grown ups are like that....

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

growing up

"Management position open! No experience necessary! Come to the following address at noon today dressed for success!"

This wasn't the exact advertisement in the paper that day, but it was close. It promised the world, and to a naive young woman of eighteen, it was a chance at some easy summer money.

That day there were well over thirty young people stuffed into the generic little office in the generic little strip mall in Silicon Valley. No one was over twenty-one. No one older was dumb enough to come.

We all stood in our nicest clothes with neatly applied lipstick and freshly shaved faces. It was mid June and school was over, and we were ready to fill our pockets. I'd done the mall thing. The baby sitting thing. The temp thing. The receptionist thing. I knew that the money (for a young kid like myself) was in waitressing at a chain like Chili's or Spoons, but it scared me. The mall was hard enough for me since there were so many people, strangers. I was too shy and nervous and pretty much desperately feared the fast paced work of food service. No, a quiet office, a private home, the receiving end of a telephone. . .those were what I wanted, needed.

We were herded into a small room adjacent to the waiting area. We sat nervously in front of a large dry erase board. McDonald's fast food sacks were lined atop a table off to the side, and the smell of Egg McMuffins and fresh coffee wafted our way. The the presentation began. A slick looking guy with greasy hair and a greasier smile started writing on the board about sales and strategies. We were all confused, to say the least. When he noticed how bewildered we seemed he began to explain that we were all hired. On the spot. He told us we were perfect for the job.

Oh, and what WAS the job?

Selling perfume.

Door to door.

He started passing out the food before we could start stampeding toward the exit. Then a woman rose and began telling us about her experience at the company. She had apparently made quite a bit of money in just a short amount of time, and she was making more and more each day. Her advice: "Don't pass this up! Why, you could be rich!"

We took the bait. Every. Single. Person.

The next morning we would be split into sales groups with an experienced leader, but for now we should go home and sell some of their imitation designer perfume to our parents. And neighbors. And friends. The person who sold the most would get a prize in the morning.

So, with idiot stars in my eyes, I went home. My parents looked at me sadly and then sweetly forked over the cash for two bottles of the wretched stuff. They knew what I didn't--that this would all go sour and no one was going to make any money and that I would hate it. They also knew that I'd have to figure that all out for myself.

The next day everyone showed up early and eager. The young man who sold the most indeed got a prize--more McMuffins.

How underwhelming.

There were five of us in our group that day. Our leader was a woman who was half African-American and half Japanese-American. We were sent out in a van with a box of their finest (trashiest?) perfume. We parked downtown and went with our leader for a lesson. The first store we entered was a florist owned and run by a Japanese family. My leader suddenly, and seemingly out of nowhere, had a strong Japanese accent. I think she sold one bottle. Soon we came upon another store. This time my leader's voice took on the tone of the streets--the hard core loudness of a tough cookie trying to earn a decent living. I can't remember if we sold anything there.

Now it was our turn. We spread out at a gas station like fleas on a dog. The young Latino girl I was with lied to a man paying his gas bill when she told him that she was a single mother with no money and desperately needed to make a sale. I shyly approached a successful looking business man pumping gas into his black sedan. As I pitched my sale I must have looked horrified or scared or stupid or all of the above, because he turned and looked me squarely in the eye and said, "You must be pretty desperate to do this. Pretty damn desperate. " I told him that I was not desperate. Only dumb.

At that moment I aged. I knew what a pitiful and disgusting scam it all was, and I knew I was a sucker.

In the van on the way back to the office another young woman confided in me that she hated this job and wanted to quit. She and I went into Mr. Greasy Hair's office. I did all the talking, which was strange for me. I usually faded into the background, nervous and small. But I told him in no uncertain terms that this job was a load of crap, was parasitic, and was designed to trap naive young people into making the company loads of money while the salespeople themselves went home empty handed. Except, of course, for a hot McDonald's breakfast.

The girl next to me cried.

He told me how disappointed he was, and how he had seen such potential in me. He felt that I could have gone far. I laughed and left without looking back. He did, though, convince my new friend to give it another day.

This was one of the first times ever that I stood up for myself. My wallflower days were beginning to fade, and fast.

And you dear readers, what was the worst job YOU ever had?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dogs Bark & Sisters Call

De over at Ob-la-Deidre wrote a piece called "Dogs Bark Jingle Bells." This piece was inspired by my piece, "Sisters Call" and Rick Moody's "Boys." Go on over and check it out.

We would like to challenge you, too, to write a piece with a repetitive opening phrase (boys enter the house, sisters call, dogs bark, etc.). Leave a link to your post in the comments if you take the leap.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sisters Call....

