Chapter 4: “First time?” asked the girl in the navy suit. “You look lost.”
I had just arrived at the University of Washington’s HR office, and was feeling overwhelmed by the task of job hunting. There were a number of job openings posted on the bulletin board, but mostly for secretaries, a librarian, a short order cook for the student union, an associate faculty position for the History Department, and a job in shipping, in which I would need to be prepared to lift 200 pounds.
I glanced around the room, which was small and confining, and filled with at least a dozen other job seekers. After nearly a month of pounding Seattle’s job market pavement, I was feeling as though someone ought to pound me. Back to the east coast, that is. A refrain kept ricocheting through my head: What was I doing and how did I get here? More importantly, what made me think I could find a job on this university campus?
I looked at the girl in the suit, who gazed at me expectantly. She had short, dark hair like mine, and a cheerful, warm smile. Which made me want to hug her. At last, someone was making friendly overtures toward me. Take that, Marigold! To the moon, Stan!
Yes, I had now been living with my civilized housemates for three weeks, five days and 11 hours. And by civilized I mean, they conveyed their distaste for me, not by shouting insults or tripping me when I entered a room. No, my insults came by way of silent glares, rolling of the eyes whenever they heard my still-strong New York accent, and by their cutting remarks, which had a knack for making me feel small. Real small.
Stan, a scientist with a PhD in chemistry, didn’t approve of anything I liked. “Too pop culture for my tastes,” he’d say, or, “So this is how the other half lives,” whenever I turned on the TV to watch an episode of “Dallas.” Stan had a way of looking at me as if I was an oddity or the subject of a study. You know, the one that gets the placebo, but doesn’t know it, and for whom there is no hope? Well, that’s me.
Marigold wasn’t much better. One evening, after having spent the entire day, downtown, dropping off my resume with several businesses, I came home to find Marigold and G lost in deep conversation on the living room couch. Marigold’s cheeks were streaked with tears. I couldn’t see G’s face as his back was to me, but I did hear him sternly say, “It has to be this way—“, stopping suddenly when he noticed I’d entered the room. Marigold bolted and G looked at me sheepishly.
“She’s just having a bad day,” was his response to my queries. I tried to press him for more, but he said he couldn’t tell me, adding, “I need to respect her privacy.”
Which did little to console me, as it seemed no one was respecting me, let alone my privacy.
“Need some help?”
The girl in the navy suit looked to be about my age. For a moment I thought she worked here and was planning to guide me through the university employment system. I half expected she would next ask me to take a typing test. Instead, she introduced herself, Lia, and told me how she, too, was looking for a job. She explained how she’d stop by this office often, since new jobs were listed almost daily. Lia then started asking me questions and when I told her I had a degree in journalism, she asked me if I’d visited the public television station on campus. I shook my head.
Turns out, Lia, more than anything, wanted to be a photographer or a videographer, and had been visiting the station many times, inquiring about work in production. She was ready to take any position offered, she confided. Then, her eyes widened.
“Hey, I’m going over there now. If you want to come, I’ll introduce you to the receptionist. Her name is Rose.”
I hadn’t even thought about looking for work at a TV station and was just letting the notion sink in, when she grabbed my arm and off we went.
As we walked across campus, Lia proved so genuinely kind that my intuition told me we were destined to be friends. Either that, or I was so used to being shunned by my housemates that any act of kindness felt like manna from heaven. I was filled with a new optimism, that maybe life in Seattle had turned a corner. Lia was the Artful Dodger to my Oliver Twist, about to throw a lifeline to this friendless orphan. Perhaps a job? As long as it didn’t involve picking anyone’s pockets, I’d be happy with anything Lia was able to throw my way.
And suddenly, we were there. Before us was an old clapboard house. Walking up the steps to the entrance together, I was grateful to have a seasoned job seeker by my side who, unlike me, was not shy around strangers. Lia seemed a natural at this job-hunting business. With great fanfare, she opened the door and took me right up to the receptionist desk. There, she enthusiastically greeted Rose, a young woman, with dark hair, freckles and green-speckled eyes, and I was impressed with how Rose recognized Lia, calling her by name.
“Rose,” said Lia. I’d like you to meet Monica. She’s looking for work, too.”