Having decided once and for all to give up waitressing in pursuit of a career more worthy of my talents, I find myself curiously unemployed. When my pride isn’t looking, I even read the classifieds for waitress positions. Sigh… What was I thinking when I decided to major in Anthropology? In lieu of chasing an actual dream, I find myself weighing the consequences of getting some mediocre job with a steady paycheck. Then I wonder if it perhaps would not be more wonderful to simply hitchhike around the globe with no money at all. Either is hellish and rewarding in its own ways. I can’t decide!
I found my misguided steps leading me to the banquet room of a Holiday Inn in Newark to attend a flight attendant recruitment seminar. I’m laughing about it now, but at the time there seemed to be a sound logic to the idea – it combines the aforementioned mediocre job with world travel! Seeing as my other leading option was to drive a Mister Softee truck, I decided that being a flight attendant might have potential.
I did a little research on the Internet the night before, and discovered that there were quite a few caveats about flight attendant interviews. I was warned sternly that:
*A French manicure is best.
*Hair must be freshly trimmed and stylishly upswept.
*Only proper business attire in designated hues is acceptable.
*One should carry a small leather purse to match her pumps.
On and on it went, ad nauseum, pontificating about the minutia of what constitutes a perfect flight attendant. I laughed out loud at some parts, and felt myself somehow superior and therefore exempt from these picky standard. I thought surely they would just meet me and like me and that would be enough.
My judgment error began to dawn on my as I arrived at the Holiday Inn and took my place in line behind 200 people who might as well have followed the Internet advice point for point. Perfect, trim, little hairspray robots in fresh pantyhose. “Wow”, I thought to myself, “They already look like flight attendants!”(I also thought that most of them seemed rather bulimic, overly bronzed, plastic, rigid and in pain, but who’s judging?)
After a few moments spent pretending to be friendly to each other, the crowd was ushered into the reception room where we took our seats under the mirrored ceiling. We were given a bubbly welcome by Marcy, a flight attendant who looked as though all the time spent in pressurized cabins had freeze-dried her self-tanned face into a permanent smile.
Marcy treated us to some asinine speech about Positivity, which included a lot of painful moments when she would say things like, “ Now, the most important thing we wear is our…?” To which we were supposed to fill in “smile!” in unison. What surprised me was the everyone did say “smile” – with a creepy eagerness to please. Then in response to the sheer absurdity of it, all I could genuinely do was… smile!
Marcy continued to ask a bunch more nit-wit questions which were designed to get us to raise our hands a bunch of times in response. Someone must have told her that this was a great way to engage the crowd. My arm got tired, and I started to feel like a dork, adrift in an ocean of even greater, more polished dorks.
In a “surprise twist” (that the Internet had warned us all about) we were suddenly put on the spot and ordered to go up one by one in front of the crowd. Marcy, through her perma-grin, coaxed us to “tell everyone about yourself, who you are, what your pets name is, what you had for dinner last night.” As if anyone cared that Bonnie had a pet miniature schnauzer named Biscuit and ate eggplant parmesan last night. Ugh!
What became fascinating to me was the way every person took this opportunity to advertise themselves (just as the Internet suggested!) I stifled laughter at the things people were saying, especially when they were nearly verbatim what the website suggested, and thus had already been said six times. “Hi, my name is Tammi. I guess you could say I am what you call a People Person….” “Hello there ladies and gentlemen, I am Ted, and I have a high commitment to customer service.” Oh Please! I felt like I was in the audience of an avant-garde movie that was critiquing modern culture by grim exaggeration… only it was all real!
We took a break from the absurdity pageant (which the Internet warned was really just a way for recruitment officers to infiltrate and observe us). I wandered through the rapidly forming cliques, and felt no compulsion to add my two cents to any of their predictable conversations. To avoid looking like a misfit loner I went and waited in line for the ladies room. There before me stood a queue of identical stewardess wanna-bes practicing their perfect posture while waiting patiently for their turn to perch their lily white heinies on the john (where it goes without saying that they would not defecate, because people like this surely don’t have bowel movements). In front of the mirror, in a cloud of hairspray, were another half dozen clones reapplying their lip gloss (in the recommended colors) and tucking back their freshly trimmed, upswept hair with their French manicured fingers. It was like eerie science fiction… Why are they all smiling?
There was my own reflection amongst them. Too tall. No make-up. There were little flecks of paint under my jagged nails. My stockings had a run. My ill-fitting clothing was a shoddy imitation of their expensive dry-clean-only sincere suits. I didn’t have time to iron my ensemble, as I had acquired it from the Salvation Army that very morning. (The nice Honduran girl with the gimp leg had shoved all my purchases in a garbage bag when her manager wasn’t looking, and gifted it to me with a wink).
I pulled my hair out of its sloppy bun and shook it free. The other women looked at me in horror, surely deducing that I would never pass the interview with that sort of behavior. They shook their heads as they watched me validate my parking and waltz through the revolving brass door. Put your tray tables up and make sure your seats are returned to their upright position, I am getting ready for take off.