. 4 .
“The New Shannon”
The summaries were finished by 11:05, and Shannon managed to get them into Lisa’s office unnoticed, and unlikely read until after lunch. On that thought, she decided to break early. With so much time on her hands, she took the subway uptown to find a new place for lunch. After all, her new self had been around for over an hour and had yet to do anything different.
The office was buzzing madly as ever, with runners trying to get as many trades in as possible before noon. She could even tell which ones would be working through lunch, and not just by who had Power Bars sticking out of their breast pockets. They had a determination with which Shannon couldn’t identify, but which fascinated her all the same. Not even Hannah criticized her lack of ambition more than her mother.
Claudia Santori married Big Gus when she was only 21, but they had dated since she was in high school, and they were engaged before she graduated. She never went to college, and didn’t have the kind of success in high school that would have encouraged her to continue her education. She only worked a few small jobs before she was married, just enough to help get them started in a home of their own and ready to have Big Gus provide for her and a new family.
They had Ellen just ten months after the wedding, and in the span of a year Claudia went from living with her parents to being a mother herself. She had no younger siblings and had no idea how to deal with little children, much less infants. She threw herself completely into learning how to be a mother and spent sixty long hours every week with just Ellen and herself. In those few hours that Big Gus was home and awake, he was mostly disinterested in being a father. He had expected a Little Gus and promised his father and both his uncles that his first-born would be a boy. They had all decided that there were too many girls being born into the family and somebody needed to carry on the Lambert name.
Failing once was acceptable to Big Gus. There was no shame in a second try, which they made soon enough, and Shannon was born just thirteen months after Ellen. Not believing in “Third Time’s the Charm”, Big Gus gave up on fatherhood and spent even less time around the house. Claudia was solely responsible for raising the girls, with Big Gus only bringing in money. She wanted them to be able to be the kind of self-sufficient women that Claudia never had a chance to be.
Ellen did fairly well in school, but not exceptionally. Shannon was the A student, staying ahead of Ellen despite being a grade behind. Claudia assumed that such performance would lead to a bright future for Shannon, and that her enthusiasm for good grades would translate to a desire for big career goals. When Shannon made it through college and got her big Wall Street job (as Claudia called it), everything seemed to be going as planned. After two years without significant advancement, Claudia began to doubt her daughter for the first time.
Shannon never really understood why her mother felt so strongly about her moving up the corporate ladder. She only saw her job as a way of getting by. Finance didn’t really interest her, and after a while she realized that she only had to maintain status quo and she would get the scheduled annual pay raises. The others would work three times as hard for fifty percent more pay. The financial knowledge that she had made it clear enough that this was not an economically sound practice. In the long run, she would be the winner in the pay-to-work ratio contest.
“Why don’t you invite this Lisa over to dinner some time?” Claudia would ask.
“Mom, it’s bad enough that I have to deal with her all day.”
“Well, I don’t see how you expect to get anywhere with that attitude.”
“What attitude? I like to keep work at the office. Besides, I don’t think Lisa wants to have dinner with me any more than I want it with her.”
“How ‘bout some of the men around the office? Do you ever think about…”
“Mom, I told you. I’m not interested in any of them.”
Shannon’s future had only two routes for Claudia: president of a Wall Street bank or the mother of a big, Catholic family. Her ultimate dream was for both, but either would have been satisfactory. She was even ready to let the Catholic thing pass if only she could find a decent husband. Ellen’s husband was half-Jewish, after all, but as long as the kids were baptized, it was fine.
As far as Shannon was concerned, her only goal was to find a new place for lunch and be able to get back to the office before 1:00. 23rd Street in midday was as busy as ever, and she saw many different cafés and food shops that she had never tried before. Every kind of ethnicity was represented, and several styles within each. Dim sum or antipasto? Falafel or McDonald’s? What does the new Shannon like for lunch? Does she sit down or eat on the run? She might have a lot to do, and can’t be bothered with a leisurely meal. Or maybe she needs at least an hour to break bread with herself and get centered for a productive afternoon. Oh bread, she thought to herself, and found a French bakery on the corner that looked promising. The new Shannon needs some good, crusty bread, and she doesn’t care what Dr. Atkins might say. She bought a warm baguette and went to the middle eastern grocery next door and bought some fresh babaganoush to spread on the bread.
