Friday, May 18, 2007

I feel dirty.

"That's a beautiful scarf." she said, tapping my on my shoulder while I was perusing the 5 for $5 cookie deals at Walgreens. "Where did you get it?"

I get compliments on my scarf all the time. That's not me being cocky. Buying a pretty object is not really a personal triumph. But I do take a lot of pride in telling people how much it cost. "It was five dollars. I bought it in New York's Chinatown." That's me being cocky. (And cheap.) I am a smart and savvy shopper.

"Chinatown. Is that outside of Manhattan?" she said. It was endearing how little she knew about Manhattan. "Chinatown is in Manhattan. Its south of Canal Street." I looked her up and down. She was blonde, petite, and meticulously groomed in her fitted black pantsuit. She had to be from the suburbs; she was too put together to be a product of this blue-collar city. Not to say that there aren't any city dwellers that are well-groomed, but her style was predictable. There weren’t any immediate surprises about her appearance. She was pretty, but not beautiful. We have all seen this woman before.

“I have a friend who lives in Manhattan along 7th street. She’s always telling me to go to Chinatown. She says they have great deals. Do you live in New York?”

“No,” I responded.

“You just seem to know the city.”

“Well, I go there a lot. At least once a year, usually more often. And I used to go to school just about 20-30 minutes outside Manhattan.”

“Are you in advertising?” She said, looking me up and down.

What a curious assumption to make, that I must be in advertising. I wondered where she got that impression. I was wearing the pearls my husband gave me as a wedding gift. Maybe the pearls told her I was corporate, but my outfit, mismatching bright colors said I was artsy and in a creative industry. I’m obviously a city girl.

“No,” I said. “I’m an actor. And a writer.”

Her eyes lit up. “Wow! What are you in? Can I come see you?”

For so long, I was embarrassed to tell people that I am an actor. Its not exactly a noble career. But that kind of self-censoring doesn’t get anyone anywhere, so now I say it proudly. The great part is, they’re usually more excited about it than I am. Generally, I’ve found that people are envious that I’m actually going for it, that I am willing to put myself out there. That’s not me being cocky. That’s just me being proud of overcoming my anxieties about this pretty ridiculous life path I’m on.

We talked more about the kind of stuff I’m in, the kind of stuff I write, the fact that I going to grad school. She asked so many questions I didn’t get a chance to find out anything about her.

She reached in her purse and rummaged around, “Please let me give you my card. I would love to come see you sometime. I don’t work with any actors, per se, but I do work with a lot of people in the entertainment business. The lyric opera, singers and whatnot.”

I was very curious to know what she does. Could I have just stumbled upon a connection? I was excited by the prospect that a genuine conversation could turn into a connection.

“What do you do?” I asked.

She pulled out a pen and a business card case. I noticed she had a peculiar French manicure on fake nails. She had whitened not only the tips of her nails, but also the little half-moon at the base. That took a lot of thought. It showed an extreme attention to detail.

“Now, how do you spell ‘Carrie’? Can I get your number, too, or do you have a card?” That was when a bell went off. This woman, this conversation, it was too much. It wasn’t what I thought it was. Or was it? I gave my work number to be sure.

“I work with lots of people in the industry. Like I said, I work with a singer from the Lyric Opera. And others.”

She paused while she gave me her card. I looked down at it. It said Sara Lange, Independent Senior Direcor at the top beside an image of two bright red lips. “MARY KAY” was written in bold at the bottom. The back of the card was covered with clear piece of plastic which was protecting a sample of Mary Kay’s eye color duet in Lagoon (silver and navy).

“I’m a Senior Director with Mary Kay.” she continued. “In my first year I made $18,000 PART TIME! You really should give us a call. It’s the perfect job for actors.

“Thanks. I’ve gotta get going.” I said, smiling weakly.

My friends have all told me similar stories. Apparently these Mary Kay ladies are worse than the Streetwise vendors or those college students selling salon packages. But at least their “Can I ask you a question about your hair?” is more honest than this 5-minute conversation lead-in.

I’d been had. I thought she was a nice lady from the suburbs, looking to connect with another human being in a city where eye contact is hard to come by. I thought she was impressed with my courage to follow my dream. But instead, she was preying on my desire to chattiness, my craving to be thought of as a smart, interesting person with great style and good stories. She was using my vanity, my cockiness, as a way to sell her quasi-pyramid scheme.

She was the city girl and I was the country bumpkin.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

"The Rodeo"

That woman you think looks like she’s been to the rodeo. The one who gives you a free cookie for visiting her in the grocery store bakery, but who has moved up to Checkout for who knows why. The one with salt and pepper roots and orangey blonde ends, with a leathery face and watery grey blue eyes. The one who’s sparkling smile defies her tired face. She has been to the rodeo. Figuratively speaking, of course.

She was strangled when she was 20. She was coming off a night shift and getting into her delivery van. Her attacker came up behind her. The details are fuzzy, but she remembers him wrapping his bony hands around her neck and squeezing. She tried to fight him off, but she lost consciousness. When she came-to, she was spilling out of the open door of her van. There was blood on her shirt. The details are fuzzy, but she’s sure that tai chi saved her. She religiously practiced tai chi and yoga in those days. Most people wouldn’t have survived, but she was tough. They caught the guy two and a half years later. He had strangled others. To death.

The woman tells you this as you are buying items with which to make your sick husband soup. She tells you “People have been crabby today.” To that you respond, “There’s no since in making life crappier than it already is.” You didn’t mean to sound like such a cynic, but figure the sentiment is the same. That’s when she tells you the story of being strangled. Her voice is muffled but burly. She sounds like she has a frog in her throat but she doesn’t try to clear it. It is hard to hear her. The details are fuzzy.

You say, “Bless You” just as your mom might have. It seems appropriate and you’ve decided its okay to say that even though you’re not terribly religious. She shrugs it off and mumbles something to the effect that its not a big deal, she’s alive. The lady behind you, buying the Lean Cuisines and Perrier is looking impatient so you bid her farewell.

“I’m glad you’re alive. Have a good day.”