As we pulled up in front of our rental house, a little of the wind went out of my sails. A strange tiny house, sitting by itself between a parking lot and a bank drive thru. It was shaped like a triangle or maybe a rhomboid or a parallelogram, I had no idea, but it was bizarre -- and there were bars on the bottom windows.
Sam took the key and turned it in the lock, as the door opened, the stale air hit us in the face. It was a hundred degrees outside, but it had to be around three hundred in the house. Struggling to get a breath, I tried to smile at Sam.
"We could bake a chicken in half an hour if we put it inside and close the door," he said grimly.
But we didn't; instead we ventured in. The place was filthy -- the floors were dirty, the bathroom was nasty -- actually black between the tiles, the shower and tub were covered in scum, and the toilet bowl was black with mildew and mold. But worst of all was the kitchen -- the ovens were black with baked-on food, and the burners had two inches of gook underneath each one. It was the nastiest place I've ever walked into.
"I can't believe this," Sam moaned as he surveyed our new abode. "This is gross. I can't believe no one cleaned it before we moved in."
I was speechless, only nodding my agreement.
The next two weeks were spent on our hands and knees cleaning -- in the bathroom scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush to get just some of the stuff off, in the kitchen taking apart the oven and stove, and in every nook and cranny filled with dirt, mold, mildew and bugs, some alive, some dead. It took ten hours a day to make the place livable.
On the second day, the air conditioner broke. It was a hundred and five degrees outside. I picked up the phone and dialed the number of the repairman our landlord had left for us.
"Yes, Old Town Heating and Cooling."
"Hi, our air conditioner just broke. Is there any way someone could come today and try to repair it? We are dripping literal puddles onto the floor." I would have gotten down on my knees to beg, but it seemed pointless since I was on the phone.
"Well, I can't promise anything, but I'll try to have someone come by before the day is out."
He arrived within a couple of hours, and I'd never been so glad to see anyone in my whole life.
"This has been happening a lot all over Alexandria," he started talking right as we let him in. "The heat is just too extreme. People run their air so cold, and the machines can't handle it." We nodded, following him mutely to our air conditioner unit. He started looking it over.
"I see your problem," he announced about two minutes later.
"Can it be fixed?" We asked in unison. "How much will it cost? Can you do it today?" We were tripping over each other to ask our questions.
He started laughing. "I can fix it right now. He pushed one of the black switches in the box next to the unit. "You tripped the electrical system."
He seemed to think it was very funny -- although for once in my life, I saw no humor in the situation at all, but we paid our bill -- gladly. Air conditioning, the greatest of all of mankind's achievements, was restored to our funky, somewhat cleaner abode.
The AC was our first clue that the house had a few quirks. As we cleaned, we noted no less than seventy light switches throughout the house, but it wasn't always clear what they went to. We'd flip them, but something came on only one in three tries.
When the movers arrived with the furniture, our queen size bed would not go up the stairs -- the house was too small. We tried everything to get the box springs up -- but in the end, we gave up and bought a two-piece box spring. Every day seemed to hold new challenges. Every time we ventured out, we got lost, going half way around the world for every errand because we didn't know which streets connected.
Sam was not happy about anything -- he hated the house because it was dirty; he hated being lost; he was nervous about starting his new job -- stress was mounting. The one bright spot was the area -- we loved it. Old Town was charming with cobblestone streets, gas lamps and lovely old buildings. For a break, we took a walk down a different street every evening just to see the unique little houses. There were little shops and restaurants -- without a doubt the best area to live in.
Somehow, we made it through the first month. The house was clean, and actually kind of cute. Once we polished the wood floors, they were really pretty. Even though it was a funny shape, everything fit and looked like a cute couple house. I could already see roaring fires in the huge fireplaces in the kitchen and our bedroom when winter came. I would make hot buttered rum, and we would snuggle there watching the flames.
"I guess we can live here for a year," Sam commented on our last walk before he started work, which made me smile, acclimation was beginning.
