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You Can’t Trade Money for Dreams – A Commentary by Amina Lovell


Living in New York you can encounter a lot of interesting characters. Weird dates. Shady landlords… and, the occasional con artist.  Amina Lovell tells us about her experience when she wanted to believe she could trade money for her..”big break.”

When I  moved to New York City four years ago I wasn’t some  naive, fresh off the boat foreigner. I was a sophisticated urban traveller. I had already lived in Miami, San Antonio, Atlanta and Washington DC. I was an assimilated Caribbean-American and  I ..had..plans..

I was working as a personal assistant to a celebrity mom – the wife of LA Reid the CEO of Sony Music. But I was only making about $1200 a month, barely able to afford my apartment. I often found myself having to decide between a $10 round trip ticket home on New Jersey Transit,  or a turkey sandwich and a Sprite from the deli downstairs for dinner .

One afternoon, I was picking up gluten-free cookies at Citarella on the Upper East Side for my boss, when a man approached asking for directions. He was wearing faded, baggy jeans that looked a size too big. Dirty white sneakers and a multi-colored jean jacket …. He reminded me of a character from the Wizard of Oz. It was a sunny day….yet he was using a tall black umbrella as a cane.

I pointed him in the right direction, when he paused…smiled and said ….“you have such a great voice, have you ever done any voice-over work?”

Really? My parents. Family. Friends. Have always told me I speak way too fast and my accent can turn sentences into a curried stewed mess. He said he was a famous voice-over coach and he was casting for a new movie. He wanted me to play the part of a monkey.

Yeah – a monkey. I know what you’re thinking – You really can  bump into someone on the streets of New York  and they can change your life forever. The movies are real! Mmmm, not really. But the thing is I wanted it to be real..I desperately wanted to believe that something like this could happen to me. That I was the exception to the rule.

I wanted to be an on-air journalist since I was little girl, but until this encounter,I’d filed that dream away. Could this be my chance to make it a reality?

He laid on the spieel thick. Whipping out business cards of people he knew and had worked with. Called people on the phone letting them know he’d found “the monkey.” At last. Constantly reminding me how big of a deal he is…and that’s what I wanted to hear.

I’d applied to and been rejected from five different graduate schools. At only 24 I was in the middle of a  difficult divorce. And while I was living in the city of my dreams.. my career consisted of shopping for challah bread for a celebrity. I wanted a miracle. I wasn’t gullible, I was just looking for an easy way out. And if I’m honest with you… I was being a little vain. Someone singles you out of a crowd and says you have star quality…it makes you feel..special. Something that I had not felt for a very long time.

So when he dropped the price tag – for only $240 I could be plucked out of obscurity and rocketed into superstardom – I jumped at the possibility.

We walked to the ATM and I withdrew the money.. Two hundred and forty dollars in twenties. I put it  in his hands. Then I watched my new voice over agent disappear around the corner with a wave.  A few hours later I realized I’d been left with a fake email address and a need to reevaluate my expectations.

I felt dumb, ashamed of myself, because I knew better. Once again I filed my dream away. Then I decided to check my ego and balance my belief in myself with some cold hard reality. Now, four years later I’m about to graduate with a Masters in Journalism from an Ivy League school. It cost a lot more than $240 and took of a lot of hard-work. I do have expectations for my future, but I know they won’t come from a quick and easy fix. I’ve also stopped giving directions to strangers.


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