When I left my job in Baltimore to move to San Diego it never occurred to me I would be unemployed for long. I pride myself on being both more resourceful and more adaptable than your average bear, by my own assessment. I fully anticipated a month-ish of unencumbered freedom in a brand new city before jumping into a new job. When I moved from Pittsburgh to Baltimore it took a month to solidify my bartending/nanny income. After my nanny contract expired for the following summer I was nestled into my new job, again, within a months time. Things always worked out. I presumed this would be the approximate time frame for starting over in San Diego.
I was wrong.
April came and went without much action on the job hunting front. I was flush with savings and obsessively organizing and purchasing things as thriftily as possible for our new little home. It was a surprisingly time consuming hobby to cruise thrift stores and check Craig’s List daily. It became kind of a game and I enjoyed myself. Aside from the trauma of the demon sofa I was fairly successful within the parameters I set for myself. The sun was so refreshingly warm after the brutal East Coast winter, and I now live ten minutes from the beach. So, to be honest, I wasn’t trying very hard in April. I applied to only a handful of jobs. I went to Coachella. I went to the state fair. My head wasn’t in the game.
I had decided back East that I wanted to be a psychiatric nurse. I had been in grad school to be a therapist, but decided that I did not want to hear the nitty gritty of trauma stories for the next thirty years. I couldn’t commit. As a psych nurse, I reasoned, I would still be working in mental health, which I enjoy, but would get paid significantly more and have a lot more versatility should I want to change settings. Given my work history, it’s pretty apparent that I like to change settings. My Joshua, ever supportive, assured me he would help float me while I went to school. I researched all the programs available in San Diego throughout May. There was a common theme: many years of school and many more loans. In short, despite all these promising reasons to go back to school, I got cold feet. In fact, my feet were freezing.
I arrived at the proposition of a “normal job”. Out of all my peers I know who make significantly more money than I do I have observed two things: they work in an office environment and they don’t appear to do very much. I listen to their job descriptions with incredulous attention, So that takes you eight hours a day, all year, just to do that? Really? You do that for forty hours a week, fifty-two weeks a year? Invariably, it turns out, that they don’t. Instead, they spend many hours, per work day, trolling the internet or dicking around, and they are out by five and have weekends off, only to complain of boredom. It’s sickening.
So I added my perception of “normal jobs” into the net I was throwing out. Since college I have worked in customer service, residential mental health, nannying, inpatient mental health, bartending, etc. and thus scultped a variety of resumés. I applied to somewhere around a dozen jobs a day. I also applied to temp agencies, counting on an immersion into the sea of arbitrary boredom to test the waters. I applied to be a bank teller, a “pet care specialist”, a cashier at a book store, a teacher at a child care facility, a hospital attendant, an administrative assistant, a secretary, a personal assistant, marketing whatever, make-up guru at Sephora, or Ulta, ABA therapist with CARD, this and that in mental health, blah blah blah. I could do anything!
My phone finally rang.
It was a temp agency, arranging an interview. Truth be told, I thought this was ideal. I could trolley around the new city and try out all sorts of new jobs in Boring land and learn how to operate fax machines and whatnot without worrying about making a lasting impression of myself as an imbecile. Perfect!
I arrived at the office in my business wear costume, with my hair straightened and a freshly printed resume in a brown Kinkos paper bag, and this tucked in my giant leather Ralph Lauren handbag.
The lettering on the outside windows read, “CONSTRUCTION LANDSCAPING CATERING”. I double checked my email to confirm the address… yet this was the intended building.
I walked inside and found a long hallway, the paint peeling, which deposited me in a mustard yellow waiting room, filled with half bathed male laborers. I got in line.
“You a tall glass of water. Look how tall she is,” this man elbowed another man beside him, “Mmm, what’s your name?”
“Nope.” I smiled, feeling my blood pressure bubble upward. I find the phrase tall glass of water particularly triggering ever since a homeless man leaned in to call me that while I was volunteering at a shelter, with my church youth group, in middle school.