On Sam's first day, I drove him to work. Previously, we'd looked at a map to see the best way to get there, then we'd done a trial drive and figured it took about twenty minutes. But that morning, traffic was backed up for miles. I skipped our exit because I figured I could work it out from the next one where there was less traffic -- major mistake. The next one went off in a completely different direction.
I grabbed the map and thrust it at Sam. "Find us on the map. I'll tell you what streets we're passing and you can guide me back."
Sam started looking at the map. The minutes were ticking by. I knew we weren't going in the right direction.
"Have you found us?" I was getting desperate.
"I'm looking. Hold on."
Was he kidding? I'm driving here! I can't hold on -- I needed a direction. Suddenly, I recognized a name -- Anacostia. I was sure I'd heard it before, then it clicked -- I hadn't heard it for a good reason, this was where all the drive-by shootings happened. Panic set it, I was frantic to get out of there.
"I have no idea where we are," Sam was practically yelling. I was continuing to drive because I was too afraid to stop. After about ten minutes, the area started to look better. I knew I had to see that map -- we might be in Jersey before long if I just kept driving. Nervously, I pulled over to look at the map.
"Here we are." I almost sobbed, pointing at the map. Sam just stared at it. OK, he was not going to be able to guide me. I'd have to figure this out before I started again. It took me just a moment to see how to get him to work. Then I looked at the clock, he was already fifteen minutes late. I felt so terrible that I dissolved into tears.
"It is OK," Sam murmured, trying to calm me down. "It's no big deal to be late on your first day."
I choked -- laughing a little through my tears. I knew it was a really big deal. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't worry, just get me there now." I nodded and pulled back into traffic. Finally, I got him to work half an hour late, but it took me two hours to find my way home.
Work was not what Sam expected -- no one spoke to him the first day, and his boss had a Napoleon complex, shouting orders at everyone. My high hopes were dashed after he returned from that first day. "I hate it! I wish we'd never moved here," he stormed as he slammed the door to the car when I picked him up.
Over the next few weeks, it got a little better. I learned how to take him to work, and I got him there on time, most of the time. Every day I made a picnic lunch and came into the city so that he didn't have to eat alone -- and I could have a few minutes a day with another person. We'd take our picnics to the sculpture garden at the National Gallery and eat and talk. It was the best part of the day for both of us, and we looked forward to sharing sandwiches, chips, laughs and a moment to get away from frustrations -- his work, and me looking for work. I continued to assure him that we only had to stay a year.
I hadn't gotten a job before we moved, so I spent all my time applying for jobs. Even with thirty resumes going out a week, I still didn't have a job -- I hardly ever heard back on a resume. I contacted headhunters, employment agencies and temporary places, to no avail. Every week, I trudged up to Capitol Hill and turned in resume after resume. NOTHING! Sam was frustrated because we had no money. "It's easy to get a job," I'd told him before we moved. "I'll have one in no time. It only took me three weeks when I moved to Albuquerque." But after three months, I was getting scared. What if I couldn't find a job?
Desperate, I started having informational interviews with anyone I knew or anyone that someone I knew knew, sort of knew, or had heard of. I was floundering -- I didn't know what to do. I tried everything I could think of -- sending out resumes in response to the ads in the newspaper, sending out letters asking for contract work, going to job banks. I applied to be a lobbyist, but I couldn't even get an interview. The search firm I called actually laughed at me. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
In addition to my legal resumes, I had headshots made and sent them for modeling work and commercials. I was certain that if the right person saw me, I would be discovered. Then we'd be rich and famous, and I'd never have to look for a job again. Sam was a little annoyed that I was spending money having the headshots made up, but he supported me.
Before I knew it, the entire summer was over, and Halloween was fast approaching. For four months, I'd been looking for a job. Rent for our funny little house was more than three times what we'd been paying on our two apartments in Albuquerque -- one of Sam's two paychecks. I didn't know what to do. We couldn't pay all the other bills and eat if I didn't get a job. Plastic could only take us so far. And, I still hadn't been discovered.
