Teaching was not what I had expected. It was a tremendous amount of hard work. After I finished at three, there was grading and preparing for the next day. It was exhausting. I decided I wanted to get into journalism, but I didn't want to have to pay all of my dues.
After a particularly grim week at school, I set to work searching for an old high school friend of my mother's who works for National Public Radio. I've always had an interest in journalism, and taking a cue from my new career self-help books, I set up an informational interview -- to see what the job was like, what it took to get into it, things like that.
She suggested lunch at an Indian restaurant near her office.
"Thank you for meeting me," I said, excited that I might actually learn something that could help me get on a path to a career I might be good at and enjoy at the same time.
"No problem. How's your mother?"
We chatted for a while about my family, hometown, what high school was like when she and my mother were there. Finally she asked, "So what can I do for you?"
"I'm interested in getting into radio," I said with a smile. "I want to do something creative, I like to learn about new things, I am analytical and very organized."
"You're too pretty for radio," she responded. "What about television?"
"Well, I thought I might use radio as a way to get into television."
"That's very difficult, few people are able to make the transition. You would have to work hard, very long hours to make a break from radio into television. Are you willing to work long hours? Pretty much every weekend and a lot of nights? Remember -- news happens twenty-four hours a day. You have to be ready and willing to go out and get the story. Forget about family events, birthdays, vacations even. Work comes first."
Swallowing hard, I tried to smile, "Is it really like that? What about style, arts and entertainment?"
"You can't do that first. Those jobs are sought-after, coveted positions that you work in. Dues are always paid up front in journalism. Do you want this more than anything?"
"I don't know. I didn't realize . . ." I trailed off, embarrassed.
"That won't cut it. You have to be hungry. This has to be the thing you want more than anything else -- more than marriage, more than kids. Do you want it that much?" She asked, lighting a cigarette, inhaling deeply, then exhaling, letting the smoke curl up around her head.
"Well . . ." I didn't know how to answer. "I had no idea it was such a difficult profession."
"Oh, it's cutthroat. To make it to the top, you will make more sacrifices than you knew possible. I can't really recommend it to be honest. Now that I'm in my fifties, I regret all the things I missed, all the life that I didn't live. I had a great career -- really interesting, but I hardly know my children, my first husband left me, and my second and I just recently separated."
I was at a loss. Making a difference was important to me, but not enough to risk losing Sam. That was not an option.
"What else are you interested in?"
"Well, I really don't know. I like to plan things. I want to do something interesting and important. I want to change the world."
She laughed, husky from years of smoking. "Aren't you so adorable! So naïve -- none of us gets to change the world. You'd be better off doing something that gives you some pleasure and lets you keep your husband and happy life, if you want my advice."
This was really scary and quite depressing. Was there no hope for what I wanted in my life? Should I admit defeat?
"Listen, I have a friend that is a party planner -- she does all the major events all over the DC area -- embassy parties, Hill parties. I think it would be a great job for you. Why don't you let me give you her number? I'll call her and let her know I'm recommending you. Call her in a week, OK? By then I'll have gotten in touch with her."
She paid for my lunch, disregarding my protests. We stepped out onto the street, where she lit another cigarette.
"Listen to me," she admonished firmly, "don't go into journalism. It will eat you alive. Give up your silly notions of changing the world. Promise me you'll call about the party planning."
"I promise." I thanked her again for lunch and her advice and we parted ways.
My shoulders sagged and my purse bumped against my thighs as I walked toward the car. Was she right? Was all lost? Should I stop hoping and give in to the inevitable? Maybe I should just get pregnant and chuck the whole career thing. Tears stung my eyes. "Don't cry," I told myself, "you put in new contacts today."
Rather than sitting on the sidewalk and wallowing in my misery, I headed to Cosi for an Artic Mint Mocha -- I knew it was very sinful, at least three hundred calories for the small, but I needed it. The mint chocolate taste was sure to revive my spirits.
Not only did I get a medium yummy drink, but I took it to the mall and wandered through the stores. I even bought a new black jacket with white piping around the collar. That gave me the needed lift, so by evening I was feeling much better. I'd call about the party planning. High level people went to parties, right? I was sure to meet someone great and jump start the perfect career.
Sam was dubious -- "Party planning? Are you joking? Even for you that's a stretch, Jessica." My full name, I knew he was really serious.
"I'm just going to try it. I figure I can make a lot of contacts."
His brow furrowed and then he narrowed his eyes. "I won't stand in your way, but remember how bad you felt about selling clothes? I still think you should find something to do with your degree -- your law degree -- where you can be happy and do something at least somewhat intellectual."