“What’s you problem, girl?”
I excused myself to the front of the line, “Excuse me, sorry, I have an appointment at 9:30 with Michelle.”
“That’s in the office work building across the courtyard, building three” The receptionist gestured over my shoulder.
I pushed through the door to find a drought deadened courtyard with several cottage-like structures in a semi-circle. It continuously amazes me how many buildings in California are set up as several small structures with outdoor hallways.
I sat in an empty waiting room, empty aside from a middle aged woman in a very revealing skirt suit and silver iridescent heels. She smiled at me, and continued idly looking out the window.
Michelle appeared. Her blonde hair was unwashed, in a pony tail, and she was wearing two different shades of black.
“Hi! Welcome, let’s take a look at your resumé!”
We simultaneously shook hands and seated ourselves in an adjacent room that had two folding chairs on opposite sides of a faux wood table.
“So, I’ve done a lot of different things. I’m interested in trying office work sort of positions, temporary things I could easily transition in and out of, or transition into permenant positions if they’re a good fit.”
“Did you answer phones at any of these jobs?” She scanned my resumé.
“Answer phones? Yes.” Of course I can answer phones. Jesus Christ, I have a college degree.
“Like, multi-line telephones.”
“Yes.” I smiled. Are these real questions?
“Ok, you should put that on your resumé,” she put the paper down and stared at me.
“Alright, I can do that.” I envisioned a sales pitch from Billy Mays, Not only can she lead forty-five minute groups for a room full of acute patients, on a variety of subjects!, independently!, but she can answer telephones!
“Where do you live?”
“Old Town. I’d like to work downtown since I live right on the trolley line,” I had fantasies of meeting up with Joshua for happy hours in my business wear costume, reporting all my trivial complaints about emails and phone calls and faxes while I downed five dollar Jack and Cokes on special until six.
“But you do have your own vehicle, which is reliable?” She tilted her head.
“Yes, it would just be nice to not have to commute considering I’m right there.”
“Right, it would be nice… Do you know Microsoft Office, Outlook,…” she trailed off.
I had listed all those programs under the special skills section. In truth I had taken one intro level computer class in college, which I got a C in. I got a C because my pseudo-brother roommate intervened when I confided I couldn’t figure out any of my assignments and was dangerously close to failing a gimme course. He completed my entire course load the day before the bulk of my assignments were due. Such a gent, that one.
“Yes, and I type quite quickly,” I pointed to my special skills section across the table. When I had been through this process in Pittsburgh the recruiter had been nothing short of ecstatic that I typed 75 words per minute during their test, and demanded I bold it on the top of my resumé, which I never did.
“Yes, that is good too. Which do you prefer, full time or part time?”
“Either will work out.”
“Are you looking for something permenant or temporary?”
“Either is fine, if it’s a good fit I’d like to stick around. Ideally I’d like to work somewhere that has a team environment and a shared mission, like at a non-profit, or something similar,”
Michelle looked at me as if I had four eyes and six heads, “Right, of course,”
I back peddled,”But anywhere is fine, I guess,”
She circled my phone number and stood up, “So we will be in touch. If you don’t hear from us just call and check in to make sure we still know you’re looking.”
“Of course, thank you. Do you have any suggestions for changes to my resumé?”
“We don’t really do that.”
“Oh, ok. Thank you.”
I crossed the court yard and bolted through the waiting room and into my car which had now reached molten lava temperatures. I chided myself for putting so much effort into what already struck me as a fruitless endeavor. My smooth, straightened hair immediately warped in the intense heat.
Of course, I didn’t hear from them. I called a few days later and inquired about possible oppourtunities,
“We do have something that just came up, it’s from eleven to four AM downtown and pays fifteen dollars an hour.”
“Eleven to four… in the afternoon?”
“Nope, it’s eleven to four in the morning.”
“What would I be doing?”