The last week of September I found the perfect job and applied right away. It was the job I'd been waiting for: being a civil liberties lawyer -- handling cases like a kid who was expelled for sexual harassment after kissing a girl on the playground. I knew I could make the world better with this job. I drove two hours to the interview, dressed to the nines! The interview lasted all morning, meeting with three different people -- by the end, I was certain they were going to offer me the job. "I'll let you know next week," was the managing partner's last statement to me. It was said with a smile, so I knew I was in.
All through that week and the next, I waited and waited, but no call came. I tried to get up the courage to call them, but I couldn't seem to bring myself to do it. Finally after three weeks, I dialed their number, but I couldn't get in touch with the managing partner, so I left a message, which he returned a week after I had left the message.
"This is Ted Kassle. I received your message and am returning your call."
"Thank you for taking the time to call back. I just wanted to see what the status of the job was." Trying not to show my desperation.
Suddenly I was confused, had I called the wrong person? Please no! "The attorney position?" My voice squeaked a little at the end.
"Oh right. Who are you again?"
"Did we interview you?"
"Yes -- about a month ago. We spoke for over an hour."
"I'm sorry, I don't remember you. Let me check with my secretary. Hold on."
He put me on hold without waiting for a response. I was devastated. Had I made no impression at all? How could he not remember me?
"You're right. I see I interviewed you for over an hour. So sorry we haven't responded to you. But, we hired someone else. Good luck." He hung up without another word. That was it, the final straw. I broke down and cried.
Desperate to get out of the house, I started walking down King Street. What I needed was a cappuccino -- or better yet, one of those Cowboy coffees. Maybe I had been wrong about this whole idea. Maybe the firm hadn't been that bad. I stopped four blocks down at the neighborhood coffee joint, Micha's. I had five dollars in my purse. It is worth it to sacrifice three dollars, I decided. I NEEDED a coffee that badly. Coffee was better than sitting on the ground and crying
No one wanted me. I blew on the top of my espresso; what I needed was a new plan. Cute shirt, I thought as I passed one boutique. Those shoes are exquisite -- little butterflies instead of a clasp. Shopping helped to reduce sadness, I realized. And I'd only known it reduced stress. Shopping . . . that was it! I needed a job -- any job. I'd keep looking for a law job, but I had to have some income start coming in, and what could be better than helping people shop?
So, I dusted myself off and started looking for other kinds of work. Every morning I headed down the street stopping at each store to see if they were hiring. If they were, I put in an application. It won't be long now. I thought each day. Someone will need me. I'll get a job today. By Thanksgiving, I was deflated. The answer at every turn was always the same -- NO. "We think you'll leave as soon as you find a legal job." "You are too educated for this position." "You would be bored here." "You are overqualified." "You wouldn't be stimulated doing this job." I didn't care if I would be bored, and I didn't need to be stimulated. I wasn't worried about being overqualified or over educated. I needed a job -- I HAD to have a paycheck.
Finally, during an interview at a retail clothing store down the street, I said, "Please, I really need this job. We need the money. I won't up and quit. I'll give you notice if I get a job, but please give me a chance."
Roxanne smiled at me. "OK, I will. I totally understand where you are coming from. I am more than willing to have you on board here."
I smiled at her. At least this would bring in a little extra. I felt a little better. I celebrated with a small Starbucks Egg Nog Latte and my favorite chocolate chip scone. It was Christmas! Things were looking up.
I told Sam I had gotten a job that night. He was not nearly as pleased as I had expected.
"A clothing store? Jessica, you have a law degree!"
"I know I have a law degree, but it isn't doing me much good right now is it? I am taking this for us. Some money is better than no money, right? You act like I'm quitting law to go into sales -- but I'm NOT. This is temporary -- just until I get a job." I was seriously annoyed that he wasn't really pleased with me.
"It better be temporary. I want you to keep looking for jobs. Just do this part-time so that you have plenty of time to send out resumes and keep doing your informational interviews."
For all the good it does, I wanted to explode. Then I looked at his face. I could see he was really concerned.
