Back when I lived in Manhattan, I worked as a freelance production assistant at Young & Rubicam New York, which I believe was then the third-largest ad agency in the world. I basically fell into the position, I remember: I registered with the temp agency, and I worked, one Thursday morning, at the New Yorker office in the Conde Nast building just off Times Square, organizing some guy’s rolodex. No, really; I spent that day stapling business cards to little rolodex-y cards and filing those in the little turn-y thingy.

I think it’s safe to say I was overqualified for the job, though not by a whole hell of a lot.

I received a call from my temp agency that Sunday (I worked for Force One Entertainment, and if they still exist, consider this a plug; they are one of the main reasons my experience in Manhattan was what it was, and for that I am forever grateful. An amazing staff, with great connections), and they offered me one of two positions: one in human resources, and the other in broadcast production.

Obviously, no contest.

So I started working with commercial producers. For huge clients: Sony, Dr Pepper, Jaguar. This was one of the spots we worked on:

So was this:

At Young & Rubicam, each assistant generally worked with no fewer than 7 or 8 producers. During my time there, I rotated to different desks, and I think I basically ended up working with the entire department in one way or another. Mostly I did the sort of grunt work one would associate with an entry-level freelance administrative position, but sometimes I got lucky. Once, I helped put together a video for the United Nations Millennium Summit. Sometimes I got to watch casting, or even directors’ reels. Never anything major, but certainly a lot of fun.

It was my first experience with production. Budgeting. Finding out how people made the images the rest of the world watched. For a while I had thought I might want to get into filmmaking, but I discovered there I didn’t, really. When I sit down to watch The Matrix, I want to see the Matrix, not the greenscreen and the wires. I like to watch magic more than I like to know how it works, and probably more than I’d like to perform it, unless, of course, it’s the real stuff.

(writing, to me, is the real stuff)

One of the producers for whom I worked was named September Reynolds. I don’t think that’s her name anymore; she got married not long after I left, I believe. September looked like a less skeletal version of Elizabeth Hurley, which meant she was a special kind of beautiful, and she was also one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. Gracious and charming and cheerful.

It was because of her, and others like her, that I never felt like a temp when I worked there. I felt like part of the gang.

I think about all that every year around this time. It rarely gets any easier. I had always loved fall, and still do for all the reasons it’s wonderful, but the end of summer and the beginning of autumn always remind me of what was a difficult time in my life. Every year around this time I start thinking more and more about September 11th. I start wondering how my life would have, could have, been different. I start to consider how it’s not, and I remember to be grateful it’s still mine to do with as I so please.

I’m not sure I remembered that for a while. I think, for a while, the relief of survival made me selfish, in a way. In fact, not just for a while: for several years. For a few years there, I tried to play safe, tried to build security, perhaps because for a moment there, I was no longer certain I’d ever have either again.

In our commercial and consumerist culture, October 31st is now, popularly, a day of pint-sized ghouls and ghosts and too much candy rushing through bloodstreams rush from door to door to beg for more. Being by heritage Scotch/Welsh, however, it is, for me, an end; October 31st is not Halloween but the Samhain, basically the equivalent of New Year’s Eve. This time of year always makes me reflective about what has come before, and, moreso, it reminds me of those years, and specifically that one. In some ways I feel like I might have survived that day, but in a very real way, a life ended. By that Halloween, I had moved back in with my family.

Five years passed before I left once again.

I doubt I’ll ever separate the extraordinarily mixed feelings I have regarding both that day and that time in my life. Because they were extraordinary years, full of hope and pride but also some anxiety about being young and trying to make my way. I remember the mornings on the PATH and the midnights in the bars. I remember Paisley, who worked on Nickelodeon and was a complete sweetheart, and who had an anthrax scare in the month following the attacks. I remember Marybeth, who always called me dude (so I always called her dudette), who lost several members of her family during the rescue efforts at Ground Zero. I remember Madeline, the music producer, who was a germophobe but gave me a hug, anyway, the day I left, and who once told me, in reference to my writing, “You’ve got it,” and with whom I watched the World Trade Center 7 fall from the center bench on the Hoboken ferry.

And I remember September, the greeting of whom inspired me to write a poem the year before, which was cliched and trite, and which I have since lost to time and moving. September, whose wedding song was “The Girl from Ipanema”–

The girl from Ipanema goes walking
And when she passes, each one she passes goes – ah
. . .
but I watch her so sadly
How can I tell her I love her?
Yes, I would give my heart gladly,
But each day, when she walks to the sea,
She looks straight ahead, not at me.
. . .
And when she passes, I smile – but she doesn’t see (doesn’t see)
(she just doesn’t see, she never sees me…)

So good morning, September. Another year come and gone, but every time you come around I realize how much I missed you and wonder what we could have had if only I’d stuck around. I know you’ll be gone again before I know it, but in the meantime, well, it’s gonna be magic, just like always.