“Well it’s an event job so you’d do whatever they needed, really. Sort of similar to an usher.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Ok, well that’s all I have today.”
She hung up.
All of my following calls resulted in zero offers, even strange ones were absent. These people had nothing. I called the jobs I had already applied to, only to repeatedly be met with crushing statements that it had already been filled, or worse, that the person on the other end had no idea what I was talking about. I left my name and number with countless individuals who never returned my calls.
Knowing that structure is important for me, or more directly, my mental health, I had been following a loose routine since my arrival in California. I woke up early, I got ready for the day, I took Murphy to the park or a walk, we worked on his puppy training, I read, I wrote, I obsessively cleaned. I prepared meals and bagged lunches. In the evenings Josh and I would go to the gym, on the weekends we went to the beach or on a hike or some other random excursion to explore our new city.
By mid June this structure deteriorated. In a shamefully rapid deviation from my plan, I began sleeping in until whenever, wearing the same yoga pants and t shirt ensemble from the day before into the night into the day… I stopped wearing make-up. I stopped preparing meals, I stopped cleaning, I stopped answering phone calls because few people seemed to understand any discontent I alluded to. I was met with, Well, at least you’re at the beach! or You’re lucky you’ve got Josh to support you! Stay at home girlfriend, haha, and It’s not so bad, you’ll find something soon, and in the meantime you’re in California!! Benign questions like, “So what have you been up to out there?” came across as aggressive, condescending.
I was broke, extremely isolated, and increasingly frightened of my precarious mental state. Having been a headline rider at the Clinical Depression Rodeo before I knew I was slowly circling the top of a very deep well.
Josh was very practical, and direct, “What’s going on?”
“I’m on strike,” I said cooly.
“Why’s that?” he scooped me into a hug.
“Because you smell like Murphy,” I joked and then added, “and I’m sad,”
“Yeah, well, I’m concerned, and I know that you know better than anyone what needs to be done to help you.”
I rebuked, “I need a job. I used to have a job that mattered to me. You remember. K. Thanks.” I held up my fingers as a peace sign. Despite the snark, I was listening. I didn’t have insurance, naturally, so I attempted to treat myself…. Which is what I do anyway, while I can. I like to try to intellectualize my way out of things.
My mother started keeping close tabs on me, calling frequently. Her spidey-mom-senses were tingling, “Tasha you’re worrying me. I know this is really hard. The first year is going to be really hard. You need to get out and join things, start volunteering! One of my friends has a friend that just moved back from San Diego, they said the job market was terrible, a total nightmare. It’s not you, honey.”
I texted my friends back East. I continued to do my Instagram challenge of #100happydays which forced me to focus on the positives of each day, which was typically my pets nine times out of ten, or my proximity to the ocean, or my Joshua. Things weren’t so bad, right? PULL IT THE FUCK TOGETHER, I’d glower at myself in the mirror.
In the midst of this I accessed the environmental non-profits that call San Diego home. I applied to CalPrig by responding to an ad on Craig’s List that claimed they needed advocates, and these advocates would be paid fifteen dollars an hour, on average.
The phone interview was easy, as when asked why I cared about the environment I launched into a sincere rant about the environmental atrocities I had seen transpire in one of my home states, West Virginia. The most recent of which being the polluted drinking water, an issue I had followed very closely in the news.
I was scheduled for an interview.
The office was about five minutes from my home, but I arrived thirty minutes early, again assembled in my “young professional” disguise. I climbed the threadbare staircase and turned into a largely empty room. There were five folding chairs in a row in the center, a filing cabinet shoved in the corner, and large collapsable tables lining the far wall. I stared at the posters which papered the wall, environmentalist slogans were paired with sea turtles caught in trash or starving polar bears.
“Oh, hi! I’m Laurie! Nice to meet you! Sorry I was just in the back!” she extended her hand,
“Hi, I’m Natasha!”