"I just wanted to bring some money in."
"I know. I'm just mad that I can't take care of us."
That's what was wrong? I was shocked. This made him feel emasculated? I hadn't understood.
"This isn't your fault." I cupped his face in my hands. "It is MY fault. I'm not blaming you for not bringing in more money. I was stupid to think I could find a job quickly and easily here. I wasn't thinking. This job is just to take the edge off of our money crunch. I really do want a better job using my skills and education."
He smiled. "I don't want you to waste your talent. You worked really hard."
"That's certainly true." He laughed. "But this isn't a bad thing. It is a good thing. Don't worry about it. I'm sure I'll have a job in no time now that I've taken this one."
The store was six blocks from my house, a pretty walk, past all these cute storefronts along King Street. I loved that walk because I'd peer into the Galleries looking at pictures I couldn't afford but would love to hang over my mantles. Then, there were beautiful fabric stores, posh clothing stores and a linen store with stuff to die for.
My store was on the corner with windows around both edges, which made for lots of window dressing. Although I really enjoyed helping people pick out clothes, I didn't mind the more menial tasks. Going through the new shipments was fun. I loved dressing the mannequins in the windows, and I didn't even mind rearranging the store.
The girls I worked with were a total switch from anyone at the firm or the state capitol. The manager, Roxy, was about forty, but very hip. She loved clothes. Her dark brown hair was frosted platinum on short and spiky tips. She wore giant hoop earrings and wide leather belts. New accessories were her greatest joy -- shoes, matching bags, earrings. Before we could put out a shipment of jewelry; Roxy went through it first and bought her favorites. We chatted about clothes, jewelry and shoes. Hour upon hour at the store, we looked at clothes, put together outfits and tried on jewelry. It was fun, and I was grateful to have a job.
Roxy was cool, with a twenty-five year old baggage handler boyfriend. They dashed off to exotic locales on weekends when she wasn't working. Wouldn't it be great to work for an airline and be able to jet set? I thought. I started looking at airline jobs right after that.
The assistant manager, Mia, was from Germany. Her spiked hair was very punk. Sometimes it was yellow, like a canary, but other times it was hot pink. She loved to show off her pierced belly button, which I saw often since she was a foot taller than me. She took the bus to work because she didn't want to learn to drive a car. Mia had married a military guy while he was stationed over in Germany, and they were very in love.
I found her fascinating. She told me all about moving to America with her new husband. "It was very strange, you know," she remarked in her still pronounced German accent. "People stared because he is black and I am white. When I met his family, they were horrified. You know, because I have only been to church a couple of times in my life. I was baptized, but they go to church all day on Sunday. He's from Georgia. Do you know where that is?"
"I do, but I've never been there."
"He is from a town with only two thousand people. They all stared at us, everywhere we went. His family wanted us to get married again in their church, but I said no."
"Did your family like him?"
She laughed. "They had seen only a handful of black men before. My nieces and nephews were fascinated by him. He doesn't speak any German, and my family doesn't speak any English, so when we go, he is, what do you call it, left out of all the conversations. They talk about him, but he doesn't know it. No one is rude or stares at us.
"I was very glad to move to Washington because there are so many people here. We aren't strange. No one notices us at all. There are people from every nationality here."
The other assistant manager, Jenn, was a big girl. Her extreme spiky hairstyle was black with red tips, shaved on the left side and at least five inches on the right. She was pierced in places I didn't know you could have that done and wore a studded dog collar around her neck and another around her wrist. She was only nineteen. Her mother was a therapist, and Jenn had been in therapy since she was six. After talking to Jenn, I thought I should call her mother and say that the therapy had a negative effect.
Jenn was unlike any person I knew -- incredibly nice, but with more problems that I'd realized were possible. She smoked pot all the time and smoked regular cigarettes when she wasn't smoking pot. She drank coffee constantly -- buying it four shots of double espresso at a time. The coffee kept her wired; she bounced off of everything in the store, talking a mile a minute. When we weren't busy, she tried on outfit after outfit.
