When I first moved to North Carolina, I was eager to get back to work at my old job. I’d been assured of a position and was told to call when I was ready and that all the details would be worked out then. I had only been treated with the utmost respect at work in Washington and adored not only what I did but my family of co-workers as well. Long story short, the woman out here wasn’t completely honest with me and I found myself choosing between working nights again which would mean very little if any sleep during the days or looking for a new job. Because I’ve never been a huge fan of joining the zombie race and was in the position to have a choice, I chose to look for a new job. I had never had a difficult time finding work and had, in fact, aced all but one interview since I was twelve (it was then that I entered the work force as a paper carrier). Of course, it had been seven years since I looked for a job out of necessity. Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, you know our economy is currently crap.
My first interview was for a bakery recently purchased by a very nice guy named Abraham. I wore my black wrap dress, mother-of-pearl earrings and professional but not dowdy black heels. We spoke for about fifteen minutes and I was hired. The next day I came in to train and started learning all the dirty secrets. The place was filthy, management inexperienced, and you were paid under the table at the owner’s discretion. Sorry but that’s not going to fly. I did not go back.
A few days later, I interviewed for a second job and chose a pair of sleek brown slacks and cream colored top that hit about mid-bicep. The look was understated and professional save for the fact that you could see a good portion of my half-sleeve tattoo and all of the one below it. I was not hired immediately and did not receive a call back.
The next morning my mom sat me at the table and, I swear to you, confessed to being kept up at night about my tattoos and how I would never, ever, ever get a job with my tattoos on display. Oh my God. My tattoos are not of fiery death, serpents, or even the Pilsbury Dough Boy nailing Little Debbie on top of a Hostess cupcake- someone else has that honor. No, my half sleeve is an Alphonse Mucha piece depicting a mother and son feeding a flock of birds. It is, obviously, to commemorate the birth of my son. The piece below it is script that says “Solitudine non è essere soli, è amare gli altri inutilmente” which is Italian for “Loneliness is not being alone; it is loving others unnecessarily.” It was graffitied around Venice by the poet Mario Stefani before he tragically went home and hung himself. His story was made popular by the book “The City of Falling Angels” by John Berendt. The phrase spoke to me and, having suffered many long, dark bouts of depression, I felt a kinship not only to the poet but also to my maternal grandmother who had taken her life before I was born. This tattoo was a way to acknowledge the pain of depression and the strength I worked very hard some days to muster. Like my other more easily concealed tattoos, these tattoos mean something to me and are very much a part of who I am. Who is my mother to tell me that these markings are unfit?
But she was very gentle and I could tell this was something that was bothering her so I listened to her concerns. She even offered a solution: Mom would buy a new long sleeved top for me to cover my tattoos. I agreed and we agreed to go in search of the perfect cover the next day.
However, when I next came to the dinner table, I found an article about dressing professionally that my dad had printed up and set on my placemat. There was no gentle talk, no “I love you and I want to help.” It was just these two fucking pieces of paper that screamed “Why do you look like that?” What the Hell people? I have tattoos- not a set of devil horns implanted on my forehead. I mustered my best “Thanks but no thanks” and put real effort into being civil. Unfortunately, my Dad isn’t used to being told “no, what you’re doing is not how I should be dealt with” so he yelled at me. I yelled back. Then I cried. Then I felt like I was sixteen again and went into my bedroom because, well, that’s the sixteen year old thing to do.
The next day we went shopping. Now mind you, this is North Carolina, at the tail end of the hottest summer in history. If I go into an interview at four o’clock in the afternoon in a sweater with the sleeves pushed down, there is going to be a question or two like “What the Hell is wrong with you?? It’s 90 degrees out!”
So we scoured Target and I found a lovely cardigan and lacey shirt that made me look like a pink Labyrinth-era David Bowie. I giggled, briefly considered singing “Magic Dance,” and gave the set back to the clerk.
In Kohls, I felt like I’d taken a swan-dive into Republican-ville and turned my nose up at their vast collection of boxy sweaters and ill fitted pants designed to make every plus-sized girl look like my third grade teacher. Come on, I’ve considered getting branding. Mrs. Rodgers isn’t really my style.
At this point I was fairly put out and feeling rather dejected about being told my physical appearance kept my mom awake at night (can’t imagine why). So, in a slump, I gave in for the day and sulked home, simmering about being stuck in Podunk, North Carolina, rather than enjoying the liberal Northwest and seething that this was happening because my parents found me ugly.
At my Whole Foods interview a week later, I opted for my wrap dress again and almost screamed for joy when I saw that one of my prospective coworkers had dreadlocks that scraped her ass and several of the bakers had full and/or half sleeves of gorgeous, colorful tattoos. I’d fit right in. The interview went well and I received an email about a week later saying that they would like for me to come in and do a demo for them. I just needed to let them know if I was interested. Of course I was. I replied in the positive and waited…. And waited…. And am still waiting, in fact.
I scored two more interviews, both at local cupcake places. One was very “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and the other’s website almost made me worried that we’d start every day with a prayer session. But I was desperate so I went back to my Mom and asked her if she would be willing to brave the stores once again.
JcPenny was my first target and we swam in a sea of polyester and corduroy. Oh, the joy! I found a lovely satin eggplant colored top that tied at the waist and dipped low enough in the front that I didn’t feel too terribly conservative but also hid the girls well enough. Alas, even with the belted waist and ruffles, I still looked like a linebacker. 42, 13, YIKES!!
Our next stop was Lane Bryant who was, thankfully, having a sale. Now, I consider Lane Bryant good for some things- bras, panties, camisoles, etc- but as a whole I’m not too impressed generally. So, when I couldn’t find anything that really pulled on my heartstrings, I wasn’t too surprised. And then I saw it- a simple black shift dress that belted at the waist. It had clean lines, was elegant, and I could wear my strappy maroon heels with it and go out when I was done putting on the shiny-happy with prospective bosses. It was also sleeveless and over budget. Damn it!
We bought the dress. I tried it on for my Dad when I got home and I think he was genuinely happy to see his daughter in something other than jeans and t shirts. I sort of wanted to kick his ass. Instead I slipped on a cardigan and called it good. My brother said I looked like a whore (WTF?) so either A) I wasn’t playing it too safe or B) my brother had no clue what he was talking about. It was B.
I wore my dress and cardigan to the next interview and was offered the job a couple days later. This weekend we leave for two weeks of cupcake boot camp in Nashville. I cannot wait to look down my arm and see my tattoos creeping out of the shirt sleeve.