“Great, wonderful! So just take a seat, we have some paperwork for you to fill out here.” She handed me a clipboard. The first sheet was printed with groups of four lines, in three columns, “So on the first sheet what we’d like you to do is to share some referrals. I always say that awesome people tend to know other awesome people, so anyone you know who is also passionate about the environment, or looking for work, just let us know and we’ll reach out!”
I nodded, but made no motion to fill out this page.
Laurie stared, smiling.
“Yeah, I just moved here I don’t really know anyone who would be interested.”
“That’s fine we have affiliates all over the country!” she walked across the room to a map of the US that had brightly colored thumbtacks stuck in most of the major cities, “We have offices in D.C., Atlanta, all over really!”
I really didn’t feel comfortable giving away people’s information to this sun damaged woman, but also felt intense pressure under her gaze, so I wrote down my mother’s phone number.
Laurie, peered over my shoulder, “Chris, is that your husband?”
“No, that’s my mom. She lives in Pittsburgh.”
“That’s perfect! We’re doing a lot there with Marcellus Shale and fracking. We can go on to the next page, just try to think of some more people. I really encourage people to come up with at least three.”
I filled out the rest of the paperwork, which included several petitions to sign. Other people began to filter in, and Laurie bounded across the room with clip boards and pens to greet them. A petite man with curly hair seated himself directly beside me, despite the extra chairs available,
“Hi, I’m Matt!”
“Hello, I’m Natasha!” I nodded. I had filled out all of my paperwork and was increasingly confused by the operations at hand.
Matt was wearing filthy skinny jeans, combat boots, and a neon yellow tank top. He dug around his satchel for wrinkled papers to assist him in filling out his paperwork.
“Laurie? Hi! I’m Matt. Do you guys really need to have my address today? It’s just that I moved awhile ago, and I don’t know my address yet. You know how it is,” he shrugged, “Also, I thought I had my resumé in here, but it doesn’t look like I do, so can I just email it in again?”
“Well we use your address for a commute stipend, if necessary, and also it helps us decide what areas to put you in… but just get it in as soon as you can.” She nodded blankly.
Another man entered the room, middle aged and wearing cut off shorts and a tank top with ragged flip flops. He looked nothing short of bemused at my professional attire in this run down room. Even Laurie, the woman interviewing us, was in jeans and a t-shirt. I had missed a memo somewhere.
Finally, Laurie stated that we would be interviewed individually outside. I was relieved there was a reprieve from what was clearly turning out to be a cattle call. I followed her onto an alarmingly narrow balcony outside the room. The afternoon sun was streaming in heavily and we were forced to face the row of windows from the room we had just exited.
“Sorry, it’s awkward to be staring in at them for this. I’m going to go close the blinds,” she squeezed past me.
I sat down at the small bistro table, forced to face the wall rather than the opposite chair due to lack of square footage to accommodate my legs. Laurie returned,
“Alright, so tell me why you are interested in us!”
I rotated my torso inhumanly to face her, “Well I have worked for non-profits since college in mental health, and since the contaminated water issue in West Virginia I have been following environmental issues more closely and would like to become involved.”
“Yeah, yeah absolutely, that was an awful situation. Our focus changes, so right now we are focused on the Greater Pacific Garbage Patch. Are you familiar?”
I shook my head.
“The GPGP, which is this soupy plastic mess off our coast, right here, is toxic and dangerous and literally growing every day. Recently we were also petitioning to challenge the fees that Capital One had accessed Californians falsely, and we won. We put over a million dollars back into the pockets of Californians. I like that because it’s like when you work for an environmental non-profit do you stop caring about everything else? Of course not. Our longest running initiative has been to remove plastic bags from grocery stores. That’s a huge component of what’s in the GPGP. And it’s just awful, those bags never go away, they’re strangling our marine wildlife right off this coast right here, just for five minutes of convenience. Simple convenience! I’m so passionate about it, I think it’s just out of control. I mean the reusable bags are RIGHT THERE! You can keep them in your car. That is also convenient and doesn’t permenantly jeapordize our environment,” She took a deep breath and passed me a petition to sign about banning plastic bags in my new state of California, “So does this work still sound like something you’d be interested in?”