The only other person in the store was Sally, a selling phenomenon. She made the national top ten list for the retailer every quarter. I found out quickly that you had to watch her. So determined was Sally to make the list and be number one, that she would steal sales from anyone and everyone.
After my first week, I knew all the clothes we carried because I spent every day unloading the boxes that came in. When I wasn't doing that, I was putting away the clothes people had tried on. So when this mousy woman came in, I was ready to give her a new look. My first customer had on a lime green shirt with black pants embroidered with lime turtles. I saw immediately that this was a woman in need of my help.
"Hi!" I grinned as I walked up to her. "What can I show you today?" I had already learned that if I asked, "can I help you?" The answer would always be "I'm just looking." You had to ask something novel.
She looked up surprised. "I'm trying to find an outfit for an event this coming weekend."
"Is it dressy or casual?"
I could see that she was beginning to relax. "It is kind of in-between."
"OK, that's no problem. Let me show you a few things." I started pulling out outfits in colors I thought would compliment her. She looked surprised by my choices.
"I've always thought I was a green person."
"Everyone needs diversity in their wardrobe. Why don't we look at some other colors and see if there aren't other things you like?"
This was clearly a new concept for her. "I don't know." She obviously was uncertain about branching out.
"Just try one. If you don't like it, I will bring you something in green."
This seemed to pacify her. She disappeared into the dressing room with the deep blue skirt and matching shirt I had chosen. When she emerged, I could see a difference in her look already. I pulled out a scarf and tied it around her neck for her.
"I would never have chosen this for myself. But I love it! I am so surprised."
"Would you like to see some other things?"
"Well, I don't want to go overboard." I knew she wanted a new look, but was afraid to try. But I knew this was a woman who should go home and throw out everything in her closet and start over again.
"Why don't I bring you a couple of other things. You don't have to buy them."
"You don't mind?"
"No! This is what I do. I love bringing you new things." She smiled. I could see relief written all over her face.
I picked out a basic black outfit and a great looking pair of brown pants with a cream top. They were conservative, but really great looking. When I brought them over, she eyed them warily. "Are you sure?" Clearly, she wasn't.
"Just try them and let me accessorize them, OK?"
She went in and came out in the black outfit. I had pulled out a gorgeous silver necklace. When I put it on, she let out a whistle. "WOW! I never would have thought I could wear something like this, but I love it!"
She disappeared into the dressing room again and emerged looking fab in the brown and cream. I had chosen another scarf to tie around her neck and a belt with a beautiful buckle.
When she looked at herself all put together, I could see a new woman emerge. She looked at me, and I could see that she was astonished. "I can't believe it. I'll take them all!"
"Would you like to see anything else?"
She looked like she would love to see more. "I can't," she said sadly.
"That's OK. Come back and we'll find you more things, yes? Watch for the catalog, there's always a great coupon."
She smiled at me. "That would be great."
I felt that I had changed one life today. However, a couple weeks later, I saw her while I was making a Target run. She was wearing the blue top with the brown pants. "NO!" I wanted to scream, but instead I hid behind the sunglass rack until she had passed by. I guess you can't help everyone, I bemoaned, shaking my head.
That encounter reminded me of what my old hairdresser in law school told me. He had these older women as clients, and they always wanted him to do one of those tight perms. Although he made all sorts of suggestions about hairstyles that might be more attractive, more up-to-date, they refused. So he told them, "When someone asks who does your hair, don't tell them it's me."
I wanted to run up to her and make certain she wouldn't tell people I had helped her pick out new outfits. Her new look was even scarier than the old one.
Every day I sent out more resumes, trying to get a lawyer job. Fed up didn't even begin to describe it. Looking for a job was my perpetual nightmare. I kept at it, day after day. My luck had to change soon. I was sure of that when I started, but I was less certain of it with each day that passed. Maybe I wouldn't get a job! That thought scared me to death.
