Outside of The Shop, I have an alter ego. She’s a 2007 graduate of Goucher College, where she completed a double major in dance and history. Her old professors would be devastated to learn that she’s working retail. As such, when she’s invited to attend her first official alumni event (a reception for “academically gifted” Phi Beta Kappa graduates), she dons her fabulous new heels and loads her purse full of business cards that proclaim, “Kat Richter, MA, Freelance Writer and Dance Educator.”
The business cards were something of an ordeal. I’ve been meaning to get them printed for ages but it took me the longest time to figure out what to write. Anthropologist? Tap Dancer? Reluctant Retail Associate? On the verge of an existential crisis, I finally found the confidence to declare myself a “writer” but lacking the courage to commit to such an insecure future, I waffled around for a while (four months, actually) wondering whether “freelance” is one word or two.
Two weeks ago, I finally decided enough is enough. I am a freelance writer (and it’s one word). Unless I want to spend the rest of my life at The Shop, it’s high time I start acting like one.
My plan was simple enough: attend Phi Beta Kappa reception, look fabulous, mingle with important people, declare self to be a writer and dole out business cards (which list both my UK and US phone numbers, so as to impress upon people that I am the very embodiment of Goucher’s “global citizen”). If I happened to charm some old lady into introducing me to her grandson in the process, all the better.
Unfortunately, my “simple” plan was not as foolproof as I thought. First off, I am terrible at networking. I’m better once I’ve had a drink or two (or three, actually) but since I had to drive from Baltimore back to Philadelphia at the end of the evening, there was no chance of getting sloshed. I tried all of my usual tricks (specifically: milling around the cheese table in the hopes that someone would talk to me, complementing an artsy-looking woman on her artsy-looking jacket and giving career advice to theatrically-inclined undergraduates, as if I’m one to talk, being a lowly Sales Associate), but none were terribly successful.
Secondly, the drinking glasses were problematic. At the Goucher Etiquette Dinner (which I attended as a senior in college), we learned all the ins and outs of the cocktail party. You position your wine glass on top of your plate and hook your left index finger around the stem so your right hand is free to shake hands. We learned all sorts of useful things at the Etiquette Dinner actually, like how to eat French onion soup without slurping and how to properly fold your napkin in your lap. These lessons stood me in good stead back when I lived in London and had a life— you wouldn’t catch me eating with the wrong fork at the University Women’s Club!—but I was at a loss last weekend. The drinking glasses, you see, didn’t have stems.
We were never taught what to do with stem-less drinking glasses, and the finger hook thing doesn’t work. I suppose that when faced with such a dilemma, one ought to chose between eating and drinking (or at least not attempt the two simultaneously) but what’s a poor girl to do when faced with crab cakes and an open bar?
I spent the rest of the evening very dutifully not spilling drinks on my old professors.
I also got my picture taken with one Monica Pope, Class of ’85. I had no idea who she was until my old roommate (currently a Development diva at Goucher), hissed, “Don’t move. We need to get a photograph with her! Also, you have something in your teeth.” It turns out Monica Pope is on Bravo’s Top Chef, which makes her somewhat famous. A good little networker would have given Ms. Pope her newly designed business card and said, “I’d love to interview you for such-and-such magazine” but like I said before, I’m rubbish at networking. In fact, I didn’t think of suggesting an interview ‘til just now.
My outfit was also something of a problem, by which I mean my plunging neckline plunged a little too enthusiastically at times. Nonetheless, I knew I looked good. And despite the fact that I didn’t think to ask Monica Pope for an interview, I was introducing myself to people— as a writer— and it felt good. So good, in fact, that when I recognized a tall blonde in the crowd, I actually said hello.
He was one of the many upperclassman I admired from afar my freshman year. Of course, being a shy, dorky, socially awkward freshman, I never dreamed of saying hello to him at the time. Maybe I had smiled hopefully across the dining hall once or twice but being only 18, and rather naïve at that, such was the extent of my seductive powers.
Fortunately, I’m not a dorky freshman anymore. I’ve learned that you can do just about anything as long as you’re wearing high heels and a sexy bra (even if the latter of the two remains unseen). Catching his eye, I smiled and said, “You look familiar.”
“I thought I recognized you too,” he replied, introducing himself as a member of the Class of 2005. “I was thinking I might take a walk to check out the new library.”
“Do you mind if I tag along?” I asked.
“Not at all,” he said, holding the door for me. And off we went. Maybe I’m not so bad at “networking” after all.