“But can you deliver for other people and at the right price point?” Kimberly asks. She invites me to assist her on a project she’s agreed to do for a customer.
“Two midcentury chairs? Easy,” I say. I spend a weekend schlepping to flea markets. Not only can I not find in-expensive midcentury chairs, but I accidentally drop $150 on a pair of Robert Clergerie boots for myself.
I eventually locate the right chairs on eBay, but they are “slightly soiled.” Yuck. I drift to YouTube for a video break. Cats on a treadmill are irresistible, especially when you’re bored. At another online retailer, there’s a set of authentic tulip chairs, only they’re in Atlanta and the shipping will be costly. Kimberly’s words come back to haunt me: “You need to amortize your price by the amount you’ve paid and the hours you spend shopping, tracking Google Analytics and keeping current on trends on other sites. You also need to factor in the costs of running a website and of photo shoots.” YouTube tempts me again. Yep, nothing cuter than kittens.
Fourteen hours later, I e-mail pictures of my top choice, and I’m only $2,700 over budget. “We’ll just have to tell them to spend more,” I say. From Kimberly’s silence I determine that, for me, shopping should remain a hobby. Clearly I don’t have the patience for this gig.
What about a career as a do-gooder? I’ve volunteered for many causes and once appeared nude in an Internet campaign to persuade people to opt out of receiving junk mail. Confident I can turn my zeal into a fully clothed profession, I reach out to my sister, Lisa, who travels the globe as a senior executive for World Learning, an 80-year-old nonprofit.
“Come to an event in Washington, and we’ll put you to work,” she says. “You’ll need to know the backgrounds of the attendees, because that’s key when engaging with potential donors.”
“I can do this. I learn lines all the time!” I say.
“Oh, and read up on our AIDS project,” she adds. “We have programs in more than 60 countries, so just get familiar with all of them.” Gulp.
Guest bios begin flooding my e-mail inbox. I open the first one and am perplexed. Is it written in Cyrillic? After several minutes, I realize I’m looking at acronyms of government agencies. Someone works at USAID; there’s an ADA of the B of E&E, a PTP, an IDEP and an IREX. I have no idea what any of these mean, but I remind myself that I did once play an attorney on Boston Legal, to excellent reviews.
I arrive at World Learning’s D.C. headquarters in time to attend a series of educational seminars. Documents are passed around showing graphs labeled “Capacity building,” “Auditing performance gaps” and “Intervention chain implementation.” I’ve seen the words before, but never in those combinations. At the end of the session, one line in my notes reads, “Need a nap.”
I duck into my sister’s office to review my cheat sheets on projects in Liberia and Macedonia. I thought I’d put them in my handbag, but they are nowhere to be found. I pull out a school field trip permission slip that was due two weeks ago, fossilized breath mints and a Post-it that reads, “Call Barbara N!!!” I have no idea who Barbara N is. Lisa’s desk has color-coded calendars and briefing documents stacked in tidy piles. It’s not possible that we’re really sisters.