| by Rachael Swain |
I should have been sitting on my porch, drinking coffee, maybe looking up directions to my interview. I should have been.
But instead I was pacing the women’s section of Target trying to find a blazer to match my black slacks, and then trying to get the mud off the hem of my black slacks because I don’t wear the appropriate foot gear to keep them from dragging on the ground because in truth I don’t give a fuck about dressing up. I don’t give a rat’s ass about black pants. But I’m supposed to. You’re supposed to.
On Tuesday, I went on an interview to a large pharmaceutical company. Not to be a blowhard, but my resume is legitimately 2 full pages long. There’s no padding there. I have an extensive work history and I’m an intelligent person–just like everyone else I know that’s doing a job they hate. I was interviewing for a 2 week administrative position. But within 5 minutes of being in the place, the woman told me I wasn’t “corporate” enough for the workplace. It took everything in me not to thank her. Later, she commented that I wasn’t wearing a suit. Which was blatantly untrue because, in fact, on my body were pressed black pants with a “tummy taming” front panel to fight that nasty secretarial paunch (From Charter Club–you can’t get anymore inhuman than that) a black and white blouse with a feminine ruffle (made of a fine silky material) and a black blazer. Perhaps because the sleeves were three quarters length and didn’t cover my delicate wrists it’s not considered a suit. Just a half suit, I suppose or apparently, not a suit at all. Maybe because I was wearing flats and not heels. Flats that actually make me a movable, functioning human being in the workplace and not a handicapped tottering infant who can’t even attain the balance to pick up a stray paper. Maybe that disqualified it from being a suit.
You would think I showed up to the interview in a flower print prairie skirt, with beads in my hair and a lit stick of incense.
She also commented that my preference for working in non-profit work likely meant that I was not used to doing purpose driven work. Whatever that means. Maybe I should start a non-profit that seeks to eliminate corporations. The PURPOSE being to spare any more intelligent, free thinkers from being driven to total madness and existential doubt at 8 in morning in the silent, womb like environs of the women’s section at Target trying to parse out a discount, full-sleeve black jacket amid rows of teenage neon while Colbie Calliet hums gently in the background.
Sorry, VP HR lady, I can’t afford Ann Taylor right now because I was too busy working at non-profits, fucking off, listening to the grateful dead, farming vegetables on our garden roof, smoking weed and making no money. If you substitute policy development for fucking off and engaging energy company stakeholders for farming vegetables and decreasing demand on the grid and foreign oil dependence for smoking weed and you can’t substitute any new salary range because I made no money. But who wants to make the world a better place anyway? That’s for touchy feely chumps who aren’t into purpose driven, results oriented work.
What I should do, what I should AIM to do, is find a blazer with the proper sleeve length, and a pair of impossible heels and a monochrome tailor fit button down shirt, and small, tidy earrings for a pop of color and I should sell pills to people to get better, but I should make sure to limit access and charge a fortune for them so that only the people with really good insurance can obtain them and I should ship the placebo to a developing country but still charge for it. Because then PURPOSEFULLY, we’ll be saving the portion of the population that actually matters. Right, VP of HR?
But that VP of HR, that little, stern, proud, flag bearing member of Corporate America–she got in my head. And so today I was rattling the doors of a discount clothes shop trying to find a discounted suit from a major label, like a desperate junkie searching their kitchen cabinets for the residue of their latest fix. Because that proves we mean it. That proves we’re hard workers. Just like the litany of other things they tell us makes us “stand outs”–all the little things that strip us, little by little, of our humanity, of the ability to actually stand out–of the things that can actually help us do a better job.
We don’t take lunch anymore–we work through it…balancing a tiny wilted sliver of salad on a plastic fork while we try to answer an email or take a phone call or write that next report on sticky keyboards from the last bit of balsamic vinagrette that ended up in there. We leave late even when we don’t have to, because heads go up over darkened cubicle walls in silent admonishment if we leave on time. We say yes to things we can’t possibly accomplish alone because there is no “I” in team. Coincidentally, there are no raises or promotions either.
But we play the game. We’re told the benefits of “playing the game.” I play the game. Because I have to. Or I’m jobless, penniless. Because today we’re told “You don’t get the dream job. You get the job that’s available.” We’re not even encouraged to aspire to it anymore. Because the world is a different place now and so big C takes its liberties and then takes all of ours. I resisted so largely until now to participate–I burned bridges, I gave notice–when I stopped sensing fairness or people doing good business, I left. And now I’m broke. I can’t shop at Ann Taylor. I don’t want to. But I have to. And so despite my education, the myriad ways in which I would be qualified to work for the VP of HR, I’m dismissed out of hand because I don’t look the part. But primarily because those three quarter length sleeves and those flats were real.Because I told the truth.
Today I didn’t though. With my $160,000 degree I marched right up to the 7th floor of the towering, glass office building and I straight faced lied. I said “I’m really good at administrative work. I’d like to continue being an innovative administrator for a long time to come. It’s where I shine. Would I mind scheduling the Mercedes detailing for the CEO on a daily basis? Heck no. An appointment is an appointment, right?” And I smiled. And so I’m the proud receptionist, in a black suit, in high heels of a small firm in a towering glass building–and I can totter over to the Keurig machine to grab the boss a coffee and check on the stock of sparkling water in the fridge whenever I want. That’s how I shine. That’s where the promise of my life is delivered. Right next to the K-Cups.
And you can say, “Oh Rachael, you’re being naive and self-righteous” and maybe you’re right. But I’ll ask you a question. Which story is more appealing to you? The one where I told the truth or the one where I lied? Because I got the job, but I didn’t succeed. I have the suit to prove it.