Toastrons in the Bay Area and surrounding environs! What are you doing tonight? Do you want to come to the Booksmith in San Francisco at 7:30 and listen to The Toast’s own Alexis Coe and self discuss lesbian murderesses?
Of course you do. [Miranda Priestly voice] Everyone wants that.
The summer after my freshman year in high school, I took my first real job.Not the first time I’d be working really hard or getting paid, but the first time I needed paperwork.I was 14, uncomfortable with every inch of my body, shy.
Minimum wage was $4.15 an hour, at least in Alaska, but without expenses like a car or kids or booze habit, the money added up nicely.
CheckRite is where your check ends up if you don’t have enough money in the bank to cover it.There are all kinds of words to describe this situation: bounced, kited, insufficient funds, overdraft, or simply a bad check.The bank stamps NSF on the check and sends it back to whoever deposited it.If you try to cash a check from Aunt Valerie for $40 that she sent for your birthday but she’s a little light on dough that month?Sucks for you.The bank charges you a fee, Valerie’s bank charges her a fee, and you get the check back to frame as a reminder of why getting older isn’t so great.
A few nights ago, while having drinks with friends at our rural Iowa bar, I suddenly smelled hot lavender wax. It took me a moment to realize that it was a synesthetic reaction to hearing the opening groove of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’.” In the summer of 2003, that song played every hour in the soundtrack loop of the spa where I worked in New York City. Whenever Smokey came on, I would begin my cleaning circuit, throwing away cotton swabs and wiping up puddles that had dripped off of fashion models and daytime television stars.
When I crossed paths with a client (robed, naked, anxious), I would bite my lip, slowly smile, and then whisper, “Hey, do you want a glass of wine?” as if it had just occurred to me that something in my power could give her pleasure.
“You read my mind,” she’d say. I’d wink and reappear moments later, a silent cupbearer. Play me off, Smokey.
The managers were annoyed that clients seemed to like me so much. All the other counter girls were thin, beautiful, and 19. I was a fat 23-year-old Midwesterner who didn’t even wear makeup. When I showed up for the first day of work, they tutted at my hips and exchanged concerns that no uniform would fit me. Their deepest anxiety was about my chest, which very much existed and might be seen by clients. They suggested special reducing undergarments. I offered them the option of buying me new underwear or refraining from staring at my body. We agreed that the latter was a sensible choice for everyone.
Since that first media job as a TV producer, I have held editor positions at a range of startups and other online outlets. I started to recognize a pattern after one job when a white coworker openly dismissed an idea to write about a black artist on the rise: “Nobody even knows who she is.” Actually, I said, a lot of people know who she is. “Mostly just black people, though,” she countered. I argued that “a lot of black people” set the tone and establish pop cultural relevance in this country. My coworker was stunned. She looked at me with an expression of both disbelief and betrayal.
At the start of each new job, where I was almost invariably the only black editor on staff (unless it was a black publication—I have worked at a few), I would be heralded for my “voice” (and the implicit diversity it brought), until that voice became threatening or intimidating, or just too black. My ideas were “thoughtful” and “compassionate” until I argued, say, that having white journalists write the main features on a new black news venture sent the wrong message to the black online community. My editors disagreed.
Years later, in a conversation about Trayvon Martin with another boss, I said something like, “Racism is real.” My white boss came back with an answer that still astonishes me: “But you don’t experience racism, right? I mean, you’re attractive and educated—I can’t imagine that you would ever experience racism.”
RIP Ben Bradlee. I really recommend Yours in Truth, one of the most fascinating biographies I have ever read, and also this tribute by David Remnick.
Please email all questions you would like poetry to answer via email@example.com, with “Spinster’s Almanac” in the subject line.
I am a woman in my mid-30s who has never had any romantic life to speak of, though not for lack of trying. It seems that I am intrinsically unattractive to the opposite sex, though my (same-sex) friends assure me I am “cute.”