Puffing, Part 3

10 Jan

“I mean, it’s not that hard to tell who you shouldn’t bother with,” Megan tells me. “If it looks like a bike messenger, stay away from it. If it looks like LA trash, stay away from it. If it looks like it has a coke habit, maybe you shouldn’t go up to it.”

I’ve made it out of North Beach with a bunch of tips, and Megan’s driving me towards the Castro. It’s around 1 AM when I go into a mostly lesbian bar, where I’m greeted by either a transgender woman, or a man who likes to dress as a woman (I don’t think it’s appropriate to ask what she identifies as). She’s around 50, I’d guess, and has the skin of a lifelong smoker.

“Honey, do you know I knew the original Peachy Puff girl, Peachy? She was fabulous.”  It’s clear my new friend isn’t going to buy anything–she’s the kind of drunk who likes to talk instead. Luckily for me, I’m enjoying listening.

“Guess how old I am.”

“Um…37?” I figure it’s safest to round down my guess about 15 years.

“No! I’m 45! And you know, I look at pictures of my mother when she was half my age, and she looked twice as old as me!” I picture her mother: a glamorous chain smoker in a fur coat whose memory serves as both her inspiration and rival.

After a lesson on the power of moisturizer, I excuse myself and head to another bar, where I approach a lonely looking middle-aged man at the bar. I ask him if he’d like some smokes, and he starts slurring in a nearly unintelligible Irish accent.

“Me girlfrien’ lef me tonigh, on Christmas Eve.”

He looks so forlorn and drunk that I wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to cry. He is a sitting barfly cliché, and I wonder if he finds deeper sorrow in this fact. Maybe he finds comfort. He hands me a 20 for the pack of cigarettes, and when I take too long getting change, he tells me to keep the rest. He looks like a weepy puppy, and waves away the money, as if to say nothing so petty serves a purpose now that his love is gone.  I look him in the pathetic eyes.

“Things will get better. They will.” Feeling unusually empathetic, (was it his generous tip, or our shared humanity?) I give him half a hug. My tray forms a blockade between our bodies, but his stubble briefly  grazes my cheek. He returns my half-embrace with a half-hearted attempt to grope my ass. My fur coat is too thick and all he grabs is fabric. So much for shared humanity. I make a note to myself never to hug customers again–especially sad drunk Irish men whose girlfriends broke up with them on Christmas Eve.

I go on to a few more bars, and make my favorite sale of the night to a middle-aged married woman who buys a vibrator–(she didn’t have one!)

Megan picks me up, and we go to get Sharon and head back to the office. It’s after 2, but Ruth will be at a club called The Endup until at least 4. Sharon gets in the backseat with me and eyes my tray.

“Wow, you did a lot better than me.  That’s ok, we knew tonight would be a gamble.”

On the way back to the office, Sharon talks (mostly to herself) about how Christmas is sure to be another disappointment this year.

“You spend all this money, and build it up so much and of course it’s a letdown.”  I feel sorry for her, maybe even more so because she doesn’t want me to.

We get back to the office and start counting our stock and cash.

“Wow, you did well. You’re my new worst enemy,” Sharon says, laughing good-naturedly.

I make a little over a hundred for the night, which I’m told is excellent for such a slow night. I don’t have the guts to ask Sharon how much she made, but I have a feeling that like Christmas itself, it’s a disappointment.

And with that, my first night of puffing was over. And apparently, I’m a natural. Considering I had expected to be mostly terrible at it, the ease with which I slipped into my candy girl persona was both exciting and a little concerning. I’d thought I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face without acting like someone else, but instead, I found it was easy to play myself. Just the accentuated version.

What does it mean to be a great candy girl?  Does it mean you’re charming, smart and adept at sales? Or does it just mean you’re good at using your looks to con people into paying 4 bucks for a pack of gum?

My hunch is it’s a little of both–the good, the bad, and the beautiful, so to speak. In retrospect, I realized it wasn’t surprising I was a natural candy girl. In a way, as a woman, I’ve been training for the job my whole life.  Even before I was sexually mature, I knew how to use a smile to get my way; the value of selling my cuteness, in one way or another. It was always a currency.