He headed straight upstairs without another word. Was he right? Was I being stupid? I was at a complete loss. The truth was that I didn't want to be a party planner. It would be OK, but I had goals and dreams. Being a journalist was what I really thought I wanted to do.
I came up with a plan -- it was a little crazy, but I thought it just might work. My goal was to show a local station that they needed someone like me -- funny, witty, with plenty of panache.
"If I can just get them to look at me, I know I can get a job," I told Sam when I explained my idea.
"How are you going to get in front of them?" Sam asked with one eyebrow raised.
"Gina's brother -- he used to work for the all-news local station, and now he's at Fox."
"I didn't know that," Sam replied.
"Yep, I already talked to her. She said he could get me in -- what I did with the time was my own responsibility."
"I hate to admit it, but this just might work. Your videotape has to be perfect -- just what they are looking for," Sam cautioned. "You are only going to get one shot, and that probably won't be five minutes."
"I know. Here's my plan. You remember Brett, he's the son of my dad's friend who works at the National Gallery of Art? We met him when we first moved here one day at the Sculpture Garden?"
"Oh yeah, I do actually. He was really nice, made certain we got into that Art Deco show you wanted to see."
I nodded. "Well, now he's one of the curators. I thought I could interview him for a few minutes on one of the Gallery's most famous pieces. It would show that I know people, can get them to help me, and be a good special interest piece that most Washingtonians would want to know and show their intelligence about the area."
"That seems like a good idea. At least you will have tried for what you really want!"
So, I took a stabilizing breath, picked up the phone and called Brett.
"Brett, it's Jessica Clark-Romero. How are you?" I knew he was going to think I was slightly crazy when I told him what I was proposing. After general chit-chat about families and what's been happening, I asked him.
"I was hoping you would let me interview you. This is going to sound a little weird. I'm trying to change careers. I think I want to go into journalism, and I need something to show my skills. I was thinking of creating a mock morning show where I do an introduction, interview you about a famous piece of art for the National Gallery, and then do a quick resume and why I would be great for the job. Would you be willing to help me?"
"Sure, Jessica. I don't know how good I'll be, but I'm willing to do it."
I let out the breath I was holding -- I didn't have a back-up plan. "Thanks Brett! I really appreciate it. I know it is a strange request."
He laughed. "Can't say that I've ever had a request like it. But it should be fun."
Over the next two weeks, I set it up. Starting with a videographer, then a stage, and finally a script. Years of theatre in high school finally came in handy. It was easy to memorize and fall back into a persona that would be appealing on TV. My coup de grace was the perfect outfit -- a real Chanel suit from a vintage/consignment store. Black and red bouclé with a flounce at the bottom on the three-quarter length sleeves and the bottom of the skirt, it was an absolute dream. The black inset buttons were offset, just slightly on the jacket, making a dynamic collar. I splurged on a pair of red pumps that were bright red on the heels and faded into nearly black on the toes. There was no way I wasn't television material.
I met Brett on my "sound stage" an hour before the videographer was to arrive for a dress rehearsal.
He wolf-whistled at me when I walked in. "Wow! You look absolutely marvelous, darling. I thought maybe you were a little nutty when you asked me to do this, but now that I see you -- this is the right thing for you! The world should not be denied the vision that you are in that suit. Is it a real Chanel? Don't answer that -- I can tell that it is."
"I found it on consignment -- isn't it fab? The clerk told me that this woman hadn't lost her baby weight and her husband brought in like twenty designer outfits one size too small for her. Unfortunately, I missed out on most of it!"
"That is a travesty -- I bet you could have worn everything she brought in."
"Well, if this goes the way I hope, I should be in designer suits, bought at Neiman's for the rest of my working life!"
"Amen to that!"
My stage had been created with a backdrop that looked like wainscoting -- in a dark brown with white trim. I had brought in two beige wicker chairs with striped cushions and a matching wicker table between them. The ambiance was completed with green leafy plants.
"Brett, I'm going to sit here," I indicated the wicker chair on the left. "I'll say my beginning piece and introduce you. Then you will come out, a quick kiss-kiss, then I'll ask about the painting. We'll cut away to a picture of it. Then come back for more questions. Finally, the camera will pan only to my face and I'll give my plea for a job."
"That sounds perfect. I'm ready," he replied, showing me a set of index cards in his hand.
We ran through the entire program twice, timing it both times. It ran eight minutes. I hoped that wasn't too long, but if the beginning was good, it might not matter if the viewer got to the end.
"Brett, we have to be certain that the beginning is really strong -- they might not watch the entire eight minutes."
"Right. I'll make certain to be 'on' from the first moment!"