I started getting used to my job at the clothing store -- I liked it all right. Even though I wished for a different job, I didn't hate going. It was relaxing for the most part -- at least the most relaxing job I'd ever had.
The store had a handful of regular customers who came in weekly to see what was new. Some of them bought lots of merchandise. Others were exchangers, they bought things then came back and returned them or exchanged them; it was a never-ending cycle.
One woman, Michelle, was the worst. We all avoided her. When she walked in the door, everyone working dove for the restroom. Whoever made it would stay in there until she left. She tried to get the entire sales staff working for her while she was in the shop.
"Excuse me, you-who," she would yell out, waving, "Can you check and see if you have this in my size in the back?"
"You in the black pants," she would snap her fingers, "Go and get me a jacket to match these pants -- you don't look busy."
The problem was, she wanted to try on everything in the store, buy two or three items, then return them in a couple of days without the receipt. She would ask for cash when she had paid with a credit card and throw an absolute wall-eyed fit when we said no.
She always had a difficult exchange. She would come in with clothes from two years earlier that she had worn until the fabric was see-through in places and say that the garment had not held up properly. Then she wanted to use the money on something else new she had seen in the store.
"Girl!" She barked at me one day, "I want these green pants. Do you have them in the back?" I dutifully went to check, but we did not, so I returned to tell her.
"I'm sorry, these are the last pair we have."
"Will you call around to your other stores and find a pair in my size?"
She had to be kidding. I knew it was a waste because I had seen all of my colleagues do this for her. By the time we received the item, she wanted something else and we were stuck with whatever we had special ordered for her.
I decided to be sneaky. "No problem, let me fill out an order form for you. I'll take your credit card number and have them sent directly to your home." She stared at me.
"No, I need to try them on."
"We have the exact same pants in black in your size. You can try them and it will save you the trip into the store."
I could see the wheels spinning. What reason could she give me for not trying on the other pants? She didn't really want the green ones, she was just entertaining herself.
"Let me get the black ones for you." I moved as quickly as possible to them, grabbed her size and tried to stuff her and the pants into a dressing room. She was desperately trying to get away from me.
"No, I don't have time to try them just now, I've got to get to a meeting," she explained in desperation. That meant she had to leave the store without giving us all the run around. I could smell the disappointment.
"Oh, well, what shall we do about the green ones?" I tried to look and sound innocent, but I had to bite my cheek to keep from smiling.
"I'll just come back." She turned and fled.
After I had been selling clothes about six weeks, Jenn came in to tell me she was having some trouble with the "law" as she called it. A cop had caught her smoking weed with her friends. Her mother's response had been asking if she had any feelings she needed to share, and if Jenn couldn't share them with her, could she share them with her therapist? She knew I was a lawyer.
"Jess, can you help me with this?" She asked desperately.
"Honestly Jenn, you need a lawyer that is licensed here. I can give you advice, but it isn't anything more than my opinion here. You can't take it and use it without consulting someone else, do you understand?"
"Can you help me find someone?"
"Yes, I can definitely do that." And I would. But I admonished her, "I think you need to give this up."
"Yeah, I guess I need to work out my aggression with my therapist."
I tried not to laugh in her face and say how ridiculous I thought this whole thing was. Instead I responded, "Maybe you need someone to set some boundaries for you."
"I bet you're right. Who should I have do that?"
"Well, it is generally one's parents that do that, but if that won't work for you, ask your therapist. If that therapist can't do it, find another one. I could do if for you, but I don't think it would be particularly helpful."
She was looking at me with awe and wonder-filled eyes. I don't think she had ever heard anything like this before.
"You know, someone should have told you no before now." I smiled and gave a little laugh.
She was still looking like I had given her some Zen-like truth.
"This isn't really new," I assured her. "Most people have been given rules."
"Yeah, my mother didn't want to give me rules, she thought it would make me rebellious."