“Sure. Although, I would like to know more about the nuts and bolts of the work as well. What does a typical day look like?” This question was featured on an article I had read on Things To Say To Appear Engaged At An Interview, or something like that.
“Awesome! Great question! So, starting off as a canvasser we would need you here at about noon, daily, and we practice our script as a team, review goals and new materials, then distribute maps of the areas each of us is expected to canvas for that day, canvas, and then return to the office at nine to wrap up. A lot of times we’ll go out together afterward, since walking for that many hours builds up quite an appetite,” she laughed, “But, yeah. That’s generally the nuts and bolts of it. We pay based on commission, so you make forty percent of whatever donations you bring in. That averages out to around fifteen dollars an hour. If you don’t get any donations that day you always make at least minimum wage, which is really nice. Everyone always gets paid. It is important that there aren’t many days like that though, on your first day it’s necessary to show you can get a yes.”
My interest was rapidly waning, she leaned forward conspiritorily, “I’ve got to say though you’re a lot more serious than a lot of the canidates that I interview and I’d love to put you directly on the career track. You strike me as a leader. I was on the career track when I started too,”
I grinned. I struck myself as a leader too, “What does that entail?”
“Well, you canvass, and after proving that that is something you excel at, that you’re passionate and dedicated to the bare bones, so to speak, you start to manage. You do what I’m doing now. You have an office, you interview applicants, you run the morning meanings, you track our fundraising, you run a portion of the operation.”
“How long does that transition generally take?”
“A few months, maybe longer. It varies for everyone, but it took me only four. After that you switch to salary, and the fundraising is a bonus.”
“So you’re still canvassing?”
“Yes all managers canvass three days a week. Saturday is our office day, where we meet to catch up on paperwork and we’re off on Sunday. Tuesdays we do interviews, like today, and the rest of the days we are canvassing too. It’s six days a week, but the Saturdays are really easy, we’re usually done in the early afternoon.”
“So when you canvas, are you in pairs, or…?”
“Well your first day you would be with me, and then after that we’re on our own!” She smiled as if this was exciting.
“Until nine at night?” My resistance was swelling.
“I don’t know if I’m entirely comfortable with that. I just moved here and walking around unfamiliar places after dark… it’s just,”
She cut me off, “Oh don’t worry, we have maps for everyone that show exactly what doors to knock on and where to go. They’re very detailed. One girl even puts the addresses in her gps app on her phone,” she giggled, trying to include me in the amusement at the absurdity of this, “but really, it would be very hard to get lost.”
“Hmm, it’s more the walking around after dark piece of it,” I started.
“Oh some of my best contributions I’ve gotten at 8:45 pm! Last month I rang a bell at 8:50pm and twenty minutes later had a check for five hundred dollars, forty-percent of which I got to keep. It was a very good day.”
“No, I’m sure it’s very productive, but walking around alone at night with an entire days worth of contributions seems pretty unsafe… it’s actually kind of insane to me, to be honest.”
Our eyes locked for a moment. We were at an impasse. I shrugged, and opened my hands. I may have done many reckless things in my life, but traipsing around unknown neighborhoods collecting money, after dark, wearing a shirt advertising that you are collecting money, telling everyone you meet that you’re carrying money… It seemed nothing short of, a phrase I detest, but thought nonetheless, asking for it. The “it” being to be mugged, maybe violently, maybe not. Either way, not an experience I was interested in.
My interviewer found words, “Well, I can tell you that nothing has ever happened to me and I’ve been doing this quite awhile. I understand your concerns having lived in DC for a portion of grad school, and I know you’re from back East. It’s not like that here. It’s really safe. I’ve never even felt marginally threatened doing this work.”
I didn’t believe her. Even if she was telling the truth, there’s a first time for everything. Sure, canvassers being brutally robbed might not be a regular calamity but it’s certainly happened, and it will certainly happen again.