I sat down, flipped my hair back and began:
"Hi, I'm Jessica Clark-Romero. I've noticed that something is lacking in Washington. We don't have anything telling us what is going on locally. Other areas have their own morning coffee shows like Good Morning, Texas.
What Washington needs is me! I want to show those of us that live here what is happening -- go to new exhibits, talk to curators. Then people will have an idea about the show. What restaurants are hot? Where is there new to go? I can show it all from where to take family and friends when visiting to the best place for a romantic date. But I can do more than that. Time is a precious commodity. We all want to be knowledgeable, cultured and interesting, but who has the time for that? No one can read everything, go to every exhibit, but they do have time for a few minutes of TV. I want to make that time worthwhile -- give them culture, sophistication and interest all bottled into one! Then, if they like the book, the exhibit, the play, or whatever, they can pursue it, but if not, they can still talk about it when it comes up at happy hour.
A lot goes on in and around this city, and I'm not talking about politics. I want to meet interesting locals, have them show us a side of the city we don't always see to give us a bit of culture and sophistication without the work!
Today, Brett Donnan is here from the National Gallery to give us a lesson in Raphael."
Brett entered and I kissed him on both cheeks.
"Thanks for being here Brett -- tell me a little about yourself -- how long have you been with the National Gallery? What caused you to be interested in art?"
Brett smiled nervously and his voice quavered a bit, but within moments, he was really getting into it. Telling me about his passion for art, how spectacular the National Gallery's collection was, and giving a great performance.
I asked him about the piece he'd brought -- how it was acquired, the significance of what was painted, and finally, for those of us without any real knowledge of art and are often intimidated by museums, what advice do you have for us?
His answers were interesting, but short enough to keep an audience's attention. I finished with,
"I hope you enjoyed this lesson. Tune in next time for more quick culture!"
"It turned out so great!" I gushed to Sam.
Pulling the videotape from my hand, he stuck it into the machine and flipped on the TV. My cute little "set" appeared on the screen. There I was in my great suit, looking happy, smiling. I watched myself critically -- not bad. One fly away hair I wish someone had mentioned. I'd fumbled once with a word -- but on the whole, I was pleased.
Glancing at Sam to see his reaction, I was surprised. He had a huge smile on his face, and he was riveted to the action.
"Jess, I have to tell you, I was really skeptical of this venture, but it's great! Really professional -- I would watch you. This might actually work -- if you can get it in front of the right people." He kissed me. "I'm proud of you."
The next morning, I dialed Gina's number.
"Did you talk with your brother?" I asked tentatively. It's always hard to ask people for big favors.
"'Course I did, Boo. Joel was happy to help you. He's got two names for you to contact for interviews -- one at WB where he used to be and one at Fox where he is now. I'll email them to you today."
Although I called to schedule time right away, it took me nearly two weeks to get an appointment time.
Looking up at the glass WB office building, butterflies flew circles in my tummy. "Please like my tape! Please like me! Please want me!" I prayed silently.
Walking out of the elevators, it was chaotic activity -- people speed walking, talking on cell phones while typing out emails on their Blackberry devices. I stood first on one foot and then the other in front of the receptionist's desk waiting for her to get off the phone and send me to my next stop along the way to actually meeting with Mr. Bob Payne.
"How can I help you?" She snapped, clearly wishing I did not need or want to be helped.
"I have an appointment with Bob Payne."
"Name," she asked without glancing up.
"Jessica Clark-Romero is here to see Mr. Payne," she bellowed into a speakerphone in a nasal voice that made my head pound.
"Send her up, she's late!" The speakerphone responded with a shriek.
"Through the glass doors to your right. WB, can I help you?" She asked into her headphone obviously dismissing me.
"I'm not late," I muttered under my breath. "I had to wait ten minutes before I could get the receptionist to look at me."
I hurried through the doors and to the right. An enormous desk sat at the end of the corridor, blocking the polished aluminum doors behind it.
"Good morning," I said cheerily, trying not to let annoyance creep into my tone. "I'm Jessica Clark-Romero here to see Mr. Bob Payne."
"Take a seat," she pointed to a row of hard metal chairs. "I'll let him know you've finally arrived."
I bit back a comment about the receptionist. Be pleasant. I reminded myself firmly. This could be the only opportunity to break into television. Perching on the edge of the metal seat, I waited, unable to concentrate on anything but the polished door.
It wasn't long -- although it seemed like an eternity -- before Bob Payne walked out. He was a handsome black man, about six feet tall, slender with a bald head. His pin strip suit fit like a GQ model -- and I was certain I had seen the tie featured on the cover of GQ a month ago.
Gliding over with his hand outstretched, he gave me a brilliant smile.