I was trying to keep from rolling my eyes. The proverb my grandfather repeated came back to me, "Spare the rod, spoil the child." Suddenly, I could see what Solomon might have meant. "Some would say that by keeping you from rebellion, she denied you structure." She looked confused, so I took a deep breath and continued, "It's like this, a child will play in the street unless you keep them from it, even if you have to punish them for doing it. That is how you learn what acceptable behavior is. Do you understand?"
It was clear from the look on her face that she did not, but she was nodding. "Wow. That is really deep. So I needed rules and punishment?"
"I would say yes, but I'm no expert. I had rules and punishment, so I understand what I can and cannot do that is acceptable. For example, I knew that drugs, all drugs were not acceptable. My parents would have beaten me, then grounded me if I had touched them."
"Really? They didn't expect you to experiment?"
"No, experimentation was unacceptable. They made that clear, and they backed it up by punishing me for other things that were unacceptable."
"If I was rude or talked back, they would take my phone out of my room for a week and I wasn't allowed to go out with my friends."
"Are you kidding? Didn't you get mad?"
"Probably, but I knew when I did it that I was pushing the boundaries, and that I would probably get in trouble."
She was fascinated by this entire thing, I could see. I didn't know if it was possible for someone who had been in therapy all her life and never given any rules so that she wouldn't rebel could clue in to these ideas. I doubted it.
Perhaps I should go into counseling, I thought as Jenn went to get coffee still thanking me profusely and looking at me with fascination. I could help people. It was generally obvious to me what their problems were, and I had no problem pointing them out. Maybe that was my calling. I realized, "That's why I can't get a law job -- I'm supposed to do something else with my life. I am meant to show people their problems."
"Hey Jenn, could you bring me back a caramel frappaccino?"
"No problem! I'll pay -- for all the great advice."
"Thanks!" I was glad to have given it, but I feared it wouldn't do much good. Too little, too late.
A new shipment arrived as I waited for my caramel frap. As I unpacked the boxes, I thought I might be sick, which would not matter. The clothes were all puke brown and acid green. Who did they think was going to wear this? I wondered.
"Roxy," I yelled, "you've got to come and see this new stuff."
Roxy came sprinting back because new shipments were her great love. "Let's see." She was gleefully excited.
I held up a puke brown jacket, embroidered with acid green dragons.
"That is horrible! Who are they kidding? We're not going to be able to sell that!"
"It's hideous, isn't it?" I declared. "Fascinating that they could make anything this ugly."
I started putting the outfits onto hangers.
"Ooo!" One of the shoppers was coming by the back where I was working. "That is a fantastic jacket! Is it new? Can I try it on?"
"Yes, it is new. What size may I get you?"
"Small please. Does it have anything to match it?"
"I actually don't know yet. I haven't taken anything but these jackets out of the box. Let me check and I'll bring them to you."
Indeed, there were puke brown pants and acid green t-shirts to complete the outfit with that terrible jacket. I took them to her.
"I love this outfit! It's so different, don't you think?"
I hesitated, what should I say? "It is different." I just couldn't get out any expression that might come across as liking it.
I stayed there to watch her try it on, even though she was Sally's customer. I just had to see.
When she came out, I tried to keep my face expressionless. As that was impossible, I turned around and caught sight of Mia and Roxy. Their mouths were hanging open in a sort of a grimace. This was the true test of Sally's ability as a saleswoman, I thought. If she could say something nice, she should win the retail Oscar.
"My goodness," Sally twitted, "that makes you look so thin!" She said it with such sincerity that even I believed her.
The customer smiled and twirled around in the mirror. "I just love it! It isn't like anything I have in my closet."
I should hope not, I wanted to say. Instead, I returned to the back. Roxy and I were going to be eating our words about not being able to sell that stuff. Had anyone told me, I would never have believed that a single person would purchase acid green and puke brown. But the kicker for me was that we sold out of the revolting stuff within the week. I was astounded. Sally really was the goddess of retail sales. She deserved every sale!
After my chat with Jenn, I could see how much I could change the world as a counselor. So when I went home that afternoon, I got on the Internet and tried to see what was required to become a counselor. A lot of school, I realized. That was disappointing. You would think this juris doctor would be worth something. It seemed that in order to counsel, I would need to basically start over with my school. I couldn't do that. I didn't want to do that. I hated law school. Nothing would make me go back to any school.