“Yeah, having just lived in Baltimore it’s hard to imagine this. I would never do this there.”
“Right! It’s different! It’s so different out there. Being from here and moving East I was, like, totally shocked at how brutal things could be. It’s just not like that in San Diego, really.”
“It is a different land,” I conceded.
She skipped ahead three spaces, “Are you available tomorrow?”
“Yes.” At this point my desperation for work and ready made friends was teetering against my safety concerns on a seesaw internally.
“Great! Wednesdays are always canvasser appreciation day so we get pizza after we wrap up! I’m going to email you a link to the career track! It’s just a test and instructions for how to continue on that path,” She handed me a piece of paper, “This is the script! So try to memorize that as best you can by tomorrow. We’ll meet here at noon and then canvass together!”
“Alright, Sounds good! I hope I can learn all of this in time,” There were several conversations printed on the page.
“It’s really easy, I promise,” We stood, and she squeezed around the bistro table to hug me, “I’m so excited Natasha! I’ll see you tomorrow!”
I explained the job to my Joshua, and my parents. I sincerely hoped someone would convince me this was an exciting prospect with the career track, and all, but I was met with a resounding , “No“. I emailed Laurie the next morning, explaining that I could not ignore my safety concerns. She never responded.
The doldrums returned with a renewed veracity. I wallowed. I watched an entire season of Abby Lee’s Ultimate Dance Competition in one day, my Apple TV queuing up the episodes seamlessly. I had been completely absorbed into my sofa and a distorted dream sequence of shouting and crying adolescents before I forced myself into the car with Murphy and took him to the dog park. While he ran wildly, I stared directly into the sun.
My daily schedule shortened to one goal: shower before Josh returns from work, appear to function, go to the beach with Josh and pretend to be a normal human being.
And then, Greenpeace called! Before applying I had checked to make sure that they only canvassed in public places, and as they did, I applied. Expecting it would be a similar to CalPrig I figured landing the job would be a given.
I repeated my emotionally charged rant about the environmental concerns in West Virginia. I was scheduled for what I now knew would be a cattle call interview.This time I wore a maxi skirt and sandals.
Curiously, the Greenpeace office was only two blocks from the Calprig office. I arrived early, as I tended to do, but this time only by fifteen minutes. There was another contestant already waiting, in a formal suit, with blazer. He was sweating profusely.
The stocky man who answered the door sported an unkept beard and tangled curly hair. His worn Greenpeace t-shirt had a hole near the bottom, and he wore tattered cargo shorts. This was the interviewer. Expected.
Our next contestant was a middle aged man who appeared clean, and more professional, until he asked our interviewer if he could “dip out” for some “snacks and coffee” while the rest of us finished our paper work.
Our interviewer, Adam, looked taken aback, “Uh, yeah man, just be sure to be here at 2:30,”
Adam disappeared into a back office and I took this time to liberally show myself around the broad room. There was a bulletin board of the top canvassers, which I noted were exclusively male. There were more radical environmental posters of animals and trash, like the last office, but some of them had been altered to include mustaches and bombs. It was casually unclean, crumbs left on desks and chairs that weren’t quite unbroken. A sliding glass door had drawn on depictions of cash money symbols and stick figures depositing it at the bank. There were trophies. It appeared to be a frat house for the environment.
The man returned at 2:35 with a Starbucks lunch and a large coffee. He noisily unwrapped his sandwich as Adam began,
“I assume if you’re in this room you want to work with Greenpeace. I’m here to figure out if Greenpeace wants to work with you,”
Having been an active member of a sorority in college I internally noted that this was not a recruitment angle we would have ran with.
“So, let’s talk about Greenpeace and what it means to work here.” He asked open ended questions, in efforts to solicit answers from his audience of three.
Middle aged man and collegiate in suit actively participated. I contributed that Greenpeace was founded in 1972 and returned to inspecting the room from my seat while Adam rattled off facts. I had read all of this information online this morning.
