AN eccentric socialite who LIVES IN TRUMP TOWER has printed the internet
“I am going to need your help with the internet, cherie”
This has gotta be the weirdest job interview ever. Not because it’s the first time Maria Sueño enters a doorman building. Nor because it’s her first job interview. But because she is actually qualified for the position that pays $ 25 an hour at the age of 13; and no, Maria Sueño is no genius kid snatching spelling-bee trophies. She is a regular teenager, who is sitting across from a socialite when she hears that she might be paid to help someone browse the internet inside a penthouse overlooking Central Park.
“O-OK. And where is the internet?” Maria tries to move as little as possible, as if facing a lion.
“What do you mean?” The socialite acts very naturally, because she is rich and only rich people don’t have to try to be anything else.
“Where’s the computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet… You know, the device you want to use the internet with?” asks the teenager girl.
“You’re sitting on it. I have printed the internet!” reveals the blonde socialite.
Just yesterday, Maria was minding her own business eight miles away from Fifth Avenue, coming back from Mott Hall Bronx High listening to Ariana Grande while playing Clash Royale. Pretty much all senses were taken: sight, hearing, touch and taste (she still had in her tongue salty cells of her cable Apple earpods, used secretly to floss the gap between her front teeth).
Four out of five senses were fully absorbed by the internet, to the point of only noticing she had visitors when she was already home, surprised by an unexpected smell. The scent of mofongo, in a weekday, was a sign that something was off.
The disturbance turned out to be a visitor. It was Sheyla, the lady who used to work with her mom at the Met, scraping the museums wooden floor of bubblegum. Sheyla was a rare visit, even though she lives down the hall (like waaay down the hall, seven apartments away). Both Sheyla and Maria’s mother had their arms crossed over their chest and their toes tapping, as if Maria had done something wrong.
She hadn’t, but would have the opportunity of screwing up a really good opportunity that came up. Sheyla had just started working for an “eccentric socialite” (that was the term used) who was looking for a young personal assistant. She didn’t look for qualified, Sheyla said. She looked for young.
Maria was sent out to bed right after diner, but could hear the excitement in her mother’s voice when talking about her job opportunity with Sheyla (“Is she the one that was on Real Housewives of NYC?”). The projects seem to be made of papier-mâché.
Early this morning, Maria was woken up and dressed up like Barby, a poorer knock-off version of a Barbie doll. Maria’s mom made her wear a black dress with a white trim. It was the best outfit in the wardrobe (and also her work uniform at the Met).
And there Maria went, taking the Bx22, and then the 6 train and then being observed by the windows of shops such as Chanel and Versace, that she would not dare to look at, to be get to her appointment on time.
On time she is. At 11 am, she is standing in front of the Trump Tower. The building is so wealthy even the help there is white. That is the first thing Maria notices. The FBI agents holding machine guns are white in the little strip of cheek left uncovered by their helmets and uniforms. And so is the concierge. White, that is. Red hair and white patches of baldness popping out from under his cap, that slides at every move. Yes, a concierge, because one does not buzz one’s way into a building like that. One gets announced by a human voice. So Maria walks to the concierge and says.
“Good morning, I have an appointment with Miss Dochenka.”
The concierge is petrified. For two seconds, it’s as if he is a part of a Madame Tussaud’s exhibition of wax models portraying workers. Christopher Columbus must have had a similar expression the first time he spotted a new land, full of brown people.
Not that it was a first time, no. She is sure he has seen a brown person before. Of course he has seen plenty of them in the subway or elbowing their way to work at 7am. But not inside the building, framed by the marble lobby, no. That is a first time. So she has to insist.
“I’m Maria Sueño. I have an appointment with Miss Dochenka at 11am.
What honorific would he have used before her name, had not she been a brown girl.
The words he utters into the black telephone that is actually an intercom are “Maria Sueño is here for Miss Dochenka.”
After hearing a muffled answer, the man shows her to the elevador, where she, herself, has to push the PH button.
Fifty eight floors later, up in one of the penthouses, she is greeted by a bosomy woman, whose very black hair is in a ponytail and whose very black dress stands against a very blue New York sky. It is like the cosplay of a painting Maria saw in the Met the only time she was there (in a school field trip, not with her mother).