Ah, to hell with spreading, she thought. Right on the street, she ripped a chunk off the baguette and dipped it in the babaganoush, covering as much of the morsel as possible. This was good; this is what the new Shannon likes. She got some juice from a street vendor and had herself a lunch standing on the sidewalk. It was vegetarian, she thought, if not necessarily vegan. Is the new Shannon vegetarian, she wondered. Would meat pass her lips again? She looked again at the falafel place next to the McDonald’s, and she had a craving for processed beef and mysterious condiments. Not until dinner, she told herself. The new Shannon is having a vegetarian lunch, and after work she can have a Big Mac, because she can and nobody can tell her different.
She finished her lunch, with a little bread left over for a snack later on, and it was only 11:30. She could have made it back to her office by noon, but she had no desire to return before necessary. She walked to Seventh Avenue and continued downtown, just enjoying a day in the city. She had taken New York for granted despite years of staring at it in awe from across the river. As a young girl in Hoboken, New York seemed like the Emerald City, only there wasn’t any Yellow Brick Road on which to walk there. There were only trains, ferries, and tunnels. The closest thing to a magical road was Routes 1 and 9, which would her take her all the way to the city, across the bridge, but there was no walking it from Hoboken. New Jersey just wasn’t a place for walking, but Seventh Avenue seemed to be for nothing else, despite the many cars struggling to get downtown. Shannon had no need to struggle. She just kept on walking, past 14th Street and into the West Village, where the cross streets stopped intersecting at boring right angles. New York was no coldly planned grid there, but rather a capricious old town with unexpected turns and diverse buildings.
Seventh Avenue gave way to Varick Street, and further downtown merging with Broadway until she was back to her office. Not a long walk, she thought. The new Shannon doesn’t need to take the train everywhere. Tonight, she can walk to the Christopher Street station and save the two bucks on her MetroCard.
But then she realized that her card was monthly, so no matter how many rides she took, it wouldn’t make a difference, but this was about principle. Perhaps a monthly card was no longer necessary. In fact, this Sunday there was no plan for a brunch, or anything else in the city, so she might not even use her MetroCard at all this week. Yes! Freedom! If only she could walk the Holland Tunnel, then she would never have to ride the train again.
Energized from her walk, she considered climbing the thirty-two flights of stairs to her office, but she remembered how difficult it was to climb down them two years earlier. Going up would be a bit much—even more than she would do on a Stair-Master, if she actually worked out on one, or anything, for that matter. The new Shannon should really start working out. Hello, mid-afternoon latté! You will no longer be a guilty pleasure, but a welcome reward.
She tapped her foot and whistled a nameless tune as she rode on the elevator. It wasn’t very loud, but she was certain the other two people in the elevator could hear her, and she didn’t care. As the doors opened on her floor, she saw the clock and noticed it was only 12:45 and only the die-hards were in the office, shouting frantically into their wireless headsets and pacing the sparse corridors.
She gingerly walked by them to her desk, and found her chair facing the window to the right, rather than sitting neatly tucked under the desk, centered with the blotter. Without changing the orientation, she sat in the chair and stretched her legs into the space between the next desk and hers. She delicately reached her arms behind her and pointed her toes, taking up as much space as she could. She was not tired, but merely relaxed. Her eyes were closed, but only in delight. When she finally opened them while letting her arms hang down, she saw the same sprinkler head staring back at her. She winked at the nozzle and took the still silence as an affirmation. Yes, Shannon, you are well. You are sound. Is something new?
Yes, sprinkler. This is the new Shannon, and she takes her lunches early.