“So does anyone know why Greenpeace doesn’t accept corporate contributions? Why we don’t accept government funding? Why we never will? BECAUSE IF WE HAVE THOSE MOTHERFUCKERS IN OUR BACK POCKET HOW WILL WE GET ANYTHING FUCKING DONE?,” I snapped to attention. Adam was bobbing his head and sending his tangled curls into a fury,” WE HAVE SOME GODDAMN INTEGRITY. So, NO, WE DO NOT AND WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THEIR DIRTY MONEY!”
I tried really hard not to laugh, and stifled a smile as I turned my head into my shoulder. Duuuuuuuuude. He toned it down,
“We are independent, and you know what, we’re winning! We are winning every day, every year, and if that’s what you’re about then, welcome.”
Case closed, this was a fraternity.
I immediately thought of my email address, natasha.winning@gmail, and considered making a joke about the correlation. Much like Charlie Sheen, and Greenpeace, apparently, I am about winning!
At this point a troop of young men in baggy athletic shorts and flat brimmed hats entered the room and high fived Adam as they headed into the back office. A lone girl trotted in behind them and skirted onto the balcony to smoke a cigarette.
He explained the stipulation that we had to make a certain amount of money within three days to stay, and that after that we could only miss the goal one week, a “warning week”, and on the second occasion we would be let go. During the first three days you were paid ten dollars an hour, and after that it fluxuated based on commission. Finally he said,
“I need everyone to take turns signing up on the computer, it’s real quick. The page is already loaded. We just need your contact information in the system for W2s and whatnot. Then I’ll call you back individually.”
A girl entered the room, frazzled, “Hi, sorry I’m a little late. Is this Greenpeace,” she pointed, “Adam?”
Adam turned emphatically to the clock behind him, “We started forty-five minutes ago.”
The girl smiled, “Yeah my ride took forever,” she dumped an armful of folders and bent papers onto the table, “So sorry,” a cloud of patchouli aroma swept toward me.
Adam stared at her quizzically, then handed her the paperwork and took collegiate-in-suit guy into the back room.
In about ten minutes it was my turn. I sat in the computer chair and rolled forward,
I talked about West Virginia, again. Despite having no experience advocating for the environment, I had a personal connection, I cared now more than ever, yadda yadda.
He asked me to convince him to donate money to my cause.
I said something along the lines of, “Most people cannot relate to West Virginia. Most people don’t even realize it is it’s own state. Yet what is happening to West Virginians is still important for everyone. Loose regulations allow corporate interests to ravage the environment and jeopardize the people over and over again. Americans have drinking water that smells like black licorice, is filled with MCHM, and no one knows what the consequences could be. The company responsible easily changes hands and their name and goes back to business as usual…It’s like nothing has changed since Erin Brockovitch, and how long ago was that? We need legislation… and we need money to do so. Today. Because this will happen again and it could happen here.”
He nodded,”I’d give you money,” he said, “but I’m an easy sell,” he asked if I could handle the sales pressure? I assured him I could.
I wanted to point out the fratty culture. I was an angel for a fraternity in college. Do you guys do chants? I’m really good at chants. I wanted to boast that I can drink a handle, once had a really good night of competitive flip cup, and make lots of jokes. I’m generally good for morale, just put me in, Coach.
But I didn’t say any of this. That would have been ridiculous.
As I went to exit my chair followed me, my skirt had rolled into the wheel and stuck. I yanked the turquoise fabric violently, hoping to jar it loose, but the chair nearly overturned. Adam knelt down and unspun my skirt from the wheel, then shook my hand good-naturedly, “We’ll let everyone know this week! Thanks, Natasha!”
I didn’t hear anything.
I was bitter. And I’ll probably never donate to Greenpeace because I’m poor, and because I hold grudges, and I really needed an out and the screaming hobbit man said no.
