Startled, I look up.
"Hi, I'm Lauren Randall." The woman standing in front of me showing me her perfect teeth is obviously very much at home in this world. Fortyish, handsome rather than pretty, wearing a beige raw-silk dress. Her blonde hair is pulled back from her face so tightly that it raises her eyebrows into an expression of surprise.
When I get up to shake her outstretched hand, the clipboard clatters to the floor. Face burning, I scoop it up, ignoring the stares, and follow her down the hall while she does her standard line of chat. "It's so nice to see somedone wearing a suit. You wouldn't believe some of the outfits I see. These young girls come in here looking like they're going to the beach instead of to work."
Now that we've eliminated me from that "young girl" category ... She takes the clipboard from me and leads me into her Office, a cubbyhole with two chairs and a tiny desk covered with file folders. "Let's see what we've got. What kind of work are you looking for?"
"General office. Filing, answering the phone..."
There's a fifties movie that my mother loves, where Doris Day, as the bright young thing who sets out to conquer the big city, gets a job in the steno pool-now there's a term to date you. And on her first day of work at a big important ad agency, she-demure in a pink shirtwaist with a white Peter Pan collar-spills coffee all over this handsome young guy who works in the mail room. Coincidentally, his father owns the company. She's mortified, but he's so charmed by her sweet shyness that he falls in love with her instantly. After a lot of stupid plot complications they end up getting married and she retires to become a lady of leisure-sort of like the position I'm just vacating. I want to ask Lauren if they have any openings like that. Receptionist with career path to kept woman.
"Have you worked as a receptionist?"
"How many lines have you handled? Have you used a Rolm System? Or Honeywell?" She ignores my silence. "I'm sorry. I guess I came roaring out before you had a chance to finish the application. I'll just make some notes and we can give you the typing test when we're all through."
"There's no point in giving me a typing test. I haven't typed anything in five years."
"That's okay." She waves a hand breezily. "It's like riding a bicycle. It comes back to you with a little practice." She looks at the blank spaces under the Experience heading. "Are you currently employed?" I've read plenty of articles that insist that experience as a homemaker and volunteer is just as valid as any other job experience. I'd be willing to bet Lauren hasn't read those.
"Wynter. I go by my middle name."
"Sorry. Wynter, why don't you just tell me what your experience is?"
Deep breath. "Three years teaching high school," I say. "One year real estate sales..." She's looking at me expectantly, waiting for me to get to the meat and potatoes. "And I've worked on committees. Cedars-Sinai, the Philharmonic " I'm ransacking my short-term memory for something more impressive.
"Why on earth do you want to do general office? You'd make more money if you just renew your teaching certificate or go back to selling real estate."
"I can't sell real estate because I was horrible at it. I never sold anything."
"What about teaching? It's not difficult to renew-"
"I hated teaching." I grip the arms of the chair with damp fingers.
She sits back slowly, folds her arms, sizes me up. I can see it in her eyes.
Another Hancock Park honey whose meal ticket got cancelled. Inside, she's probably laughing her butt off. She crosses one slender leg over the other and lets the strap of her slingback pump slip off her heel. Then she says quietly, "I don't mean to startle you, Wynter, but I hate this job. Sometimes we have to do things we hate." I'm on my feet, not knowing how I got there. "Thanks for the advice." I walk out of her cubbyhole, past the receptionist, out of the office. If I hurry, I'll look like I'm going to an interview.
Copyright Judi Hendricks. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, William Morrow & Co.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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