Look Out, I’m Coming Through

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So, I’ve been living in this location on the west side of Cleveland for 11 years now, and the traffic is frightful–two lane roads jammed with people going to work all day long as if every hour is rush hour, and no one remembers a time when people used to get off the pavement long enough to have a meal. In the town where I grew up there was very little business, mostly short streets running parallel to the two main roads near Lake Erie, and it’s a wonderful drive along that lake, with the snapshots of blue peeking out from between old houses and new, the new ones being occasionally grotesque in size and design, because real estate along a body of water is always at a premium.  For years there has been a trend encouraging people to buy a lovely old house on a postage stamp of land, knock it down, cart away the remains, and build a brand new dwelling with faux architecture that shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking the owners have more sense than money. Bay Village was a perfect place to raise a family, send the kids through the better than average school system, then up size when they moved out, because apparently an older couple needs geometrically more bathrooms than a young couple with multiple children.

But when my father died and generously left his house to his favorite spinster daughter, it became too much of a burden to keep up with the lawn, the snow shoveling, and the leaves that would scatter into the wind (and the neighbor’s yards) too quickly after they had been raked, and after incurring a fine for that offense, I decided it would be less work to move to a condominium where for a nominal fee, someone else would take care of the landscape, and I could languish in luxury, drinking tea and eating scones, while listening to the hum and whir of mowers and leaf blowers. That lasted a few years until I realized I couldn’t live off my looks and had to go out and get a job, since property taxes still had to be paid, and the cost of living in even a tiny space requires that I earn enough money to cover the expenses so that I have time to enjoy the exciting life of a sixty year old single woman who is particular about friendships. I applied for two thousand (yep, count ’em) jobs and got about 10 interviews, all of which were less than spectacular, and I found a pattern in that I would usually be the one person at the interview cattle call not wearing spandex leggings under a tight t-shirt while leaning casually against the wall of whatever the retail establishment of the day was, as if working was just another accessory hanging from a peg on a display wall. After being turned down or not even being informed that I had been turned down, I nearly gave up, thinking that if two thousand potential employees had studied my resume and been suitably unimpressed, I had better start honing my application skills in the direction of applying for public assistance.

During one of my many whiny emails to a former colleague at one of my low-paying jobs, they happened to mention a business that hired primarily older workers, and thinking that maybe my age could work in my favor, I decided to give myself one more shot at earning an honest living, and clicked “send” to give my resume one last nudge into the ether, not expecting to get a response. So I was caught completely off guard when I few days later I received a phone call asking if I would please (I repeat “PLEASE”, because I was immediately suspicious that any place that had resorted to being polite must have terribly high turnover) come in for an interview as soon as I was free. I was free all the time, which had become a problem for someone with a low threshold for boredom, and I said I could squeeze in an interview that very week if they could accommodate me. The very next day happened to work for both of us, and I hung up the phone and scrambled into my closet to see if any of my “interview outfits” still fit, since I had been spending most of my time reading and eating copious amounts of junk food washed down with ice cream, and my chunky self was widening at an alarming rate, because exercise had never appealed to me, and if I had to put down a book, there needed to be money on the other end. Luckily, spandex had also made its way into more conservative clothes than leggings, and my dress black pants still had enough give to make me look presentable when paired with the ubiquitous crisp white shirt and dowdy black shoes. I had appeared for an interview for a job I really wanted dressed as myself and found out that quirk doesn’t make a good first impression, when interviewers don’t need the distraction of trying to figure out where your personality ends and your marketable skills begin, and interesting shoes paired with print pants is enough to make someone think you just might not be as professional as the impeccable grammar on your resume led them to believe.

I was hardly nervous about this interview for a change, since after so many rejections I had little hope that this time was going to be the experience worth making my stomach churn and my armpits drip, and I woke on time but not freakishly early and had my usual tea and toast for breakfast before I set out for another rejection, the back seat of my car stocked with books for the inevitable lunch at my local McDonald’s where I had been parking for hours on end, reading and refilling my diet Coke,  hoping the management wouldn’t call the local officers to have me removed for vagrancy. The sun was shining, and I kept checking myself in the mirror, making sure that the cheap lipstick I had applied to my cheeks to lesson the pasty pallor I had acquired wouldn’t make me look more like I was auditioning for a circus than a position as a caregiver. I pulled into the parking lot at an alarming speed and threw the car into park, wondering what kind of business operated out of the back of a coffee shop where no one would ever find them unless they happened to miss the sudden curve in the road and plow right into the back of the brick building.