Sisters call their parents in Europe from a phone at their grandmother's farm house in Missouri. They try not to cry but the little one, only three, can't help it. Now there, calm down, it's ok. I need a red ribbon she says, her curls bobbing as she sobs. The grandmother climbs up to the musty dusty attic to find a perfect red bow.

Sisters call their grandma from California. We miss you! Come soon! Their small hearts ache for this far away grandmother. They already know that many people will not understand that you can send love across telephone wires. They learn early that distance cannot diminish affection.

Sisters call California from Missouri again, this time they are years older. It isn't really that bad, they say. Just a few stitches, Mom, really. But their mother knows that it is more than a simple scrape. She can hear the quiver in her youngest child's voice as she assures her, I'm fine, I promise.

Sisters call boys and their school friends and always want to be on the phone now that the teen years have come. They carry the giant cordless phones from room to room and their parents discuss a second line just to avoid hassles and arguments.

Sisters call each other only occasionally now since the older one has moved away to college. They are occupied with school, work, and friends, so it's only now and then they talk. In fact, the phone takes on an increasingly smaller and smaller role in both of their busy lives.

Sisters call a little more often after they become separated by an entire country. One now lives in the east and the other remains on the west coast. Still, they are busy and only talk occasionally when time allows.

Sisters call often now to discuss wedding plans. But you have to choose a color, the youngest tells her older sister as they plan for a September wedding. Ok, ok, um, blue. Just pick any blue dress. I wish Daddy could be there to walk me down the aisle. He will be, she tells her, I know it.

Sisters call constantly now that a baby is on the way. On the day of the birth the youngest calls the hospital in a worried panic about the delivery. She's ok, everyone is ok. It's a girl! Can you be her godmother? You'll be her tia, her nina, her special auntie.

Sisters call and text:
I'm on the bus and this guy I am sitting next to looks just like your husband! LOL
Are you watching the presidential debate? I mean who is this bozo?
I'm so jealous that you are at the beach again! I miss SF. xoxo
I think I'm pregnant.

Sisters call because texting about babies and pregnancies just isn't enough. I can't wait for you to be a mommy, too! I love you and I'm so happy, she says, to her no-longer-a-baby-sister. I love you so much. Forever.

Sisters call each other sobbing with worry about their mother who is in the hospital so far away. They ache with worry and love and curse the miles, because while the distance doesn't weaken the love they have for each other and their mother it does make everything so damn hard.

Sisters call and hand the phones to their toddlers and small children screaming, Say hi to your tia! Don't press the buttons! Just sing that song you learned at play group for tia and your cousins, please. They ask for advice about teething and homework and laugh and cry about how crazy and hard and wonderful it is to have these little people in their lives.

Sisters call and say, I miss you. Come back to California. Come to New York. I miss you. I love you. I miss you.


This essay was inspired by Rick Moody's short story entitled "Boys." I was intrigued by the repetition of the phrase, "boys enter the house." I wanted to see if I could create an essay with a similar pattern to each segment. If you haven't read "Boys" yet, you really should.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


What I remember most about my grandma, perhaps, are her hands. Many say that the eyes are the windows to the soul, but I tend to disagree. The hands, I believe, can tell stories of a life like nothing else can. Grandma’s hands told stories of work, love, and loss, and I will forever miss holding them in mine and feeling her soft yet firm touch.

I can see her hands now, pinching the edges of a piecrust or working a batch of cookie dough. I can see them reaching out to touch my baby daughter, for the first time, full of love and tenderness. I can feel them, too, tissue soft, caressing the back of my hand as we sit together quietly on the sofa. I can even catch a whiff of the Chantilly Lace that scented the hankies she often clutched.

Her hands were tough, gentle, and strong. They were no nonsense, midwestern, hardworking hands of a farm girl used to work. They were the hands that crafted rockets at a war plant during WWII. They were hands that guided her son through the doors of the house she worked tirelessly for when she was raising a child, alone, in the 1940s. They were the hands that crafted stories from cotton and thread and wove love and devotion into every quilt she ever made. They were the hands that held the strong hands of her loving husband, my grandpa Oscar, for forty years. They were the hands that brought meals to her neighbors and planted seeds in her garden. They were the hands that snapped hundreds and hundreds of pictures over the years in order to capture the fleeting moments of life before they were gone. They were the hands that trembled with shock and sorrow when her only son left this earth before she did.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross said that:

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen."

Sylvia Mechling Joggerst was one of those beautiful people. But, like Kubler-Ross said, she did not just “happen.” She struggled and fought her way into her beauty and along the way touched the lives of everyone she met. She worked hard, played hard, and loved hard and we are all privileged to have known her light.

So today, in honor of my grandmother’s memory, reach out and hold the hand of someone you love. Memorize its feel, its scent, and its strength. When you touch that hand infuse it with love and peace and warmth and think fondly of Sylvia.