As a broke acting student, I was thrilled to land a six-week paid internship at American Theater Wing. Each year the group holds a benefit to honor individuals who have made significant contributions to the theater, a black tie affair held at Cipriani with cocktails, dinner and a show featuring Broadway’s brightest. The best part? The interns were invited.
I worked diligently on the gala for weeks. I sent out invitations, cross referenced spreadsheets, wrangled florists and answered every imaginable question from invitees. Finally the day of the gala arrived. The usually quiet office was swirling with ringing phones, deliveries and co-workers frantically running into each other’s cubicles.
Luckily, I had thought ahead. The previous day I’d picked up my never-worn dress from the cleaners, and when the office became quiet at 5:30, I shut off my computer and took my long, slinky dress down the hall to the bathroom to change.
The dress was lovely. It was black silk, floor-length and it clung in just the right places. It had a bare back except for two tiny spaghetti crosses and it seductively zipped from my bottom up to the tip of my lower back. As I put it on, I recalled watching Lauren Bacall movies at age 8. I wanted to be her more than anyone. "You know how to whistle, don’t you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow."
I carefully pulled the dress over my head and turned profile in the mirror to zip it.
Then something awful happened:
The zipper came out of the dress. I stood there in disbelief looking at what should not have been hanging out of the dress. I frantically dug in my wallet for safety pins and tried to pin it in place, but nothing worked. I looked at my watch. It was 5:45. I told my boss I’d be at the event space at 6:15 with the flower arrangement.
I briefly considered not attending the gala I had worked so hard to put together. Then something came over me. I am not missing this, I thought to myself. I’ve worked too hard and I am going.
With no time to lose, I threw my winter coat over my naked butt, ran back to the office, grabbed the flower arrangement, a heavy vase full of marbles and flowers, and ran downstairs where I hailed a cab. "Take me to Macy’s!" I yelled. I felt bold, triumphant.
At Herald Square I threw money at the cab driver, grabbed the huge vase and ran into Macy’s, panting to the security guard, "Where are the evening gowns?" Tripping over my black dress in brown Uggs, a puffy white parka and a backpack stuffed with the flowers, I passed other shoppers and double-stepped the escalator stairs until I reached the store’s formal-wear section.
"Hi. I’m really late and need a black evening gown and I can’t spend more than $100. Do you have something?" I spit out to the first saleswoman I saw. She took me to a size 6 Scott McClintock black evening gown. "I’ll try it on," I said. I dashed into the dressing room, put it on and, seeing that it fit, ran back to the cashier and said, "I’ll take it. Can I buy it with it still on? I’m really late."
The woman’s right eyebrow arched. "No, I’m sorry, you’ll have to go back to the dressing room and take it off. We have to remove the beeper."
I panicked. It was 6:04. "Is there a way we can take the beeper off while I’m still in the dress?" I asked.
The other cashier said, "Well, if you can somehow get on the counter we can try to remove it while you’re in the dress." He seemed uncertain of his own suggestion. "Great idea!" I said.
I jumped up on the counter. They removed the beeper, swiped my credit card and I was off.
I ran down the escalator and out of the store to hail a cab. I replaced my Uggs with heels, brushed mascara across my lashes and pulled my hair back into a bun.
I quickly arrived at my destination, where a young man with white gloves opened the car door for me and said, "Welcome to Cipriani." It was 6:15. I slowly walked up the steps where my executive director stood in the lavish entrance. I handed him the flowers. "Rachel, you look absolutely beautiful," he said. "What a gorgeous dress."
I looked at the flowers and then at my dress. I smiled. "You have no idea."