That weekend I was brooding, and Josh took me to the beach. We swam for hours and had a picnic dinner overlooking the water. We bought cheap wine and got drunk at the house and made up stories about our pets and watched ridiculous eighties movies. We listened to Warpaint and made up interpretive trance dances. I laughed all weekend, but on Monday I was alone again.
I hated Mondays more now that I ever had while I worked full time.
I continued to apply for jobs. I applied to everything. Literally. I trolled job boards and Craig’s List and newspapers. I took long winded and confusing assessments for big corporations and emailed my resumé to vague personal assistant postings. I cried hot and hateful tears while repeating through clenched teeth, I have a fucking degree goddammit, which became a bitter mantra of sorts.
An organization called “Save the Children” called to schedule an interview. I honestly don’t remember applying for this, as it sounds like a satire of a charitable organization, like George Costanza’s The Human Fund, and initially I didn’t believe they were real. The hot California sun was streaming in through our metallic silver blinds, illuminating the dust and pet hair throughout our ultra modern apartment. Was any of this real? “Save the Children” obviously had to be an ironic play on my career thus far, and yet I was having this conversation,
“Hi! My name is Julie and I was just reviewing your resumé and thought you might be a good fit for Save the Children! We are holding open interviewing tomorrow and would like to invite you to come on down. The dress is casual and comfortable, as we’ll be playing games, kind of watching how you interact and respond. It should be a really fun time.”
The address was in the same neighborhood as CalPrig and Greenpeace. They paid twelve dollars an hour, and you could make your own schedule. They worked in pairs in public places. I was assured that there was a lot of upward mobility, that everyone started out canvassing malls.
“Sure, sounds good, I’ll see you there!”
I related the information to Joshua, “The part that I can’t accept is the playing games together at the interview and that she specifically said they would be watching how I respond and interact. It’s like a weird psych experiment. Are we playing scattergories? Are we playing kickball? I can’t go through this weird cattle call sideshow experience again. If I go and parade around like a textbook extrovert and still don’t get the job I’ll hurt myself, I really will. Save the Children doesn’t even sound like a real thing. It’s ridiculous.”
“It’s completely up to you, but you’re not allowed to hurt yourself,” Josh looked at me sternly, and held his hands up in the peace sign.
The next day I got dressed, wearing jeans and a t-shirt and tried to pump myself up to a confident, extroverted head space for my interview performance, but ultimately couldn’t go through with it. I didn’t even show up.
A few days later we ran into two women wearing bright red SAVE THE CHILDREN t-shirts at the mall. I watched in abject horror as one of them cornered Joshua outside of Game Stop. She showed him a map of the world and instructed him to pick a country. He chose the USA, and she launched into a rally cry to end childhood diabetes, explaining his money would go to after-school programs that promoted an active lifestyle and nutritional education and, randomly, children’s books. Once we talked the woman out of her pitch she explained that she used to work for a tow truck company and this job made her feel like she was paying off that bad karma, but she usually couldn’t get people to donate and was worried about being unemployed soon.
We continued on to the movies and I felt ok about my choices. Bumrushing people in public was not a good fit.
MidJuly I got a call for a Mental Health Counselor position at a nonprofit. An appropriate job had responded! The man on the other end of the phone had a heavy African accent, and initially, I was quite impatient,
“What? Who is this?” I repeated, thinking this was a collection agent trying to trick me into paying for my student loans or my miscellaneous Urgent Care copays of yesteryear,
“This is ____ _______ Youth Centa, is this Natasha Fostar? We want to interview yuh for tha mental health counselar position” he repeated.
Finally, we worked out an interview time. I felt confident, knowing that this was something my past work experience was at least appropriate for, and I had a clear notion of what to expect. Unfortunately, from the information I gathered this job sounded more similar to the violent residential treatment center I had worked at in Pittsburgh rather than the fascinating inpatient setting I had worked at in Baltimore. Still, this was relevant work. Surely, the storm was over now.
(to be continued)