Walk into a bar as a woman, and sometimes, it feels like there’s an elephant in the room. Your sexuality. You know when someone is checking you out, and maybe they know you know. If you’re insecure, which most of us are, perhaps you wonder if the men or women looking at you think you’re appealing. Looks are exchanged, but usually, (especially in coastal, urban spaces) sexuality is subtext.

Walk in looking to a bar selling vibrators and candy, and well, it’s safe to say that subtext is removed. Your purpose is clear–to sell as much as you can. Whether you are attractive is no longer a question, but instead assumed fact. And just like that the starting point is changed from, ‘does that guy think I’m cute?’ to ‘ of course he thinks I’m cute–now how much money can I get out of him?’

And yes, that can be empowering, if admittedly problematic.  The elephant in the room is gone, or at least you’ve wrangled it, and hung it around your neck.  In this way, you do feel powerful, because you’re playing a very different game, one where you hold the tray.

I have a feeling there’s a lot to learn from that game, even if you ultimately decide it’s not the kind you want to play.

Puffing, Part 2

4 Jan

“So how long does the average girl last?’

“About two nights,” Ruth answers.  We’re enroute to our first bar runs in Megan’s car, trays resting in our laps and pop music blaring.

“I don’t know what it is, but girls come here and they think this is like being a shot girl,” Megan says. “They think they don’t have to work for their money, and they’re spoiled.”

“See, I’m more charitable,” Ruth says smiling. “I just say they’ve never done sales before.  But it’s true, girls think they can get by just on sex appeal. And honey, if that’s all it was–I am sexually appealing to very few people.”

I tisk reflexively, waving away her comment that she’s unappealing. I notice the other girls in the car are silent.

“I mean, when I puffed, I did get by on sex appeal,” says Emily. “I didn’t sell, I just hit on people.  And I mean, I’ve also seen girls who were good at sales but were so unappealing they actually couldn’t do it. Like this one girl, Rachel–not you obviously–she would tease her hair out so it was all frizzy. And she had braces and would wear holiday color rubber bands on them and mismatched plaid. I mean, someone comes up to you in a bar wearing mismatched plaid and do you think ‘hm, what can I get?’ or are you too busy laughing? I mean, not to sound like a bitch, but that’s just how life is.”

With that, I’m dropped off on my first run in the Mission. I walk in the bar, and though I’ve been advised not to, I can’t help asking people what they want, rather than telling. Maggie, as a character, is no where to be found. I’m playing a more outgoing version of  myself, and while I’m not doing a terribly bad impression, it’s not moving product. The bar is dead and people are nice, but don’t want to buy.  I move on to the next bar down the block where I make my first sale–two roses. At the next club, I convince a couple and a group of guys to buy cigarettes, despite complaints they’re too expensive. I’m starting to hit a stride, and notice not so much a spring as a new sway in my step. I even start chatting with a doorman in Spanish, a language I’ve been too shy to speak when I’m not travelling. We chat about his 3 kids back in El Salvador, and I’m relieved I still remember how to politely refuse come-ons when Megan pulls up.

We pick up Ruth, and head off to the next bar runs. Megan chats about her ex-boyfriend, who she says kinda actually like broke her heart, but who she still loves a lot.

“You mean that guy who made you happy over the summer?” Ruth asks. “The one who made us say what have you done with Megan and how did you take her skin?”

This doesn’t get a laugh from Megan, who’s texting someone while stopped at a red light. We notice the amount of ambulances wizzing by, and I mention that I once heard Christmas Eve gets more ER visits than any other night of the year, mostly because of family fights.

“I believe it,” Ruth says. “I worked at Child Protective Services in Philly for 5 years. And you know the only nights that we had more calls than Christmas?”

“No, what?”

“When the Steelers lost. Then people would beat on their kids.”

“That’s crazy!” For the first time that night, Megan is actually phased by something, and I’m not.

We drop Ruth off, and go to pick up Sharron. This is a seedier part of SF that’s lined with strip clubs and bigger bars. We see some people brawling outside the club, and Megan drives around trying to find Sharon, whose phone isn’t working. We drive around for five minutes and I’m starting to get nervous when we spot her on the corner, talking to a bouncer.

