How to succeed without really trying

It is rush hour in Grand Central Station,
and I wade through the early evening crowds of people in various states
of dress and undress, careful not to brush my khakis and blue collared
shirt up against anything dirty. Outside, taxis and speed-walking commuters
clog 42nd Street, then I turn right onto Park Avenue. Quieter here, more
dignified. It stands up ahead, on the right side of the street, a stone’s
throw from the Western entrance to Grand Central. On the off chance I
miss the huge blue flag emblazoned with a white "Y" that flaps
in the hot city updrafts, a small brass plaque beside the tight revolving
doors announces my destination: The Yale Club of New York. I button my
sleeves and spin through.

Inside, I walk briskly past the pillars, couches, and rugs that adorn
the well-groomed lobby and punch the elevator button. To my right, a taller
guy, somewhat familiar, glances in my direction before turning back to
the elevator. He is better dressed than I am. The elevator dings and the
doors open. They’re about to slide close when in pops . . . I don’t know
her name. Can’t let on.

"Hey Chris! How are you doing?"

"Hey . . . you! Good, thanks. So what have you been up to this summer?"
She puts on an earnest face and prepares to answer but is interrupted
by the doors swooshing back like brass curtains to reveal the Tap Room
in all its cacophonous glory.

The lighting in the Tap Room is low and intimate like a good Irish pub,
leaving dark corners and quieter tables for conversation. The ceiling
is a low, thick lattice of dark wood columns. Still, the room might seem
spacious if its 4,000 square feet weren’t filled with Yalies standing
shoulder to shoulder. As it is now, the place reminds me of the old Naples
on a Thursday night, packed with elbows and juggled pitchers of beer.
But here, the patrons are infinitely better dressed. At Yale, we were
just students. Now we have internships with the best fashion designers,
most lucrative investment banking firms, and the trendiest magazines.
On these summer Thursday nights, we pose as high paid bankers at Goldman
Sachs living on the Upper West Side. We get a gritty street cred from
tight t-shirts and faded jeans. We are hip and trendy fashionistas at
Vogue magazine. We happily parley our internship experience into namedropping,
networking, and conversational currency.

The Tap Room atmosphere demands a standard pose: The guys, athletic looking,
in blue button-down shirts, khakis with razor-sharp creases, and diamond-hard
hair gel, stand casually with their shoulders back and hands in their
pockets. They nod at each other to say hi, saving smiles for the girls.
The girls hold their left elbows in their right hands, cradling liquors
and tonics and wine coolers, and jut out their hips. They are even better
dressed than the guys. They wear tight and fashionable skirts or classy
slacks with black tops. Their hair is shoulder length, held back well
or allowed to frame the face.

I am about to step down from the raised carpet platform when a Club employee
stops me. He holds out his hand expectantly and I fumble with my ids,
finally giving him my Yale id, proving that I’m both of age and of the
University. I turn to the man sitting at a card table to my left. He has
a cash box in front of him and a little placard that displays the drink
prices and the evening’s special: Corona for slightly less than standard
New York prices. I buy a Corona drink ticket and a ticket for a "Yale
Ale," swivel right and prepare to dive into the crowd.

It’s slow going, as most people are in full cocktail mode, talking loudly
and exchanging numbers for their silver flip-top Motorola cell phones.
Most of them are talking about their internships. I pick up "J.P.
Morgan" and "portfolio" from a suited guy on my left. He’s
talking to a tall girl and a nodding fellow with his id card still clipped
to his belt. A friend from long before Yale stops me. Our conversations
have sadly become robotic, but we still greet each other enthusiastically.
"So what are you up to this summer, man?" I ask, knowing perfectly
well he told me a month ago. I unfortunately didn’t care enough to remember.
This conversation should be easy, since he’s a talker. He tells me all
about a play he’s acting in, how the New York acting scene seems, and
oh, did I see the little blurb in The Village Voice? No, I did not. He
goes on with observations about living the bohemian life in Brooklyn,
sharing a house with a group of lesbians, one of whom has a son she takes
care of (very poorly, in his opinion). He asks how I’m doing, and I tell
him, feeding him the typical line about how rewarding my internship at
The Village Voice is, how it’s a great workplace, how I’m really glad
I’m getting my New York experience. I sound like I’m lying but I’m not.
He listens better and is more sincere than anyone else present, so I feel
bad when I have to break off the conversation to talk with people whom
I care less about.

I pick up conversation with a gaggle of stylish girls who I’ve met at
some point in the past year. Half of them are from New York, saving on
rent money by staying in their Upper East and West Side apartments. They
have scored great internships or assistantships with up-and-coming designers
or producers. A few are involved in governmental internships, but these
girls play that achievement down, as it is less interesting than the gossip
they heard about so-and-so yesterday.

One of them asks the evening’s question: "So what are you up to
this summer?" I tell her. "Really?" She’s impressed "Oh,
how did you get that?" I’m confused for a moment until I realize
that she’s asking me what connection I had to the newspaper beforehand
that got me the job. "I applied," I say in a clipped voice.
"Oh!" she squeaks, even more impressed. The conversation meanders
on, and I ask what she’s been doing, smile and nod in the right places,
and I’m out of the conversation.

The Tap Room is even more packed now, and I can’t help but bump into
people from whom I had wanted to take the summer off. They’re good people,
but all we’ll talk about is how great their internships are and how wonderful
my internship is, and then maybe make plans to go out next week, which
we never will. But it’s good practice for the networking skills we never
knew we had. In the three years since our entrance to Yale, our eyes and
ears have become microscopes and satellites, picking up the slightest
hint of acquaintances who might know someone who knows someone who knows
someone. And before we can feel guilty about using our contacts as an
advantage over the kids without the snazzy Yale ring or well-developed
network, we have a job, and it is water under the bridge.

I spot a savior, a friend I actually talk to, just across the crowd,
looking a little out of place. I’m feeling a little socially desperate,
having just been snubbed by a recent Yale graduate that seems set on never
leaving the college scene. He waxes and wanes between buddy-buddy and
cooler-than-thou. Today it’s the latter. I push my way past his chattering
group and grab my friend’s arm. He turns around, smiles, and then tells
me worriedly that someone was just looking for me. My friend and I lean
our heads together and begin to complain about the atmosphere. I realize
that with the exception of him and my old friend, I’ve only been talking
to girls tonight. The place seems more loaded with testosterone than ever.
The crowd of banking interns, all of whom are paid infinitely more than
we are, are giving each other high fives-in a most dignified manner, of
course.

My friend and I begin to seriously talk about our internships, without
the surface gloss and scripted lines, and we are quickly laughing. We
talk longer about actual things. We make actual plans to go barhopping
afterwards and go our separate ways. I weave through the crowd looking
for that girl I heard was working for a famous columnist. She’ll be good
to talk to.

Christopher Heaney is a senior in Timothy Dwight College..

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