“Miss Dochenka, nice to meet you,” Maria offers a hand. The woman laughs in response.
“What are you, retarded, Maria?” replies the made. It’s Sheyla. Maria hadn’t recognized her neighbor in a ponytail and beespoke maid uniform --a better version of her own dress.
“She’ll be here in a sec, darling. Whatever she says, don’t correct her. Ever”
Maria nods as Sheyla disappears into a corridor. From the other side of the room a warm raspy voice materializes.
Maria almost bows down instinctively, but manages to stop herself when only her eyes face the marble floor.
Miss Dochenka is a sight. A skinny moving body, covered with saggy orange skin. Long hair like a bleached Cher, that singer who will outlive the nuclear holocaust along with cockroaches and is one of her elder brother’s best drag queen numbers. The iPhone weather app forecasts one dollar bill storms in the nights he goes out sporting a wig similar to Dochenka’s --except for the fact that his is made of real human hair.
“Call me Dochy, please,” she just waves at Maria. There will be no handshake. “Like ‘Dochy and Gabbana’,” she justifies her name to anyone who crosses her door. “Asseyez-vous! Sit, sit, sit”
In a room that looks like a five star hotel lobby (or at least how a fancy hotel lobby is shown in the movies) Dochenka’s perfectly manicured indicador red nail indicates a very specific piece of furniture for Maria to take. A banquet covered in zebra skin, that feels soft for a second (is that the pelt of a real zebra?) but really hard after her bum settles on it.
“So, cherie, how old are you?”
“Thirteen years old? Good. Two more years before you finish high school, right?”
It’s actually four more years, but Maria does not want to disagree.
“Good. Everyone needs to finish high school. I mean, everyone who must work, non?”
Dochenka laughs in the echoey room. Did she just imply she hadn’t finished high school, and takes pride in it?
“I’m glad you came. Hereuse. You see, I’m in need of a internet assistent.”
“Like Siri or Alexa?”
“No, not like them. I have interviewed them both, but they were too old.”
“OK… So, what kind of assistant for the internet?”
“Someone Young and American, like you! Someone who will help me browse it”
“Oh, ok, browse. Like, search stuff?”
“I think we can do that. It’ll take two days, tops.”
“No, silly, it is a job for years. Maybe a decade”
“I beg your pardon? I thought you wanted to learn how to navigate. Safari, Chrome, Firefox, that sort of thing”
“Oooo, no, I’m a more old school person”
Dochenka gets up. Maria, who braces herself for any kind of physical interaction, from a slap to a hug.
“O-ok. And where is the internet?”
“What do you mean?”
“Where’s the computer, laptop, smartphone, tablet… You know, the device you want to use the internet with?”
“You’re sitting on it.”
Maria jumps up, afraid of having ruined a new Apple laptop so thin she had not felt it, and therefore so expensive she could never afford it. But the blonde woman is not bothered, and keeps explaining.
“I have printed the internet.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Oui, oui, I have printed the internet, cherie. Cherie means darling in French”
“Oh, that is interesting”
“French? Yes, a very interesting language, oh, oui. Ça veut dire yes, cherie.”
“No, the internet. You printed it?”
“Yes! The internet is mostly in the north wing of the house, where the pilates room used to be.”
“Is it taking a whole wing?”
“Nah! It is taking the whole penthouse!”
Dochenka touches the zebra skin with her thumb and her index finger. Her tricep muscle flexes into the shape of a Twinkie. The pelt stands still, despites what looks like a big effort.“Aidez-moi, cherie.”
Maria easily lifts what used to be the left back leg of a Zebra. Instead of flesh, the peeled stool is a tower of hundreds of paper sheets.
“And this is a pile of… Pardon, let’s see it,” Dochy takes a piece of paper from the top of the pile. It must still be buttock-warm. “Grunge is ghastly,” stated an article from 1993, about the collection that got Marc Jacobs fired from Perry Ellis. Turns out Maria was sitting on a pile of fashion show critics by Suzy Menkes.
