What threw me was his question. “Why aren't you married?” I was sitting in a conference room in the club basement facing him and his wife, their eyes fixed on my resumé and on me in my business attire, a dress from 1965, office short and hugging my curves. I should have expected it I assume, after a cascade of queries about my upbringing, my parents and their education, our faith.
“How come you don't have any siblings?”
“After enjoying my company my parents decided one was enough.” I felt my tongue producing the words. I didn't smile. I didn't move. My hands were folded in my lap, my feet crossed to make a good impression.
I had learned to be a lady early on, observing my grandmother smiling through almost every situation. “Sit up straight, dress for the part and flash a smile.” Her voice sounded in my head, gentle and soft. She had never instructed me in anything but always exemplified what she preached, no matter how unpleasant the conversation. Now I remembered her and my mother, felt their poise helping me survive this indignity: an interview for a club, goals uncertain yet ambitious.
“Your CV is quite impressive,” the wife stated, her eyes glued on me.
“That lies in the eye of the beholder,” I was tempted to answer, not maliciously but speaking out of experience. One too many job interviews, way too many rejections: if I didn't need this job so much I'd leave.
“I'm a little afraid you may be overqualified,” the wife continued, her eyes boring into me as if she was trying to guess what was on my mind.
“You are looking for a publicist, are you not?” I asked politely, my backbone slowly snapping, piercing my gut.
“We are,” the old man replied with an expression I couldn't quite place: appreciation, rejection, indifference ...
“And for someone who's also familiar with administrative duties,” his wife added matter-of-fact. “You know, this place needs the touch of a woman. Someone who sees details, who knows when to tell the cleaning lady to be more thorough.”
I almost choked and bit my tongue to kill a chuckle. Good thing they couldn't tell how much effort it took me to keep things orderly, that my filing system was creative rather than pedantic. That I could tweak a design or text for hours, unaware of my stomach growling like a hungry wolf, but that I thoroughly despised office maintenance, no matter how pivotal a job I know it is.
“We are still a start-up in many ways.” The old man nodded, looking at me like a doll displayed to please male customers. “We don't have much money and are looking for people with the right charisma and poise to help us get established.”
I knew the drill. Had heard it many times. They were looking for the proverbial girl Friday willing to work for less than low. Overtime included. And weekends too, as his wife so sweetly added when I asked, unable to express my disapproval because the knot in my stomach was eating up my vim.
“You have the right kind of positive energy,” the old man praised me after his wife had excused herself and closed the door. “The face of a preacher’s daughter.” His eyes invited themselves to my cleavage, my waist, my legs. “Do you go out a lot?”
“Occasionally,” I answered.
“When did you last have a boyfriend?”
An entire line of female ancestors yelled at me to get up and run, high heels or not. Usually quick at repartée, my mind went blank while my lips kept smiling at a man old enough to be my grandfather. I didn't answer him but strangely enough he thought I did. So he finally addressed the essential, his eyes traveling over the outskirts of my vintage dress, his voice bordering the lewd, chummy and low. “If it's been a while, I know how it feels to crave some fun.”
I felt my grandmother bopping me on the head: Go!
“Consider yourself lucky you've met me,” the old man went on. “With those curves and your scrumptious legs,” he licked his lips, “we'll find you a husband to take care of you in no time.”
Then he took a hundred dollar bill out of his bursting wallet and shoved it in my hand. “For your time, honey,” he said in a sultry voice and gave me another once-over as he stood up.
He handed me my coat. “Come back next week. We'll do lunch,” he ordered. “I'll call you about the time and place.” Then he smiled approvingly. “We'll be a great team, you'll see. What I have in mind for you will work beautifully for both of us.”
I stood tall on my heels, towering above him by several inches as he helped me into my coat. Then I wrapped my shawl around my neck and smiled warmly as he held the door for me to emphasize his chivalry. It never occurred to him I would say no.
published 14 January 2012