I was greeted by a kind woman who had me sit down and answer a few questions, nothing too challenging, as she said she and her partner had been impressed by my resume and that left me thinking they had simply dialed the wrong number and were planning to hustle me out before their intended target arrived. It turns out that they were looking for someone with a flexible schedule, and I told them I couldn’t be more flexible if I had been named Wallenda, and I would be willing to work weekends, holidays, nights, and any other time they needed, as I had little family left and no social life to speak of. My only qualification for this job, as I freely admitted, was that my mother had been a bit of a schizoid alcoholic, and I was used to absorbing a lot of incoming without losing my cool, so maybe I could handle the variable personalities of people with dementia or Alzheimer’s, and I was willing to try my best to learn about the conditions if they wanted to take a chance. So I filled out the requisite paperwork and agreed to a background check, faintly hoping they’d find out I’d done something that would prove I’d actually had too much fun at least once in my life and maybe it would show up in a police report. I left feeling neither hopeful or terribly disappointed and drove back to my own neighborhood, rich in bad architecture and poor in culture, and plopped into my favorite booth behind a low wall which gave me just the cover I needed to pull out a book and draw on a soda while keeping an eye out for characters that sometimes wandered in from who knows where, as the diversity of my new city hadn’t quite satisfied my expectations. I got excited when a customer caused a stir simply by dressing a little out of the mainstream or wearing sneakers that hadn’t come from one of the exclusive shops across the street. People around here dressed as if they had just come from the gym, but some kind of gym that made them look better without effort, and I often wondered how I could get a membership to a place that would make me skinny without sweating, where it wouldn’t be hazardous to wear expensive gold necklaces that might get caught in a Nautilus machine, causing a weird kind of hanging that would make the evening news if I had gone near a gym dressed like any of these wonder women that came in for 100 calories worth of yogurt.

I wandered through the pages of my latest thick as a plank biography until I decided it was a respectable time to go back home, where I spent too much time by myself or in the company of of my favored liberal commentators on the evening cable news show. What really shocked me was that the light on my answering machine was flashing red as if there was some sort of communication emergency, and I leapt across the couch to hit the button that would let me know who had died THIS time, and where would I have to go to view the latest corpse of someone who had died too early or too late, depending on whether they had been a friend of mine or my father’s. But the message told me that I had been called for a second interview, and could I please bring with me my birth certificate and driver’s license at 1:00 on Friday–no need to return the call unless that was inconvenient. Drat. The only thing that was inconvenient was that they had seen my best outfit already, and I needed to dive back into the closet to see if I could come up with something just a little different. I chose the same pants, since I now considered them lucky, and a sweater that was neutral but not boring, and wondered whatever I had done to deserve a second look. I spent the intervening day pretending it was going to be my last day off for a very long time, and took a drive up the north coast to my favorite fish restaurant, bought myself some fresh perch and sat and read the same thick tome with a different view, and sort of toyed with the idea that I might soon be able to say “yes, I have a job”, and not feel like I needed to make up some clever story about how I was a secret heiress living in an unassuming neighborhood so as not to be found by my wayward sibling who wanted to live off my largesse. I enjoyed the ride home and went to bed with anticipation, but not so much that it kept me awake, and I awoke the next morning curious and calm, and that alone made me think I was getting a little too complacent.

When I arrived at the same brick building, I pulled in a little slower this time, since I knew where the curve in the road was now, and driving directly into the office would make a bad impression. The woman seated at the table was a different one and happened to be the owner, and she said the reason they had called was that I had been the only one to send them a thank you note, which I had done by email this time, instead of my usual handwritten one, thinking I would beat everyone else to the punch, and maybe my use of a fountain pen and fine stationery wasn’t what was going to get me noticed anyway. I always sent thank you notes after interviews, assuming that everyone else did too, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that such a simple gesture had given me an opportunity for a second chance at a job that I decided might be just the challenge I needed. This interview wasn’t any longer than the first one, and I almost laughed when the woman handed me a folder full of information, a carry bag with the company logo stamped on the pocket, and a name tag! And the name tag even had the name I used in real life, not the one my mother had given me that I discarded later on for one I chose on my own and thought was well worth the $100 and a trip to the federal courthouse. After the slight twinge of disappointment I felt at finding out my background check hadn’t revealed any tawdry secrets, we shook hands with the assurance I would be called when a suitable match was found, and I almost skipped out the door, anxious to read up on what awaited me, I knew not when, but wanted to be as well prepared as possible.

And what does all of this have to do with the photos above, one might wonder. It turns out that my job, which I adore, involves spending a lot of time on suburban streets, weaving in and out of slow moving traffic, behind people who seem to have no destination except the state of annoyance they cause when they line up two at a time so that I can’t pass them. And that is why I have installed the handy red button in the cigarette outlet of my car, because I was taught that timeliness is more important than godliness, and occasionally I need to startle the driver ahead of me in order to arrive at work on time. If only it really did fire missiles it would be even more fun, but I can dream as I keep pushing it and pushing it, while my foot shoves the accelerator nearly through the floor as I wend my way to one of the many people I’ve come to love as much as the people I miss so much every day of my life. It is very true that we can’t choose our families, but we can choose to populate our lives with people who might love us even a little better, and how many people are lucky enough to have a job that affords such a luxury. Well, I AM, so get outta my way.