“Menkeeze is that very… interesting looking editor that dictates what is beautiful and what is not”
Dochenka explains as if Maria had been shrunk back to being a toddler. She just nods.
“I have got to read those eventually,” Dochenka promises herself while patting the sheet back in top of the pile.
“So… All of this”
Maria points to a red velvet couch.
And then to a Grandfather clock.
Could the fireplace be the opposite of fireproof?, Maria wonders.
“The fireplace is made of Pages Six, I believe. Hot topics. I want to be… comment ça se dit?... Like the chocolate balls… Smartie. Oui, I want to be smartie”
She tries to act as if all of that is not the weirdest revelation in her life.
“But how exactly do you want me to assist you, ma’am?”
“I’ll need your help navigating. Finding stuff on the internet. For instance, where is the fashion critic that got Marcus Jacoh fired?”
It was exactly where she had left it, 30 seconds ago.
“I believe it’s here”
Maria picks up the same piece of paper and offers the woman, that seems too skinny to hold it.
Dochenka takes the piece, but doesn’t mind looking at it. She is too busy managing the content that overflows from her wonderbra.
“So, I’ll help you finding clippings, right?”
“Oui! We will also have to make sure a couple of things are removed from the internet…”
“You want to take stuff out of the internet?”
“Yes, removed. Adieu! Not there anymore.”
Since her mouth is already opened, Maria decides to say something, but can’t come up with anything but the truth:
“I guess we can’t just remove stuff from the internet.
“Noooo, not all things. Just the things that are wrong. Adieu, lies!”
Dochenka crumbles the fashion critic into a ball, mimicking her plans to what she wants to do with information she disagrees with, and tosses it into the fireplace.
“My pére was just a firm man. Strong! A just man running a country. Running it well! And some… comment ça se dit… Haters! Some haters called him a dictator.”
Had Dochenka mentioned where she was from? She speaks French, but doesn’t come from France. Maria is not sure if she had thrown in the word Latvia in the middle of a sentence. Or was it Lithuania? Latonya? Something similar to LaToya minus the Jackson, that’s for sure.
“Like people on Instagram? We can block these people, sure”
Maria draws her iPhone 3 from her the faux leather handbag that is her mom’s. The telephone is 4% charged, but this should be enough to show Dochenka how she can manage an Instagram profile (hers has 87 followers).
“Oui, oui. People on Instagram, The New York Times, the United Nations. Haters!”
Maria puts the phone back in the handbag, close to the tag that proves is a legit Versasse.
“Eeeer. I don’t think we can erase UN’s website”
“Ça va, so let’s change it! People died from bullets, not from guns. So blame it in my uncle, Valenyo, the biggest producer of bullets in Europe, not papa”
Dochenka claps her hands while laughing at her self-serving stand-up show, but the sound is more metallic than fleshy. The rings. Of course.
Maria feels her abs hurt of trying to milk laughter out of them, to very little effect. Dochenka probably can tell she was laughing just to be nice—and she liked that more than if she had laughed from finding her funny.
“Papa was a hero. Can you imagine being the teacher of 18 millions people. The CEO of a company that employs from babies to angry grandmas.”
“Yeah, I guess it can be a pain…”
“It is. Very painful. And it will be a lot of work for you. That is why I wanted someone young. The youngest they are, the better they work, my grandma always taught me.”
And Maria’s mom also taught her something: “Opportunity is like a one-horse carousel. If there is ever a chance, ride it”. And something inside her senses this is her chance. And she smiles, but only on the inside, while she nods:
“Well, And it’s going to take some time,” I start making demands.
“Take the time you need. You are young!”
Maria smiles for real for the first time in the last hour.
“And I’ll need a new MacBook air too.”
Dochenka raises her head like a wolf about to howl to the moon.
“Sheylaaaaa, we need a laptooooopppp ASAP!” (Instead of Ay; Ess; Ay; Pee, Dochenka pronounces a-zap)
Six years later, Maria would be the first of her family to attend an Ivy League school. All tuitions paid by the former dictatorship that ruled Latvia. Or was it Lithuania? Latonya, maybe?