“What was that fight about?” I ask her, when she gets in, smiling.

“Oh that? Just some guys, a group of friends. One wanted to go into the club, the other didn’t so they started brawling.”

“Wait, they were friends? They just couldn’t agree on what to do for the night so they started fighting?” For some reason, I start laughing as I say this, picturing the big dudes I saw brawling fighting over something as dumb as their plans for the night. I get an image of one big guy shoving the other, yelling “No man, I want to get pizza!” Are all bar fights so dumb?

“People are stupid,” Megan answers. “I remember one time, a guy got shot around here. And why? Because some dude in the club wanted his diamond Bam Bam necklace. You know, a club, like from the Flinstones. He shot a guy for it.”  I laugh, but make a note to myself to stay away from this cluster of clubs.

I get dropped off in the much nicer North Beach neighborhood, and finally start to hit my stride. I learn to ask people what I can get for them without making it sound like a question so much as a tempting proposition. This is harder than it sounds. I start noticing that immediate eye contact goes a long way, as does a light touch on the arm.  The rules of selling, it seems, are pretty much the same as flirting. You have to be confident your target is interested. Waiver, and they might start to question if they were tempted in the first place.

North Beach has the best tippers, but this also means it has the most lecherous guys. Asking “What can I get for you?” is proving problematic for the grossest few. Once, I get the response “How much for you?”.  “You can’t afford it” I answer–(a little too reflexively)– before walking away.

It all happens so fast that it’s only the next day that I wonder where that reply came from.  I must have seen the retort in countless movies and tv shows, otherwise why would it have seemed so natural a response?  And most troubling, why was my reflexive response basically an affirmation of the idea I could be bought at all? This was not the first time in my life I’ve failed to properly stand up to douche-bags, but it was one of the most troubling.

But because we all have short attention spans, especially when it comes to talking about things like objectification, more about that later.

To be continued…

Puffing, Part 1

29 Dec

Note: All names have been changed, and always will be from here on out. Also, sorry for the delay and lack of new pictures–my laptop was stolen this week.

I pull up to Peachy Puff’s office in downtown SF, and buzz in. As usual, I’m early, and sit by myself until my  pseudo supervisor for the night, Megan, walks in. Megan smells of cigarettes, and is wearing an olive-green bomber jacket and skinny jeans.  She has bangs and her hair is dyed down the middle so that one side is bleach-white and the other half is reddish-brown.

Immediately, she starts giving me instructions on what everything in my tray costs, and how to take stock of everything before going out for the night.  I assume Megan will be candy girling–or as I later learn they call it, puffing–with me, but it turns out she’s the driver.

” I used to puff, but I just don’t have selling in me. I get the concept and everything, but I’m just like, you don’t want something? Then fuck off!”  ‘Fuck off’  seems to pretty much be the way Megan punctuates her sentences. She’s the kind of cynical pirate-mouthed brand of hipster I’m sometimes guilty of acting like, but taken to an impressive extreme.

In walk two other girls.  On first glance, I assume one of the girls is actually middle-aged; a boxy woman with the deep voice of a longtime smoker. It takes a few minutes before I realize Ruth is actually most likely a transgender woman, and seems somewhere mid-transition. She’s matter-of-fact yet sweet–and how do I put this gently?  Not very conventionally beautiful. She gets dressed in red and black stripped tights and a candy striper jacket, the least revealing of the costumes.

Ruth has come in with her friend Sharon, who she met when they both started puffing together 6 months ago. Sharon has a southern drawl, and is what most people would diplomatically call plain, with an appearance you can’t quite recall at the end of the night. Her spirit and accent are undeniably friendly, and she wears mini sticker stars around one eye, as if to accentuate this point.

Sharon and Ruth tell me they bonded over being “flat broke”, despite the fact that they both puff 5 nights a week. While the guy who hired me had admitted this wasn’t meant as a full-time job, he had also said that girls average between 100 and 200 bucks a night, a decent income.  Once Ruth and Sharon have gotten on a roll giving me advice, I decide to ask them how much I might expect to make.

