I do presume.

Originally posted on Mighty Optical Illusions

“And where did you meet Gerald Reeves?”

We sat in a booth, on strawberry clouds with form after form and my driver’s license littering the table, speckled with dry tea. Placemats for coloring. Coloring for postgrads.

I adjusted the lining of my ruched black skirt. “You look quite nice.” “Thanks, James.” Previously I made another “last” visit to my place of study, to sign yet another form. Hopped on the bus with Jim’s last dime, waited in their marble suite with a raspberry soda in hand, and said goodbye to another prospect as a legal assistant in the antiquated convenience they call Downtown. My favorite work shirt hasn’t been ironed since.

“We met on the bus.”

Keeth chuckles in Irish mirth, motions to the Oreo Crumble and asks me how I like it. Applying for serving and barista positions certainly carries its perks. Peppermint mochas, green tea lattes, milkshakes and slices of mousse cake. On the house, as I scrambled for cash to stay in the laundry room of a friend’s.

Gerald convinced me serving was an art, that rewards follow refinement. Humanities degrees aren’t useless. They supply fodder for conversation. And this clientele, they’ll pay for fodder. Most are cops who come for the free coffee anyway.

He was only thirty-eight and claimed to work six days a week, seven if lucky. $500 a night since age seventeen at the same place. A different picture on the wall for twenty-four months straight. Two dozens’ worth of the “greatest employee we ever had.”

***

“He’s full of shit.”

I folded my hands over my apron, still boxy with tucked away tips. This was reprieve from the usual talk with disgruntled aunts at call centers. But a date would soon follow. “To be fair, you meet ’em on the bus.” “Thanks, James.” My disappointments with men aren’t worth speaking of as of today. Probably a good thing.

“You can really make good money, if you work the long hours and are fine with kissing ass. I mean, Gerald is going to retire. He put a good deal into an IRA Roth and some other stuff. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Must be nice to live at home. What kind of parents charge rent nowadays?”

“Mine.”

“Well, that’s you.”

Presumptions flutter and stand by our doors. The easy-to-access two-by-four they say to beat intruders with if you don’t have a gun. People you don’t know.

***

It’s very much like saying only dirty kids get lice, and I’m only reminded of a bubbly cop I really enjoyed pouring sweet tea for, until he offhandedly said that people get arrested for a reason, that trials were a waste of time. Yes, if they’re prolonged. “Innocent until proven guilty?” I quipped. “The arrest indicates guilt. Nine times out of ten.” “So what about that ten percent?” “Well, they sure did something.”

Sometime in 2010, or 2011, Justin Bieber told Rolling Stone that rape was a sad thing. Something along the lines of not liking abortion, that yeah, it’s really sad when a woman has a baby by rape, but “everything happens for a reason.” Well, yes. But what are you implying about the rationale? Is every reason justified?

Three weeks ago it was asked if I had an eating disorder. Anyone who lives with me would laugh at the question. I think Ren would be pissed. And today it was asked just how much I allocate for groceries. “How do you afford to get everything from Whole Foods?”

For the past five days, I’ve brought quinoa in a Tupperware, a bag of avocados, and mangos to spare. Put these together, glaze it with salsa, and you’ve created a filling salad.

All from an inner-city grocery store for less than fifteen bucks. And there’s enough to last for the week ahead.

Not that Whole Foods is bad. I love salmon jerky and matcha green tea powder. And if I can’t get matcha online, I’ll go to Whole Foods.

***

Perhaps I am oversensitive. But after a while, comments like this are no more grating than belittling someone for moving to Austin, “where affluent students panhandle.” Bring up the beauty of Portland, OR to hear similar scoldings from neighbors and friends. “A better Austin. Richer people.”

Today we sat through a sales pitch. Another local wholesale store hosting a membership drive, wedding cake, cookies, and photo packages lined on a table, set to tempt. They praised this part of town for its spending potential, family needs, consumers aplenty. And I turned to a coworker and whispered,

“Most people can’t afford to live here!”

“And really, he hasn’t done his research. Look at the study that made the paper. Where I grew up, you’ll find the greatest disposable income. It also costs the least to live there.”

I smile.

“Sorry. Just proud of my South Side is all.”

***

Turns out I’m already a member. Welcome to Costco. Not certain if I love you.

My plastic spoon sifts through quinoa in ways Rocky Road could never allow. But mousse-filled cake is always nice, chocolate chip and oatmeal comforts waiting in a brown paper bag should I seek them during break.

Another coworker apologizes for not inviting me to lunch.

“It’s okay.” I point to my empty tupperware. “Maybe next Friday.”

“I admire your discipline.”

Less than two years from my interview with Keeth, I’m finally working Downtown. Restaurants scream with specials and an authenticity I don’t entirely doubt. But even the doors of McDonald’s and Whataburger stand ajar and aloof, as lines stretch on and I only wonder how everyone dines inside and returns in due time.

Maybe I’m not so disciplined.

Perception reflects off each of our eyes. Myopia, astigmatism, and more. Not everyone needs glasses, but no one peers through a magnifying glass impervious to the drawbacks of subjectivity.

Go away.

she thinks I am cute
but for her, I cannot say the same
I crouch and retreat
in disinterested anticipation
for church will soon let out.

children, soccer moms, terriers
and rattles, dolls of the squishiest plush
I like these
the latter, not the former
because it’s too cloudy for all that noise.

she steps closer, that frequency
“Hey cutie!” “Hey loser.”
I know you’ve told your friends
you’re off to read at the library
though it’s only me you care to study.

