Mon 27 Apr 2015
San Francisco, 1999.
I was in a major pickle.
I’d spent the night at a friend’s flat after too much wine. She had to go to work early, but told me I could sleep in and let myself out as the front door would lock behind me. That’s what good friends do.
I woke up a couple of hours after she’d gone, made sure I had my handbag and jacket and walked out of the flat. I heard the tell-tale “click” of the lock as I firmly pulled the door closed behind me. I walked about 10 steps and turned the handle of the front gate. It was locked, and the only way to open it was with a key – which was nowhere to be found.
Surely the key must be around here somewhere, I reasoned. I checked under the two potted plants, a discarded paper bag and some decorative rocks that lined the walkway. Nothing. I peered into the window of the neighbouring flat, but it was uninhabited; there was nothing but trash on the floor and it looked as if no one had lived there for months. To make things worse, my mobile phone battery was dead, since I hadn’t planned to spend the night and therefore didn’t have my charger with me.
I know what you’re thinking. A gate? Why not simply climb over it? Like many flats in San Francisco, this one had a gate about 15 feet high with spikes on top [similar to the one in this pic on the right]. It was made of wrought iron and had vertical bars, just like a jail cell door (cue irony). With no vertical bars to put my feet on, scaling it meant I’d have to pull my full body weight up by my arms. My upper body strength – or lack thereof – simply couldn’t cut it. The saddest (or most hilarious, depending on the POV) part was that people walking by could see me trying to wriggle my way up this thing. One guy even stopped and tried to help, but upon realising the severity of heroism required, shrugged his shoulders with a muffled “sorry” before strolling off.
It was roughly 10 AM in the morning, and my friend was due to arrive home at around 7 PM. I couldn’t fathom sitting in this [approximately] 4×10-foot outdoor prison for that long. It was cold and the gloomy San Francisco sky was threatening rain. I had to think of something. I went back and looked into the empty, neighbouring flat and tried to see if I could make out anything useful in the junk pile inside. The window was filthy and it was impossible to see. I took out a little cosmetic mirror from my handbag and wedged it under a tiny space under the window and pushed. The window moved. I managed to squeeze a few fingers underneath and pulled with all my might – it opened.
After a few tries, I managed to crawl into the apartment. There was trash everywhere, mostly papers and random things like a hair brush, a pot and an old landline telephone. Wait, a telephone…surely there must be a phone box somewhere outside – I recalled the last time the AT&T guy had to come to my flat to fix our phone line and I had to let him into the back so he could access the box with all the wires. I grabbed the phone, crawled outside and started the search. It only took a few minutes and there it was: A grey, metal box with BELL imprinted on the outside.
I yanked it open and saw loads of phone plugs going into dozens of sockets. The plugs were attached to wires which ran up the building and onto the telephone pole out front. Each socket had a number assigned to it, though they were not phone numbers – I couldn’t figure out what they meant. I yanked out one socket, plugged in the landline and checked the phone. Nothing. I took out another, and tried again. Nothing. On the third one, I got a dial tone. EUREKA! I called my friend’s workplace (thanks to Information 411, as I couldn’t recall her number!), told her the situation and she left work early to rescue me. In the end, I’ spent three hours outside, broke into an abandoned flat and interrupted the phone service for three neighbouring apartments.
I’ve always been scrappy like that – I do what I have to do to get it done.
Professionally, I’ve been fairly scrappy as well. I started working as a music journalist while still in college; though I was being published in major publications it also meant that it took 8 years to earn my degree. I’d spend 1 year at one start-up before moving to another, worked freelance here and there, and dabbled in marketing, social media and both print and online publishing. Once, during a job interview, the HR manager looked at my CV and said, “Wow, you really get around – a year here, two years there…” He was wholly unimpressed, and let me know it.
I used to feel intimidated by those who took the straight path: the Ivy Leaguers and the Wharton School of Business grads who jumped right into Fortune 500 companies post-graduation with a strategic plan to make VP status and the 6-figure salary. Opportunity knocks loudly for these guys, and I worried I couldn’t compete.
But as I grew in my career I realised that my ability to get out of a sticky situation translated into “problem solving skills” in the workplace, and that my knack for coming up with a crafty solution showed my “ability to assess risk and organise resources.” My start-up experience meant I could “adapt and learn quickly.” Who knew?
For every sceptical potential employer there was another who understood that I had something unique and valuable to offer. And that recognition and support, for things I’d often felt embarrassed about, is what has helped me grow both professionally and personally. Being scrappy takes skill, practice and most importantly – guts. I’m not afraid to try new things or explore weird ideas. Change is something I embrace whole-heartedly. It’s about being fluid, open-minded and sometimes a little crazy.
These days, I embrace it: I’m happy to be scrappy.
Black Garlic & Radish Crostini
I talk to strangers all the time; that’s another part of being scrappy – I’m curious and inquisitive. It’s led me to meet a lot of interesting folks, and though I moved to Ireland from California knowing only a few people here I now have a good number of friends and a lot of acquaintances. One of them is Duncan, the guy who helps run his family’s Organic Delights produce business and is always manning their stall at the Saturday market in St. Anne’s park. I’ve gotten to know Duncan simply from chatting with him, and he’s always keen to show me the latest, weirdest and coolest new produce. A few weeks back he gave me a bulb of black garlic to try: it’s fermented, rich and utterly lovely. I threw together a quick crostini to go with some soup on Saturday, hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
4 slices of crusty white bread
4 cloves of black garlic
6-8 raw radishes
Toast the bread until golden brown. As soon as you remove the bread from the toaster, place a clove of black garlic on each slice and spread using a butter knife. Black garlic is soft and spreadable, so this is a very easy thing to do! Thinly slice some radishes and place over the garlic. Sprinkle sea salt over the top, and eat! The crisp, cold radish is a lovely balance to the rich, earthy garlic.