“Don’t worry about it,” they both chime. “It’s your first night and it’s a crapshoot with it being Christmas Eve,” says Sharon.

“Well how much do you make on an average night?” I ask.

“There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Some nights I walk out of here with 15 dollars, some nights with 115.  The bad nights are rare, but so are the really good nights.”

“15 dollars?! For the whole night?” I can’t hide my shock, no wonder they’re broke.  Who would keep doing such hard work with the risk of so little money, and no base pay? Sharon seems to read my mind.

“It’s not meant to be a regular job.  But with the way things are now, this is all there is.  Back in the good days, Peachy’s Puffs actually used to CHARGE girls 200 dollars just to get a tray to start puffing.  That’s how much money you made selling.  Now, well, it’s not like that.”

Journalistic intentions or not, the idea that I’ll probably be making less than 50 bucks tonight is not great news.

Sharon and Ruth continue to give me advice for my first night, with Megan punctuating them with sentences with points of fucking and offing.

“There’s always going to be that one person,” says Ruth in an instructive, playful tone. “Now, that person will usually be a girl.  And she will usually be blonde.  And she WILL try to speak for the entire group.  She does not speak for the entire group.”

“Yea, if someone tries to do that I say I’m sorry, was I fucking talking to you?” Megan adds. I wonder to myself how it was that she had the highest tray average when she puffed, as she claims.

I ask if other women are often threatened by Peachy Puffs girls.

“I mean, San Fransisco is filled with pretty girls.  Some pretty guys, too,” laughs Sharon.  “You think about it, they spend all this money on their dress and makeup, and they think, yea I’m hot. And then they get to the club and there’s 200 other girls–”

“Same fucking black dress, same black shoes–” Ruth shakes her head.

“And then we roll in, looking different, in our costume–” says Sharon.

“And we’re smiling, and we’re happy,” says Ruth.

“That’s why I dyed my hair two different colors,” adds Megan, bringing the subject back to its clear point.  “I wanted to look different. Alright let’s go.”  She turns to me. “Just to warn you, my car is fucking disgusting.”

Sharon helps me fit my tray, which helps it feel less heavy.  It sits at my belly button, and makes me feel I’m carrying Marlboro triplets.  What’s become of the girl who refused Kraft mac and cheese at 12 years old  after learning they were owned by Philip Morris? She’s now a woman, peddling nicotine, in fishnet stockings. A tape recorder pressed against her bosom is her moral alibi, but if she’s honest, well, she’s pretty sure she’s having fun.

To be continued

Christmas Candy

27 Dec

Ah, Christmas Eve. A night for Jewish people around the world to eat Chinese food, go to the movies and feel generally bored.

Or in this Jewish girl’s case, a night to dress like a pinup girl and stuff a tape recorder in her bra.

Yes, Christmas Eve was my first night as a Peachy’s Puffs Candy and Cigarette Girl. I’d spent the day with my two best friends from high school, who did their best to help me mentally prepare. We thought of possible stage names, (Maggie or perhaps Mary in honor of baby Jesus) and went with me to buy fishnets, hair rollers and batteries for the recorder. I smiled in the checkout line, amused at my array of items. At least for once, this night was going to be anything but silent.

I got home and determined my outfit: a very little black dress, leopard print coat, black hat and boots to match. I put on liquid eyeliner and some very red lipstick. I tried to style my hair, and mostly failed.  But that didn’t matter: Maggie was coming together. I looked in the mirror, and for the first time that day, I wasn’t nervous. I started posing in the mirror as Maggie, and for the record, took a few pictures. I’d watched The Notorious Betty Page for inspiration the night before, and had fun doing bad imitations of her poses.

1. Scandalized Face

2. Sweet Face

3. Kissy Face, or in my case, Awkward Kissy Face

And with that, I set off to drive to the Peachy’s Puffs office, bumpin like the baller I am to BBC News all the way.

But I wouldn’t be a very good candy girl if I told you the rest of the story all at once, would I honey?  More real soon.

Candy Girl, Part 2

17 Dec

When we left off, two other brunettes and I were interviewing to become Peachy’s Puffs Candy and Cigarette girls.

