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)