86. Meera Rossiter, EVP

“Tough.”

Meera was the third child of immigrants from the New Delhi area. Her parents had come separately as college students to the American Midwest, met at a campus social event, became friends, drifted apart, but three years later met again, this time at a graduate school symposium for foreign students. A year and a half later, they got married and graduated, both ceremonies on the same day, he in computer science, she in medicine. Meera was their third and last child, all daughters. She was never like her sisters. Or anyone else in her family. Her two sisters were obedient, respectful, traditionally feminine, quiet, studious, and disinterested in sports. Not Meera. She was always noisy and rambunctious. In high school, she stood out as a gifted lacrosse player, captain of her team. Unlike her sisters, Meera was casual about her studies, always leaving things to the last minute, getting good grades but only with the least amount of effort necessary. And her behavior drove her parents nuts. While her sisters were always “proper,” Meera snuck out on dates; tried cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana; and listened to music her parents considered tasteless and probably immoral. When they let her (or when she snuck out), she wore clothes that appalled everyone in her family. Definitely a handful. But she also knew how to get her way, partly because she was all things her father had yearned to be as a boy. He had always been an obedient son. But also, because Meera had a thing for technology. It started when she got her hands on her first computer game. She wasn’t supposed to have it. She pirated it and played it when she was supposed to be studying. It took her two tries to beat the game consistently. Then, bored with playing it, she took its programming apart, figured out what made it tick, and, in the process, taught herself to be a game developer. It just came to her. Her father couldn’t believe it. “This is not supposed to happen. It took me years to be a programmer.” Her mother was convinced that this was the beginning of the end for Meera. “What man would marry such as her?” But of course, it was anything but the end. Meera began picking up freelance jobs on the internet. Who knew she was a fourteen-year-old brat without any formal training? Then, she got a full-time job with a game development boutique, that is, until they figured out that she was too young to work without parental permission. But by then, she had applied for and been granted early admission to college with a dual major in finance and computer sciences. And she quickly learned that while she could handle the academics, she had no idea what to do about college social life. She got badly drunk at a sorority rush party. She went on a few disastrous dates and learned a few lessons that 16-year-old kids shouldn’t have to learn so soon. Her solution was to do well in class, take on freelance game development projects, and keep to herself. After two years of this, she was so lonely she was on the verge of dropping out of school. That is, until she saw this shy, goofy, disheveled kid coming across campus, hauling a cello case on his back. It seemed two sizes too big for him. Meera thought him cuter than any puppy she’d ever seen. She didn’t waste time. She stood right in his path until he, oblivious to what was going on, almost crashed into her. His name: Norwood T. Rossiter IV, “Nobby” to his friends. Brilliant and even more talented than Meera in his own way, he was otherwise almost her exact opposite. Very shy. Very quiet. Totally disorganized. Incurably shaggy. Illiterate in anything technological. Focused on music written 300 years ago and ignorant of music that Meera loved. And able to count founding fathers as ancestors, Nobby’s family was bemused by Meera and figured it wouldn’t last. On hearing about Nobby, Meera’s family ordered her home where she was to stay in her room until she came to her senses. It had never dawned on them that, unlike her dutiful sisters, Meera would fall for a non-Desi. Or that she would not give him up. Meera never did what she was told. And this time was no different. Now, three children and a very large house in Palo Alto later, it is seven-thirty in the morning and Meera is getting into an outrageously long stretch-limo and looking tough, dressed in one of her “killer” suits. There’s a meeting of her company’s executive committee, during which she will once again get her way, despite several nasty individuals who – like Meera’s parents – have no idea what they are in for. The nanny will see that the kids get to school. Nobby gets home tomorrow from his most recent European tour. Lately, he’s been getting rave reviews for his Prokofiev Cello Concerto, a piece that has been called, “rarely performed and deservedly so.”

81. Jane Slocum, Art Director

“Get your head out of the clouds, Simcha.”

Jane can be a rough customer. She has a clear idea of what she wants for her magazine’s style and look. And she drives hard to get it. The results, so far, have been good. Subscriptions and advertising revenue are up dramatically since she came on board. When asked about this, she credits the magazine’s editor and publisher. She claims that her “vision” is merely a reflection of theirs. But everyone involved agrees; Jane is something special. Before becoming the art director of what had been a respected but slowly sinking magazine, Jane had been a successful advertising executive, making significant contribution to her agency’s bottom line. She did not do that by being a smooth talker. She was often brutally honest and challenging in creative and client meetings. But also, compellingly persuasive. The main thing is she knew how to develop an idea and to put together a creative team that delivered the goods. But just when things were going really well, Jane quit. She was going to be a movie producer. The few people who knew her well weren’t too surprised. Jane always a little restless, always looking for something more exciting. She admitted then and admits today, it was a crazy idea. It started out poorly and seemed headed toward getting worse much sooner than later. So, it was lucky that the magazine job happened when it did. At the time, she was at the edge of being middle-aged and was beginning to realize that she was no longer as rough-and-tough as she was when she started out. She had obligations, a family, a mortgage. Most important though, she concluded that being a magazine art director is who she is. Which is funny because, starting out, it would have been the last job she could have imagined for herself. But she’s good at it and has a lot of fun doing it. It also happens to be a world away from what she was growing up. Back then, her name was Simcha. She was an only child of a deeply religious, immigrant family. Her father owned a small dry-cleaning shop and did a bit of tailoring. Her mother was a housewife. Neither knew a lot of English. Their hope for their daughter – maybe to marry an accountant or, if she got lucky, a dentist. “Dentists do very well, Simcha. Don’t forget that.” They were thinking a nice house near a synagogue and grandchildren. Simcha was not thinking that way at all. By the time she was fourteen, she was running a typing service for her classmates and saving for college. Her parents did not think much of this idea. Neither had finished high school, her father to go to work, her mother to take care of her own mother. “Men don’t marry women who are too smart,” her mother said. Her father agreed. “Get your head out of the clouds, Simcha. This college business is not for you.” Simcha finished high school near the top of her class, started a business services company, and began taking courses at a local junior college. She did very well. Two years later, she got a full scholarship to one of the best colleges in the country, sold her business services company for more money than her father made in a decade, and – after finishing her college coursework ahead of schedule –graduated at the top of her college class and got into advertising. Five years after that, she married Forrest Slocum and her first name wasn’t Simcha anymore; it was “Jane.” Her parents did not go to the wedding. Later on, they didn’t want to see Jane’s first child, a boy. Or her second. They knew she worked at some kind of business in a “fancy office with fancy people, doing who knows what?” They never met her husband and, anyway, didn’t think much of him. “Some husband he must be if his wife has to work. Some lazy bum.” On the job, Jane is all business. So, you wouldn’t think she’d care about what her parents thought. But it kills her. She knocked herself out to get away from their world. But now tries to bring them into hers. Or, at least, to share her life with them. It’s finally beginning to dawn on her, though, it’s a waste of time. “You are dead to us. You wouldn’t listen. And it won’t end up good, what you are doing. This I know.” That was the last conversation Jane ever had with her mother. Her father hasn’t answered the phone in years. Now that the kids are older, Jane figures, she’ll have to sit them down and do some explaining.