― Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding
On a scorching Thursday afternoon, I prepared my backpack for the hour long commute back to Coney Island. My desk rests in the dimly-lit corner my colleagues call "the bullpen." It's a section of the editorial offices where cardboard boxes create a modernist depiction of (un)productivity and a defunct typewriter sits without a purpose. Stacks of boxes clutter throughout the 'pen. Two editorial assistants — our coaches, in this case — work, surrounded by a cycle of interns, while the remaining cubicles are left uninhabited.
We interns, the relievers, are called in to clean up the scraps and to make sure a cascade of runs does not become a burdensome deficit. In the magazine world, that means making the editors' — and their editorial assistants' — lives easier. It's difficult to stand out in an environment where interns rotate on two or three day shifts. But on those three days when I'm asked for help, I nod and smile and grab my notebook to jot down whatever task needs to be done. After a tiresome day of research and other duties, it was time to hit the road. The ninth inning came and went. It was time to look forward to tomorrow.
Before I left the 'pen, I made sure my desk was tidy. I pushed the boxes underneath the tabletop. I grabbed my large binder with the label, "Vanity Fair intern guide," and placed it neatly on top of a stack of phone books leaning against the wall. I felt like a minor-league starter turned major-league reliever, waiting for my chance to make an impact on the organization.
Waiting for the call.
Then, an editorial assistant approached. She also sat in the 'pen, but at a cubicle closer to her editor's office. We had previously worked together on a couple of transcriptions and a few deliveries for her editor's writers. At this stage of the internship season, I would like to say I relate to her pretty well, since she only joined Vanity Fair a couple of months ago. She came up to me and leaned against the desk next to me. She was heading to France for a weeklong personal sojourn.
"Could you sit in for me next Thursday and Friday?" she asked. "We could talk more about what you need to do tomorrow."
Like any other request, I nodded and smiled. "Sure thing. Not a problem." I said.
The call. A gust of excitement and nervousness swept through my body. The same jitters I felt two weeks prior upon entering the office returned. My mind filled with curiosity. What will I possibly have to do?
So I went up to the assistant's desk the following day and received a rundown on what her job entailed. She arranged for a fellow editorial assistant to handle direct planning for the writers. That meant, I wouldn't have to finagle flight plans with travel agents, only to call back and request a slight change or addition. I became the assistant's body double. I served her editor's needs when a major project came by her desk and answered her phone when the editor was away from her office.
She handed me a sheet of paper, providing all the information I would need for the week ahead. Log in into my computer with my information, but don't tell IT if you have an issue. Transfer so and so calls, but usually the editor takes her own calls. This is where the manuscript is, if requested. I flipped the page to an email sent by an insurance agent. I didn't know what it was all about, so I asked the assistant. "Most of it should be taken care of, but know the lingo just in case someone calls," she said.
But I nodded and smiled and bid her farewell. I thought about my move away from my corner that had become home to the carefully arranged desk before me. I glanced at the sheet every few minutes, as I packed my bag once more. For two days, I would assist an editor who, after three years with The New Yorker, moved to Vanity Fair two years ago. Over the past few weeks, I often saw her glide through the office from one meeting to the next, returning to her brightly lit office just outside the 'pen only to sit behind an assortment of pages and manuscripts.
Then came Thursday morning. It felt, well, typical. I walked to my desk and took out my iPad. I greeted my fellow editorial assistants seated around me with a warm grin and soft-spoken hello. Then, as if I had just finished my warm-up routine, I walked into her office to see if she needed any help. My heartbeat never quickened. My words never fumbled. Only confidence resonated. She was not just my boss, but also my peer.
"Could you call in a few books for me?" she asked with an affable, reassuring tone.
I nodded and smiled.
At the time, I had no idea where that reassuring feeling came from. Perhaps I finally entered the zone, that unparalleled level of comfort when you feel your pitches are working and when nothing, not even the possibility of failure, fazes you. For a reliever, that's what you need when the time counts, when the organization calls you up when they need you. It's the moment when the manager finally calls to the bullpen and a coach taps your shoulder and asks to hold the game. All that's left is, for you, to toss that one-inning scoreless inning, only to wait for tomorrow's call.
Edwin "Eddie" Rios
ASME Editorial Intern | Vanity Fair