We sat quietly in the cigarette-saturated room, obediently reading our Candy Girl Handbooks. I underlined a couple points I found particuarly interesting.

1. The handbook mentions not once, but twice, not to get drunk on the job.

2. My outfit requirements: vintage skirts or dresses only, always falling above the knee. I must wear makeup including but not limited to: “foundation, blush, eyeliner, mascara and lipstick”. Pantyhose must be worn with every costume though “fishnets are preferred and will bring you more sales… Hair worn down is recommended (sounds weird, we know, but it really does bring higher tray sales!)”

3. I shouldn’t be myself. “Like an actress on stage you must ROLE PLAY a cigarette girl…Don’t become yourself. Stay in Character at all times!”

4. I need to learn how to turn rejection into flirtation, preferably using double entendres. “The most usual answer you’ll get from people is “No thanks I don’t smoke” and the answer is–and be ready to put a big smile on your face for this one–‘That’s good, I’m pretty sure you eat, so let’s have a look at my nuts and candies!'”

5. I’m expected to light cigarettes. Splendid. “Matches are free just like your smile! You are a cigarette girl–it is expected of you to light cigarettes while outside of bars and clubs, or to provide matches.”

6. I should always smile. Then I should smile some more. “You should have cramps in your cheeks at the end of the night from smiling so much!”

I’ve read through the handbook a couple times now, though the other girls appear to only be halfway through. Should I look like this is taking me longer, I wonder?  No, that’s not my character, or me. My character is a clever Bettie Page, even if H (the boss) says I look more like a young Deborah Winger. Hey, I’ll take either. The point is, my alter ego isn’t slow.

Eventually, H asks us all to introduce ourselves. It turns out the other two girls are in their last years of university, studying business. One girl runs her own mistletoe delivery business, the other has just been hired as a part-time sales rep for a major bank. They both hope this job will improve their sales and business skills.  I look at them, trying to keep my mouth from falling open. Are these girls serious?

“And Rachel, what about you?”

“Well, I graduated from NYU last May–”

“NYU! I knew you had an east coast vibe to you!” I should take this as a compliment, he probably means I have good style. Still, years of experience otherwise has made feel that line is code for “I thought you looked Jewish!

I go on introducing myself, and can’t help but notice that H makes less eye-contact with me than the other girls as he goes on to explain the complexities of the Candy Girl. I wonder if I should have said I had a degree in business.

“This job will put you through the ringer, teach you about sales faster than any job out there. It’s like no other job. It has some of the elements of waitressing, some of bartending. It even has some of the psychology of stripping, though of course you’re not taking your clothes off.”

My mind flashes to the warning my mom made before my interview, after screaming ‘Wowee’ in response to my outfit.  “Just don’t let them rope you into prostitution!” she said, half joking, half worried.  I’d laughed at her, but wonder if this is the gateway drug to the world of objectification. First candy girl, next stripper? Doubtful.

H goes on selling us on the perks of the job. He tells the story of the best tip a girl has ever been given: 400 dollars to sit and have a glass of wine. While this sounds more like being an escort to me, it’s clear the job isn’t normally so glamorous.

“You can’t chase the tips. You have to go on selling, and the tips will come. And that girl, with the 400 dollar tip–did she quit for the night after she made all that money? No, she kept working, and made even more money.”

H keeps talking and talking, telling us more about how we should handle sales, how the trays are organized. I start to realize this isn’t so much a group interview as it is group orientation.

“And if a guy says ‘but I can get a candy bar for 2 dollars less at the convenience store’, you say–” One of the girls interrupts him.

“Would rather buy candy from that guy, or from me?”

“Yea, good! I like it. And that guy’s probably a terrorist anyway right? No I’m just kidding.” There’s an awkward pause and some nervous laughter. H moves on to having each of us try on the tray. The first girl, the one who runs the mistletoe business, tries it on for size.

“Not heavy at all,” she smiles.

I’m next, and inwardly disagree. I can hardly imagine walking with this  heavy thing around my neck, let alone navigating through bars, collecting money and flirting at the same time.