"How are you today? I hear you're one of Joel's friends. We really miss him here. Come on in the office." He ushered me in with a gentle pressure on the small of my back.
"What can I do for you today?"
"I want to break into television. I made a video to show you what I can do." I wasn't as smooth as I had hoped for me. Nerves were making my voice break a bit.
"Put it in, put it in. Let's see what you can do."
I popped in the tape and pushed the button.
Bob watched the tape, taking a few cryptic notes on a pad as he balanced on the front of his desk. He smiled until he got to the interview, then his brow began to knit together and his writing stopped.
"Jessica, the camera loves you. Stage presence galore, but I have to be honest, this is far too educational for our audience. They aren't going to be interested in this kind of item. I'm afraid we're going to have to pass." In one motion he was up and had the door open. "Thanks for giving us a chance," he said as he broke into another perfect smile.
"But, I don't have to do that kind of material." I said over my shoulder as he all but shoved me out the door.
"Won't work," he responded as he shut it.
Suddenly I was standing on the other side of those shiny doors looking at the other side of the desk barricading Payne's office -- now I knew why he needed the barricade.
"Thanks," Bob's secretary said with a snap of her gum. "Have a nice day."
I trudged back up the corridor and through the glass doors. "Too intellectual is what you meant, not too educational," I grumbled. "Don't be upset yet." I chided myself. "You still have one more appointment -- one more chance to get your big break."
I had a day to prepare, and prepare I did. Trying to think of a resolution to every problem I had encountered at the WB, I spent all day coming up with ways to get around receptions and secretaries and answers to the statement that my ideas weren't going to work. When I stepped out the next morning, I felt ready.
Besides preparing mentally, I had gotten a new outfit to make the right impression. The moment I saw it, I knew I had to have it -- a light pink pantsuit with a cream scarf. The scarf had circles of different sizes and shades of pink all over it. I loved it and felt great in it.
Arriving at the Fox station, I pulled the rearview mirror toward me and check my makeup. I didn't think I could have done any better. This was as good as I could look. "You will do this! You are going to get it!" I coached myself. Deep breath and a nice smile. I stepped out of the car and walked up to the door. There was still chaos, but not as much as at the WB. For one, the employees looked a little older -- more like me in their early thirties rather than twenty in FCUK shirts. These people were dressed in pantsuits and office casual.
The receptionist was on the phone, but when I stepped up to the desk, she gave me a smile and mouthed, "wait just a second."
I stood there. She got off the call and although the phone rang again, she let it go and asked, "May I help you?"
"I have an appointment with Richard Jeffrey."
"Right, Jessica Clark-Romero, correct?"
I let out a small sigh. They actually knew I was coming! "That's right."
"I'll let him know you are here. Take a seat. It'll probably be a few minutes."
I turned and there was a row of basic black chairs with padded seats, nothing spectacular, but quite comfortable. The table was stacked with People, US Weekly and the New York Post. I loved it here already.
A short, kind of squat guy with thinning hair turning gray at his temples, came up to me. "Jessica? I'm Richard. Come on back." He smiled and motioned for me to follow him.
We walked into a room with twenty or so televisions all tuned to something different.
"Let me see what you've brought. Joel said you made a demo -- which is great because it is the only way for us to evaluate you." He put the tape in and indicated a couple of chairs for us to sit in. The tape began and I watched him as he watched it. He smiled and laughed in all the right places. I felt the butterflies give way just a bit.
At the end, he looked right in my eyes and said, "That was really good. You can't have your own show, but I'm willing to give you a chance to prove yourself. We need someone to do more of the "sensational" stuff rather than just news reporting. Would you be willing to do it? It isn't a hefty salary, but you can move up quickly if you do a good job."
For the first time in my life, I thought -- this might really be it. This might be the job! "That would be great! Thank you for giving me a chance."
"You bet -- I think you are going to be great. Start tomorrow. There's a protest at the World Bank -- you can interview the protesters. I'll give you a tour and show you what you need to do for tomorrow."
I followed him for the rest of the day. It was really exciting. "This is going to be so great!" I thought with enthusiasm. I'm going to be on TV!
But the protest didn't happen, and I didn't get on TV. No one from the station ever called again. I cried. The question was, what do you do when you don't know what to do? The fact was that I needed a job that paid money -- and nothing I'd tried so far did I want to continue.
Define myself -- that's what I needed to do. What am I really interested in? What skills do I have? What must I have in a work environment? I read books about what to do with my life, trying to learn about myself, and soon realize that I want an environment where I can organize things. Being around people is essential, but I do not want set hours. All of these perceptions were helpful, but I still had no idea what kind of job I could do and look for more than a few weeks before I tried to jump ship again.