But I am supposed to show people their problems. I was sure of that today. Counseling was my calling. There must be something I can do. I slumped against the chair. I'm a failure, I realized with a sudden jolt. How can that be? I'd spent years in school. I'm well educated, but it hasn't helped me get a job. "What am I doing?" I actually asked myself out loud. Nothing is working. All that school, all that work, and I've got nothing. Frustration settled over me like a blanket.
When Sam got home, he found me sitting on the couch staring.
"What's the matter?"
"I'm a failure."
"No you aren't. What are you talking about?"
"No one wants me. I can't get a job."
"You'll get one. I know it's awful for you. That's what I worried about when you took the retail job. I was afraid it would make you feel bad about yourself."
"You were?" This revelation stunned me. I had never considered it myself. Was that why I felt this way?
"YES! I knew you would spiral down if you had to stay there and couldn't get a job using your law degree."
"Really?" I had no idea he had such insight. He's so wonderful. So brilliant! Why hadn't I talked to him about this before?
"Jessica, you need to do something with your education -- even if you aren't a lawyer. I know you. You like telling people you're a lawyer. You're proud of that -- and you should be. You aren't proud of yourself right now. That's taking a toll on you."
I was amazed. He should be the counselor. "You know all that about me?"
"I really do know you, Jess. And I love you. You need to get a real job. I know you're trying, but we have to get you out of there."
My talk with Sam really helped me feel better, but it didn't help me get a law job. I spent all the time I wasn't selling clothes looking for legal jobs, sending out dozens of resumes every week. I rarely even got a rejection letter. I was really wondering about the mail service in Washington. Were these places just not getting my resume? I was really concerned.
Months were passing by now. I was selling sweaters and hats to cold tourists who didn't realize that Washington has a winter. One lady said to me, "But this is the South isn't it? Is this some unusual weather, like El Niño or something?"
"I don't think so," I tried not to scoff. "Washington has a real winter."
She looked bewildered.
"Would you like some gloves to go with your hat?" I figured I might as well get something from her stupidity.
"Please," she begged, purchasing two sweaters, a hat, a scarf and a pair of gloves.
"Where are you from?"
"Cleveland." I tried hard not to laugh. She must have all of this at home.
Although I love clothes, I was getting bored with selling them. It was always the same thing. Finally, I got a call for an interview with the public school system's General Counsel's office. I'd forgotten all about it, since that resume had gone out six months earlier. I was so excited! I couldn't wait to tell Sam. I could make a difference in those kid's lives -- it was a start. Not the change I really wanted to make, but it was better than nothing.
"Guess what," I nearly pushed him back out the door, I greeted him with such enthusiasm.
"What?" He was trying to get his balance as I danced around hugging him.
"I've got an interview. It's with the General Counsel's office of the school system."
"That's terrific! I'm so happy for you. You feel better, don't you?"
"I do. I can't believe it, but I do! I actually want to be a lawyer right now."
That was our best night yet in Washington. We laughed and danced around the house. Sam popped open a bottle of champagne to celebrate. I was on top of the world.
I knew at my interview that they were going to hire me. The General Counsel was a very attractive black woman named Denise. She was new to the position and trying to make her mark. Plus, she was hiring four new attorneys.
A panel of four of the attorneys in the office conducted my interview -- the General Counsel, her second in command, a slight black woman called M, for reasons that were never clear to me, and two white men. It was a good interview, and they offered me a job within the week.
Relief poured over me as soon as I heard the offer. I had never felt such relief. No job had ever been more welcome. I gave myself a pedicure as a present for getting a new job. Then, I walked around the mall with my favorite sin of the moment -- a soft pretzel. I gazed at a darling black pants suit.
"Soon I'll be able to buy you." I informed it thru the window. I was glowing with happiness. Money! I could go shopping very soon. Life was definitely better!
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