When we’re done, H hands us all contracts. We’re all hired. There’s little risk to him, since he won’t actually be paying us anything. All our money will be based on commission, and it’s been made clear that whether we make it past our first night all depends on how tough we are.

I tell him I can start next week.

Candy Girl (Job #5)

14 Dec

Well, it would seem that despite all my half-hearted efforts, The Gap has rejected me. My feelings about it fall somewhere in the wide spectrum between pride and shame.

Luckily for me, I’ve found something better. Something even more vaguely degrading than folding khakis.

I’ve applied to be a Peachy’s Puffs Candy & Cigarette Girl. The job is almost exactly what it sounds like. As a Peachy’s Puffs girl, I’ll dress up in retro cigarette girl gear, hoist a 15 pound tray around my neck, and sell overpriced candy and smokes to people in bars. And all with a red lipped smile and a kitschy wink.

I figure the job is exactly what I’ve been looking for–I’ll have to interact with weird people, go outside my comfort zone, and hopefully come out the other end with some good stories to tell. Plus, did I mention the vaguely degrading appeal?

I head towards the Peachy’s Puffs headquarters in San Francisco, doing my best modernized Bettie Page impression. I’ve got the bangs now, and with a little help from wardrobe, imitate her other assets. I’m excited for the interview, confident in my newfound vixen persona, and find myself strutting down the street with an inner smirk of a heartbreaker.

I’m the first girl to get to the group interview, and when I enter the office I’m overpowered by the smell of cigarettes. I don’t know why I’m surprised by the smell–after all, this is what I’ll be selling. But still, the stench is jarring in the Bay Area, where smoking in bars has been banned  for years and people are more likely to drink kombucha than smoke.

H (as I’ll call him and who for some reason I expected to be a woman), greets me. He has a gerricurl, a slight southern drawl and a slighter gay-affect that puts me at ease.

“I liked your pictures, they were cute,” he manages to say in a non-creepy way. He’s referring to the couple headshots I sent him in order to get an interview. I’ve passed the looks test, and I sense this is all I will really need to get the job. A sort of calm self-satisfaction washes over me, one I’m not used to.  While I don’t normally get nervous in interviews, I at least recognize that the words I say are important. But in this new genre of job, I get the sense that my simply being is qualification enough. I relax into the rare ease of it, the confidence that comes with actually feeling like an attractive young woman, and using it.

I realize this is a space for a different kind of intelligence, a more intuitive kind.  This is a space where you’re judged not so much on what you say, but how friendly and charming you are when you say it. This is a space where the fact that it matters what you look like is not subtext.  For once, I’m quite confident I’m qualified. And now all I have to do is sit back, exist, and read the Candy Girl Handbook.  The question in my mind is no longer if I have the makings of a true Candy Girl, but when I should start.

And then, the other girls walk in.  They look even younger than me, and I felt a maternal panic surge.  I want to tell them not to wear so much makeup and if they’re really 21.  They seem so small, with attractive but little-girl faces, delicate fingers, and hardly any curves.  I imagine men who like that hitting on them at bars, eyeing the fishnet stockings they’d wear.  And I want to protect them.  Suddenly, this all seems sleazy, not empowering.  At least not for these young girls.

And then I remember: I am one of these young girls. Save for my slightly wider hips and stronger features, nothing gives me away as older, more mature.  When H asks for ID, it turns out they’re only a year younger than I am.

See, no one ever trusts we little brunettes can take care of ourselves. We don’t even trust each other. But oh, can we ever handle ourselves.  With a wink and a smile, and a tip in our pocket.  I look away from the two other girls and go back to reading the handbook.  They can take care of themselves, and if it comes down to it, I can take this job from them.  I can tell from their curt smiles, the feeling is mutual.

(To be continued)

Gap Year

11 Dec

In England, high school graduates often take what’s known as a Gap Year before they start university.

In America, college graduates often take a year to work at The Gap.

Or at least, that’s what the movie Reality Bites taught me, which has inspired me to apply for a holiday job at The Gap. OK, so I’m a little late into the season, but some quick research on Gap’s career site tells me there’s an opening at a store not 10 minutes away from home.  Now all I  have to do is pass the test.

