance graduate had transformed to a petulant "big shot" and burned-out young twenty-something woman. The spotlight on my high-strung behavior illuminated the queues at nearby department stores and my local grocery stores. "Did you find everything you were looking for?" the cashier checker sweetly asked.

"No, no I didn't, but it's too late now! Look, I'm in a hurry. Yes, just give me plastic!" as I hastily left the store.

One would think that my spoiled behavior would alter this woman's sunny demeanor. But, in fact, the ruder I became, the more genuinely sincere she became. What was she so happy about? What a boring simplistic job she has, day in and day out! I could not understand how some people could live their daily life without any high aspirations. A cashier at a grocery store would never really make a mark on society.

My tumultuous public persona continually bestowed immediate results to my materialistic desires, yet all the while I was unmistakably left with a vacuous longing for something more lucid. Tantamount to my confusion, my once treasured "la dolce vita" adventurous weekends in the Hamptons eventually reaped haplessness. Even buying the latest Jimmy Choo shoes quickly lost its splendor. Maintaining the polished young female executive that I had strived to be, became a burdensome chore. Candidly, the mirror revealed aging bags under my eyes, and my skin looked and felt ten years my senior. Goodbye Starbucks and Warnaco Stock! The riches that the stock market had bestowed upon me were now feverishly invested into elite facials and pampering eye treatments, with the hopes of a high return in my social life. I knew my rate in return in life would decrease if my attractiveness began to deplete. It is true that beauty is fleeting, but it has been statistically proven by many female-driven magazines that an intelligent and beautiful woman leaps bounds over the social progress of an unattractive intelligent woman. To my misfortune, the ramped beauty treatments produced only short-term results. I began to see that stress was a stronger opponent than I had anticipated, and it quickly humbled the egotistical image that I had created. Stress continually weighed me down, until one day I woke up dejectedly realizing that I had been beaten. My once steadfast future ambitions slowly transformed into a haze of cloudy uncertainty. With the end of the financial analyst program looming towards me, I knew that I had to somehow recapture the young woman from the Midwest. How I was going to do that still remained unclear to my perturbed mind.

While my colleagues found their sanctuary at the local bars in Greenwich Village, I found myself spending more and more of what little free time I had at my local gourmet grocery store. After a long hard day at work, I found it refreshing to peruse the aisles of gourmet delicacies in this surreal "Pleasantville." Briccani's Gourmet Grocery Store became my detoxifying oasis from Wall Street's hanging noose of profanity.

One day while I was greedily sampling the olives stuffed with garlic, I noticed a "Help Wanted" sign. My pending MBA applications paid no heed to my piqued interest in exploring this position at my Haven of Happiness. Business school was a fixed variable; it symbolized one of many possibilities that I could explore. In the interim, I needed something that was going to give me the youth that Wall Street had so deviously stolen. A position as a cashier checker in an "upscale" grocery store seemed to be the perfect solution. It would not be too demanding and it would give me time to think about what direction I was heading in. Plus, they all wore adorable red and white checked farm girl shirts! Wearing that uniformed attire seemed like a more thrifty solution than enlisting in the nearby plastic surgery clinic. I pulled out my Cartier silver tipped pen and began filling out the application. Surprisingly, it proved to be more challenging than taking the MCATS. It tested my knowledge of vocabulary words that only people in the "working" class industry would be privy to. The term "minimum wage" had been archived in my 16-year-old memory. Common sense told my 24-year-old mind that I could not ask for my current Wall Street salary. I highly doubted that even the store manager made as much money as I did as a financial analyst! Not knowing what the ongoing rates were, I penned the term "negotiable". After all, I didn't want to lowball myself, even in the grocery industry. I confidently handed the application filled with numerous blanks to the manager on duty.

My knees actually became weak as the M.O.D. scrutinized my resume and grilled me on such questions as, "Why do you want to work in the grocery business?" and gun-fired a slew of hypothetical questions based on different customer scenarios. I tiptoed through his landmine of questions somewhat gracefully up until the point where he looked at me for a split second in familiar recognition. Beads of perspiration started to drip under my armpits as I anticipated him remembering me as the "difficult" customer.

"You're hired. When can you start?"

Telling my father about my career change, albeit temporary, was an extremely arduous task. I was trading in the well renowned golden bullhorns for a position requiring no college degree and not much brain power.

"Hey, but Daddy... I get a 20% discount off of groceries! ...And they're gourmet!"

It took me about three months to get comfortable in my surroundings at Briccani's. While learning the grocery codes wasn't rocket science, it required an extreme amount of memorization. There were so many types of fruits, vegetables and herbs that I was required to recognize. I never realized how many different types of lettuce exist! And, when I failed to identify it correctly, customers vengefully informed me. The store was infiltrated with many patronizing and rude customers that eagerly slewed their ball of displaced aggression at me. At times, the weight of their energy crumbled my morale, more so than any of the litigious times I experienced as an investment banker. On Wall Street, I defended myself with the shield of my intellect. The grocery store, however, was a much different playing field. My little red and white checked shirt gave me no credibility to the public eye. Some customers threw their money at me. Some women seethed with anger as I so graciously told them that the 12 oz. plastic cups were intended for purchasing food, not for the use of sampling. Little did they know what massive brain power existed behind this uniform!

But, amidst all of these rambunctious shortcomings of the grocery store, I was happy. For every four bitter customers I served, there was always one "golden apple" that inspired my day. The corners of my mouth were no longer drooping. They were now organically reaching for the sun. The bags under my eyes had disappeared. My wrinkles caused by stress were now replenished with the glow of serenity.

Being a minority at Briccani's gave me a much broader and colorful perspective on life. Jose, a cashier for five years, used to be a doctor in his home country of Ecuador. Luisa, the manager of the sushi bar, was an engineer in Mexico prior to arriving in New York City. Roberta the florist had no schooling, was single and worked as a waitress in a deli at night in order to put her four children through school. Although the English language posed a barrier at times to my co-workers' interaction with customers, their humanity recognized the tone of patronization. But rather than let their egos aggressively attack bad etiquette, they always remained humble and gracious. In fact, in the entire year that I worked at Briccani's, I never saw a single worker enter that store with a negative attitude. They had an effervescent resolve that was deeply rooted in their newfound American dream. There were no required reaffirmations to their intelligence, like my ego had craved. Unlike myself, there was no boasting of their previous successful backgrounds in their homelands. There was no stigma to one's educational background, if any at all. They were happy living in the moment and celebrating all that life has to give. No judgments made.

Looking back on my year at Briccani's, I realized that Wall Street had programmed my mind to think inside the small dimensioned box of numbers and high rollin' WASPs. Even while working at Briccani's, I realized that I had let my ego take center stage amongst my diverse co-workers. Ultimately, Briccani's became the catalyst for my "reborn" perspective on life. I left Briccani's after one year to seek a new adventure in my quest for understanding life. Much to my father's distress, I never enrolled in business school and never went back to reclaim my "golden bullhorns." For the past year, I have been a front desk agent at a hotel. Okay... so it's a five-star hotel! I guiltily admit that money will always lure me with its enticing glamour. But, I now live by this credence: people are just people. And everybody in my book is a V.I.P.


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