What It Takes

What It Takes

It’s Nella From France

By Callie Oettinger | Published: January 18, 2013

I was upset when I read the title of Steve’s Writing Wednesday column the week before last: “Opportunities Are Bullshit.”

My thought process ran this route:

Really, Steve? There have been tons of great opportunities.

What about that interview with Mark McGuinness that just went up?

Wasn’t it an opportunity?

Or not?

When you have an interview with someone you’ve gotten to know as a friend, is it less an opportunity and more a chill session with friends, something above commercialism?

No. Not it.

Hanging with friends is an opportunity. I rarely get to chill with mine. Hanging with Mark McGuinness is a solid opportunity.

What’s the definition of opportunity?

Look it up.

Grab the kid’s dictionary – that’s the easiest, least amount of bullshit.


It’s the wrong question.

What’s bullshit? That’s the question.

Bullshit–it’s that stuff that gets in the way. That stuff that takes away from opportunities, makes them one-sided, about one person.

It’s Nella from France.

And it clicked. I got it. I stopped overthinking it. Opportunities aren’t bullshit. Bullshit masquerading as opportunities are what’s bullshit.

* * *

Take a walk down early 1990’s Newbury St. in Boston and you’ll find me in a second floor salon, working on my BFA between booking appointments and cashing out customers.

Remember the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?

Kindergarten was an eye opener, but my version is titled All I Really Need to Know I Learned from the Hair Salon. There was the heiress who stole bobby pins from CVS because “it’s silly to buy them”; the naturalist who would sit for hours in the winter waiting for her hair to air dry, because blow dryers use too much energy and aren’t natural (though she was able to hurdle the unnatural bit every time she had her hair highlighted); the mousy conservative who knitted penis-warmers (yes, folks, penis warmers) and gave them as winter gifts to friends, and a long line of others who opened me up to the many types of people and behaviors this world offers–and then there was Nella from France.

I was closing out for the evening when she called.

This is Callie, how can I help you?

This is Nella and I need T’s phone number.

I’m sorry, I can’t give out his home number.

But it’s Nella—Nella from France. I just flew in on a helicopter. I need to see him.


A helicopter from France? I still haven’t figured that one out.

Back to the story.

I’m sorry. He’s gone for the evening.


Next day, T comes in.

Did you give my number to Nella?


She called, wanting to get together.

How’d she get it?

Don’t know. M answered.

Background: M is T’s  boyfriend and is more outspoken than Joan Rivers critiquing red-carpet looks at an awards show.

(For the following run between M and Nella, Nella’s voice will be played by the teacher’s voice in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.)


Whant whant whaaa.

He’s not here.

Whant whant whaaa.

Oh, from Paris?

Whant whant whaaa.

You want to get together? Great, where are you taking us for dinner, Honey?

Whant whant whaaa.

You want him to cut your hair?

Whant whant whaaa.

Unless you’re calling to take us to dinner, I don’t care what helicopter you flew in on. He’s not working.

From that point on, “Nella from France” became another way to say bullshit.

Can you believe what just happened? That’s soooo Nella from France.

Nella didn’t have T on retainer. He wasn’t under any contract. He did her hair when she was in town with an appointment. Yes, they’d talked for hours on end over the years, but they weren’t friends. She didn’t know anything about his personal life, about his other commitments, about who he was, what he did in his free time. It was all about her. She never stopped to think about what she was asking: Help make me better. Do this for me.

T was known for what he did. Customers didn’t walk down the stairs when they left after an appointment with him. They floated down, one ego-boosting cloud after another. They stood a little taller, chin up a little higher.

He made them feel good. That’s what he did. Why wouldn’t he want to make them feel good whenever they called? Wasn’t that his purpose?

No. Not at all. He had a family and friends and a beach house in P-town that he escaped to every chance he had. He had hobbies. He had a life outside of his work. His work was a major priority, but it wasn’t everything.

That brings me back to Steve – and opportunities.

My son’s dictionary gives this definition of opportunity:

A favorable time or occasion for doing something: I hope to have the opportunity to go to camp.

Going with the camping sentence the dictionary provided as an example, I’m thinking that if Steve took time away from his work and the rest of his life for camp, it would have to be a camp that he created or researched and chose on his own. If he created it, he’d invite other campers who were of a like mind. If he went to one run by someone else, it would have to be a camp at which he’d enjoy himself and the others there – on his own terms.

Instead of comparing future e-mails with Nella from France, to determine whether there’s an opportunity, I might start asking whether I’d want to go to that camp myself in the future.

Let’s try this camp, as presented via a mix of a few recent e-mails:

Stephen Pressman,

I’d like a copy of your book to review.

Your immediate attention is requested.

Would Steve want to go to this camp? I don’t want to speak for Steve, so I’ll take this. Would I want to go to this camp?

1) He misspelled Steve’s first and last name.

2) He assumed Steve’s the author of one book, which means he’s not taken any time to learn about Steve first.

3) There was no please or thank you. No nice request. I’m big on please and thank you. Gotta’ have them.

Would I go?

I wouldn’t.

That’s definitely NOT a Mark McGuinness camp. I’m thinking it’s run by Nella from France.

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