In addition to submitting a resume, to apply to The Gap you have to take a special test online. The test, which was designed by another company, is meant to screen out the people worth calling for an interview. When you apply to The Gap online, the exam is under the ‘More About My Skills’ tab and is filled with potential trick questions. Luckily for me, I have a friend who knows the inside scoop on The Gap’s screening test, and he’s given me a few tips for success:

1. Moral Consistency. Meaning if you answer ‘strongly agree’ to a question like ‘Stealing is always wrong’, but then say you might use your employee discount to clothe your dying grandmother, you are inconsistent.

2. Apparent Passion for Fashion. I only occasionally shop at The Gap for underwear, but I feel confident about this qualification nonetheless.

3. Motivation and Drive. It’s OK to seem motivated and a hard worker, as long as you’re a team player. And you ask your supervisor about everything. And aren’t so motivated you might leave.

I get ready to start the test, which is also timed. In my effort not to take it too slowly (that’s recorded too) I only write down the most striking of the 40 questions.

I’m breezing along, putting confident answers to questions about my work ethic and ability to work on a team, when one question stops me:

“Would most people steal if conditions are right?” My options are “Yes, No, or I’m not sure”.

I think to myself, yes, I probably would. But then again, I’m more morally defunct than your average consumer. Maybe I should I put down No, showcasing my optimistic faith in mankind and deeply ingrained innocence? Or maybe I should put down Yes,  revealing my potential shrewd attention to the store’s security. I settle on ‘I’m not sure’, which I’m pretty sure is the wrong answer, but is my honest opinion.  And just like that, the test starts playing mind games on me.

Shortly after, I’m shown a mannequin wearing a pair of linen cargo pants. “What kind of pants are these?”, the test asks me. Leisure, cargo, madras, khaki or dress? I settle on cargo, even though the pants look like a combination of all of the above. So much for my sharp eye for fashion, this test already has me questioning the importance of cargo pockets.

Some easier questions come along, but soon, another question hits where I know I have to lie.

“You know a single mother who works at the store has severe financial problems and has been taking small amounts of merchandise to clothe her son. What do you do?” My options are to mind my own business (what I would really do), tell a supervisor ( be a jackass), call HR headquarters (psychotic), or loan her money personally (problematic). I hover over the question a moment, paranoid that Gap Big Brother  is tracking, and noting, my hesitation. Gap must know I’m about to lie. After all, didn’t it know I would so enjoy those commercials with those people swing dancing?

Since there’s no option for showing the single mother where the best thrift stores are, I answer that I would tell my supervisor. It’s a lie, but I figure it’s the Gappish thing to do.

Cut to mannequin in a blue shirt and khakis. “What can be done to improve this outfit?” the test asks. My options are: Change the shirt, Add a belt, Add a sweater vest or Ask a supervisor. Again, my test instincts tell me I should ask a supervisor, but my instincts as someone with Passion for Fashion say to add a belt. Yes, I decide, I will take matters into my own hands. In this small yet brave act of Passion for Fashion, I will add a belt. What is this test doing to me?

The last question stumps me most, though it might be the most obvious. “If you got paid for two extra hours at work on your paycheck, and no one would find out, would you tell your supervisor?”  This, (I think in the thick of my mind-fuck), must be a trick question. Who on earth would tattle on themselves for taking what would probably be no more than a 20 dollar bonus from a huge company underpaying them? Maybe this the question meant to measure if I’m lying about the rest of my strict moral tendencies. My options are Yes, No or Probably. I hit Probably, as a compromise, and immediately know that was wrong.  Moral relativity is probably what the company fears most. I should have lied. I should know by now that telling the truth is no way to get a job.

So am I moral enough to work at The Gap? Do I have the eye for khaki pants they desire? Are the Gap minons reading this blog as we speak, putting me on a Anti-Gapian list? Only time will tell.  I fear I failed the entrance exam, and though a part of me is proud of that, the other part of me realizes that’s pretty pathetic. I told the half-truth consistently, and that’s likely worse than telling only lies.

After all, at least a liar can commit.