*Cat No. 11 of the 500 Cats Project

I got the job.

Tonight, I finish my last round of white papers. Footnotes and formatting mainly. Make fifteen copies tomorrow morning, blithely white and collated. I should be happy.

The day before our annual conference, I broke my stress ball. Told my direct supervisor how I really felt, and back then, it was all so petty. I still felt worthless for what I thought were four years’ wasted time. I did choose to major in two rather unmarketable degrees, if limited to just a Bachelor’s. But as much as I tried to compensate for a hiccup in high school that was pivotal in the things I presently deal with, it seemed what I did was all for naught. Research fellowships. Under the school’s umbrella. Organizations. Within a collegiate shelter. Peer-reviewed publications in a journal that doesn’t cater to undergraduates (I was stubborn and felt professors doubted my ability when they gave me a list of undergraduate journals to submit my honors thesis for publication. I didn’t really see how this was impressive to graduate schools, if the journals’ only purpose was to give undergrads a boost. I wanted to demonstrate that I could be published along with doctorates. And I did this. I’m not saying this to be arrogant, but I sensed I was heavily patronized in college due to my family-related difficulties and the fact that you just don’t tell someone at this school that “you’re too stupid for a Harvard doctorate. I would know. I went there.”), and two outside internships. I know this is not a remarkable list, and I know so many others my age have similar resumes. I will be blunt. So many people are going to college. You get this murky feedback as to whether or not your alma mater matters, and amidst this talk, you try your best to “stand out.”

Common questions over a span of 43 interviews:

“Why are you not in graduate school?”

“…do you really have an intermediate knowledge of Mandarin Chinese?”

“Why did you double major in international relations and psychology? Explain how this makes sense.”

“Look, if you’re going to jump ship and leave for law school, we’ll end the interview now. I’m looking for someone who can make a five-year commitment.”

“Much of what you do seems to have been within the comfort of your school. Would you say that you were spoon-fed?”

“How and why would you do these things? You went to that school.”

Oh, how my insecurity waxed and waned since the summer of 2013.

For the past year and a half, I got a lot of flack for where you went to school. I think it was just specific to the standards of a certain individual. I observed the process of micromanagement, but without any active monitoring. It was subtle, sometimes flagrant. But the jabs and occasional side comments of “she’s weird” (because why the hell would I have a specific set of interests and not have graduated from the Ivy League?) eventually bit me hard, swallowed me whole, expelled me into an extended depression and a minefield of panic attacks I never quite experienced before.

Originally, it was agreed I would stay for two years. But after ranting to my colleague about my frustrations, to include being mistaken as an unpaid intern, condescendingly asked why I wasn’t pursuing a Master’s Degree, and feeling that our efforts were limited to the pages of a glossy bubblegum gossip mag, I chose to spend my weekends differently. Yes, I recently started freelance writing to further refine my skills and keep my mind going. I also watched tons of trash TV. I’ve gone through multiple Youtube playlists of The Maury Povich Show, seen start to finish of Dateline’s To Catch a Predator, and replayed and sang to most of the Epic Rap Battles of History vids. But did I spend some time to apply to jobs that were a bit more relevant to my interests? No. I exquisitely bitched.

After applying to a good 143 jobs, I got several interviews. I wasn’t so nervous, but dealt with the same questions. Fortunately, a year and a half of this questionable job of many hats granted me speaking points to justify weaknesses, address concerns, and fuel curiosities in a positive way. I’ve grown more confident, but remain cynical. I still applied for jobs not expecting much, but this time around, I carried myself better. I have a clearer idea of my strengths, tendencies to folly, and importantly, what I want most out of a job. And currently, I want to improve my people skills.

While I finish these projects on mental health, child welfare, and like topics that still so interest me, I’m enthusiastic about Monday. While I’ve got plenty of cubicle bits to share from my time here, I know that January 12th will beckon more opportunities for storytelling.

Dialogue and spillage. Expect more soon. But next week, you’ll hear it from a former research associate.

Outside the Office of ____ & Associates

On this dreary day
skies of stoic timberwolf
remind me of the smirks
across Boss’ mouth
when groups of four, six
sometimes two
sit before his desk, an office of oak
discussing how to prove
the dismal Collide
mapping out the screenplay
of “Who hit who”
the past two weeks, indeed,
are opportune for business
me in a suit
something about putting myself
on a loud, wide billboard
something about the value
of my nine lives
I’ll tell you that these joints
are sore from time to time
but not because some kid
chose to drag race on my street
and while they cry and pester
I know it has more to do
with the silliness of his retainer
So, while this consultation
drags on into the evening
I’ll sit outside, the watchdog
hoping to God, you’ve got a D.D.

*Cat No. 8 of the 500 Cats Project

I slept on a windowsill, but not on my own sofa.

Last night, I sat on the sofa
while Mom’s friend from work,
without shame
went ahead and dug her toes into my back

So I’m fluffy. Not an excuse.

She proceeded to tickle my head,
tamper with whiskers I need
I can only hope,
Mom, don’t give her the scissors

Fat. But not a toy.

I continue to sit on my special end
No, my name isn’t Sheldon
Toes, the midnight snack of choice
Thus Mom named me Devilspawn

She wouldn’t leave, and stayed the night
Kicked me to the sill in the midst of Pomeranian dreams
Nothing I’d really like
But please, do bleed, as I succeed in puncturing your foot

Mom, I love you and all,
but coworkers aren’t roommates.

Cat No. 7 of the 500 Cats Project