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Who You Know

The Cruel, Self-Esteem Crushing Job Search

Going into the job market armed with nothing more than a degree in English is like trying to fight a five-alarm fire when you're soaked with lighter fluid—you're just not going to get very far.

It had taken four months and 42 resumes, but at long last I'd gotten called for an interview. Four months is a long, long time when your fiance is busy with graduate school and all you have to entertain yourself with was daytime television and a massage wand, a.k.a the Magic Wand. (I'd had to invest in the Magic Wand despite our tight budget—it's difficult to explain developing carpal tunnel while unemployed). Recently, the sound of a dentist drill or a chainsaw had begun to produce a distressingly carnal reaction in me.

The interview was an hour away, and every synapse in my body was twitching with nervous energy. I tried to read but couldn't concentrate. I got up from the table, paced, sat down again. I flipped through a Victoria's Secret catalog. I reached up to grab the cordless phone of the wall and dialed Avery's number.

"Explain the concept of thong underwear to me," I said when Avery answered. I made a face at the annoying Victoria's Secret model who looked so pleased with herself.

"Rette, I'm afraid thong underwear is one of the great mysteries of the world."

"I spend a good portion of my life trying to keep my underwear from nesting between my buttcheeks, and here's a product whose sole purpose is to wedge its way between the fleshiest parts of my body." I was dying for some coffee, but my nervous stomach couldn't handle caffeine's caustic effect. The months of unemployment had proven corrosive to both my ego and my digestive system, and I did not want to go to my interview with the gases in my stomach doing a miasmic tango. "Guess what? McKenna Marketing called yesterday. I have an interview today." I padded across the wood floor to the sink to rinse out my cup. The floorboards creaked mournfully, straining beneath my weight. Greg's cereal bowl was in the sink, unsoaked of course. How hard was it for him to rinse it out and put it in the dishwasher? Why did he not realize that after a few hours corn flakes and milk could produce a bond stronger than love?

I turned on the faucet and the ancient water pipes groaned with exertion. Our apartment was old and ill-tempered, and I absolutely loved it.

"An interview? That's great. I had friends that looked for a job for six months before getting an interview."

This was why I loved Avery. Unlike, for example, my family, Avery could always make me feel like slightly less of a loser. My younger sister, Jen, had majored in marketing, and even though she got execrable grades and her resume was overflowing with grammatical errors, she managed to get a job two weeks after she got her diploma.

She and my parents were astounded by my lack of progress in my job hunt.

"Are you nervous?"

"That's an understatement. I've sent out 42 resumes and this is the only place that called. Why did I quit teaching?"

"Because you hated it."

"Oh yeah." I walked back over to the table, collapsed into the chair, and started looking through the Victoria's Secret again.

"I'm going to be late for work, I'd better get going," Avery said. "You're going to do great. Stop by my office when it's over and give me all the details."

"Will do. Talk to you later."

Avery and I sometimes called each other six times a day to say absolutely nothing. I had begun to look forward to reporting my days events to her or, more likely, the nonevents—random thoughts I'd had, new ideas for the wedding I wanted to get her opinion on, new ideas about what I wanted from a career and from my life. Meeting Avery was the only good thing that had happened since the move.

When Greg asked me what I thought about moving to Colorado so he could get his master's degree in engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I was torn. On the one hand, I liked Colorado and had been looking for an excuse to get away from Minnesota and its entirely inhuman winters. On the other hand, Jen had moved to Colorado three years ago to follow her ski-bum boyfriend, and I preferred my little sister when she was thousands of miles away, not a mere few blocks across town. It had a little something to do with her astonishing beauty, staggering self-centeredness, and the fact that any time I was around her I felt like the fat, frumpy older sister that I was. But I'd said yes, and we moved, and I'd spent the last four months marinating in feelings of failure and rabid self-contempt.

Things with Jen hadn't been bad as I worried they might be. She was the one who introduced me to Avery, for one thing, and I was grateful to her for that. I can honestly say Avery is the only tall, skinny blond I don't despise. Avery was the kind of person that did everything spectacularly well but somehow you didn't hate her for it. Her meals, for example, looked like something that should be photographed for a gourmet cooking magazine. Can you imagine, taking the time to lovingly arrange a sprig of decorative parsley atop the entrée before gorging yourself silly?

Avery knew about stuff that was completely alien to me. She's a vegetarian, and cooked food I couldn't even spell: Seitan, kreplach, kasha, avial, kabocha, aspric—these were not foods found at your neighborhood Denny's or Village Inns back in Minnesota, I can assure you.

Avery was the one who told us that the apartment above her was for rent, which is how we found this place. Avery was also the one who let me know about the job opening at the company where she and Jen work.

Which just goes to show you that the saying is true: getting ahead in this world is all about whom you know. But like an idiot, instead of spending my years in college networking and brown-nosing, I'd worked my butt off to get good grades, routinely pulling all nighters to finish epic essays and making myself sick with stress everyone time exams rolled around. What had all my hard work gotten me? A career that paid about half the salary of the average construction worker.

Being a copy editor for a marketing company wasn't my dream job, but right now I was willing to launch a career as a llama wrangler, a ticket taker at a movie theater, or one of those people who stands in the bathroom handing out towels (which begs the question, is this really a needed service? Is it harder to reach an extra three inches to grab a towel yourself? I think not.), anything to get my butt off the couch and some money in my pocket.

It would be cool to see Avery every day, but Jen? Every time I looked at her, I could feel my few remaining shreds of self-esteem wither. We looked like a set of before and after pictures: We had the same long, thick red hair and brown eyes, but she was two inches taller and at least 30 pounds lighter. It wasn't Jen's fault she was stunning, but she had a way of igniting my insecurities like no one else could.

Jen and I would never be good friends, we were just too different. I consumed books with the same voraciousness I attacked fattening foods, while she never read anything more substantial than a greeting card and was on a perpetual diet. Plus, there was the fact that mom adored Jen, while I never measured up. Mom didn't give a hoot about good grades (she'd never done well in school and found it odd how I could be contented to sit still with a book for hours on end), and she was constantly giving me admonishing glances, explaining to me that I might fare better with the boys if I put on a little lipstick and maybe didn't read quite so many books. Pardon my blistering resentment.

I mean I don't want you to get the idea that Jen and I hated each other or anything. Jen's beauty and sparkling personality were as intoxicating to me as they were to everyone else. It was a love/hate thing with myself, a fiery internal battle of jealousy, curdled self-esteem, and a burning wish that I was a lot more like the person I aspired to be, a person with my kindness and intelligence but Jen's looks and perfect figure (incidentally, my ideal self also had a dazzling fashion sense that would make my mother glow with pride rather than shake her head and roll her eyes and give me the kind of withering looks that made me want to promptly hurtle myself off the nearest cliff).

But if nothing else, Jen and I were good drinking buddies, and sometimes in a new town, all you need is someone who can help distract you from your loneliness.

Buy Who You Know!
Buy Who You Know!

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Copyright © 2002-2003 Theresa Alan. All rights reserved.